U.S. residential furniture factory shipments totaled $1.88 billion in Feb 2012, up 17% from Feb 2011. The two largest year-over-year increases since the recovery began were in the last three reporting months. Factory orders posted double-digit gains for the 6th straight month in Feb, so shipment growth should continue into summer.
After a strong Jan., red oak and white oak lumber exports to China slowed in Feb./March — likely a temporary decline while buyers absorbed prior deliveries rather than a sign of slower business.
Chinese buyers will buy a bit more oak over the next two months and also push for lower prices, knowing that more is entering markets. Poplar demand will be quite strong in China and throughout the Far East.
European consumers and businesses are understandably nervous with four of the European Union’s (EU) five largest economies in recession and Germany at odds with other EU members over how to address sovereign debt problems: France elected a socialist president for the first time in almost a quarter century; unemployment in Spain is over 24%; and Greek leaders are having difficulty forming a government. In this environment, demand for U.S. hardwoods will be slow in almost every EU market through summer.