The much-anticipated spike in Chinese purchasing for delivery in advance of China’s New Year shutdown has been slow to come, and thus far unimpressive, but we remain confident of at least a small surge. Even without it, however, North American hardwood lumber markets are nearing relative stability after a rough year of faltering sales and rapid price declines.

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Ash, hard maple and soft maple price increases have plateaued, but production won’t ramp up this winter as much as it normally does, so prices won’t come off much from their highs. The oaks, especially white oak, still have some room to fall, but both red and white oak will find their bottoms before year-end. Poplar sales will remain strong, and because few mills can find a way to saw it profitably, production won’t overwhelm demand.

Low-grade market outlooks remain very positive; only the pallet cant and cut stock market has the possibility of some oversupply this winter, but we don’t expect any significant price declines. High log prices and uncertainty about grade lumber markets will hold sawmill production in check, and with it, production of low-grade items. Given the consistency of past demand and the strong outlook for growth, more grade mills will look to factor railroad ties as a permanent part of their product mix.

Andy Johnson is the Southern Regional Editor for Hardwood Publishing Co.

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