Sawmills in all producing regions reported rising timber and log prices. “There is no economic sense to timber prices,” said one mill owner in the Upper Midwest. Another in the Carolinas said log prices have increased 30% in the past year, and contacts elsewhere painted similar pictures.
Landowners sitting atop the large Marcellus Shale formation in NY, PA, WV and OH are deriving more income from oil and gas leasing, and have less incentive to sell timber. Some mills have plenty of standing timber purchased, but are struggling to find loggers and trucks to get it to the mill. Moreover, in several areas, poor logging conditions remain a limiting factor. For example, in Tennessee—where the weather has been particularly wet this year—some sawmills are still operating less than 50% of normal hours.
Concentration yards were generally aggressive with lumber purchases, which one sales manager attributed more so to expectations of shortages in December and January than to current demand. That said, most concentration yards did report increasing demand, particularly from export markets. Business for distribution yards—while inconsistent from region to region and week to week—has been trending up.
One distribution yard in the Great Lakes region is having its best year ever, with sales up almost 30% from last year. Residential flooring factories were busy and optimistic about future business notwithstanding seasonal slowdowns in some regions in the months ahead.
About as many flooring plants reported adequate lumber inventories and replacement-only purchasing as reported inadequate supplies. Notably, a large moulding manufacturer indicated business has been “very strong” for the last 60-90 days.