Poplar prices have risen almost continuously for about 18 months, one of the longest sustained runs in recent memory. While prices ticked up slightly in 2011, the big gains have come in 2012. Since the start of this year, Appalachian 4/4 Poplar prices have climbed 10 to 24%. Today, 4/4 FAS/1F prices are at five-year highs, 4/4 #1 and #2 Common prices are at two-year highs, and some prices are approaching their highest levels in at least 19 years. Let’s examine some of the factors driving this extended run.

Booming Exports
Export demand for Poplar has been booming over the last couple of years, but demand has risen to a whole new level in 2012. Poplar exports reached a one-month record of 23.8 MMBF in March, then broke that record in April (24.2 MMBF) and again in May (27.1 MMBF). If the year-to-date rate of Poplar export growth continues through year-end, shipments will reach 270 MMBF in 2012, easily surpassing the 2011 record. 

Improved Moulding and Millwork Markets
Hardwood moulding and millwork manufacturers have seen improved sales in 2012. Increased commercial millwork demand has accounted for much of the growth. Residential remodeling has also provided a boost, as homeowners are installing more mouldings—a relatively inexpensive upgrade—in lieu of costlier remodeling projects. These market improvements have bolstered sales of Poplar, the leading species used to manufacture hardwood moulding and millwork. 

Heightened Cost-Consciousness
Even at today’s higher prices, Poplar is still less expensive than almost every widely traded temperate or tropical hardwood species. In this ultra-cost-conscious era, Poplar’s relatively low price appeals to domestic and foreign manufacturers of all kinds of wood products ranging from moulding to furniture to cabinets.

Darker Finishes
Consumer tastes have been trending toward darker finishes and paints on cabinets, furniture, moulding and millwork. This has opened the door for Poplar to be used in more and more applications where a species’ color and grain pattern matter less than the ease with which it accepts finishes and paints.

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