On December 28, the International Longshoremen’s Association and U.S. Maritime Alliance reached a tentative contract agreement, averting a strike that was set to start a few days later which would have disrupted hardwood exports from most ports on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
The agreement is subject to additional collective bargaining negotiations that were extended for 30 days. Prior to the agreement, many wood exporters and overseas buyers were nervous, including one sawmill’s sales manager who said, “A strike would shut us down, as 70% of our lumber is exported.”
North American exporters shipped less lumber in December than in prior months—which is typical for December—but they received a lot of forward orders, particularly for delivery to Far Eastern destinations after Chinese New Year.
Buyers were trying to hold the line on prices, but general tightening of supplies pushed many prices higher. European markets were quiet during and immediately after the Christmas and New Year holidays. Demand was also seasonally slow in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Looking back at the most recent trade data, U.S. hardwood lumber exports totaled 114 million board feet (MMBF) in October, up 1% from September 2012 and 8% from October 2011. It was the 16th straight month in which exports exceeded the same month a year earlier. Shipments to China surpassed 47 MMBF to set the third single-month record since May.
Exports to Italy were up slightly, shipments to Spain surpassed 1 MMBF for the first time since December 2011, and Portuguese purchasing was at an 18-month high. However, these upticks were driven almost entirely by replenishment of extremely low inventories, not new demand.