The severe weather across much of the hardwood producing region will slow production, extend the inventory shortage, and likely keep lumber prices firm. Demand is slowly picking up in the domestic U.S. market, with the cabinet, furniture and industrial markets all stronger than at this time last year. Railroads saw stronger activity in the last quarter, with car-loading well ahead of last year, and expect intermodal shipment to continue to rise in 2014—solid confirmations of a recovering economy.
Economic activity across Europe will continue to improve, gradually increasing hardwood lumber sales into the region. European purchases of tropical hardwood have declined by 50% since 2007, and this trend is expected to continue, which means much of the increased demand will be for North American White Oak, Poplar, Ash, Walnut and even Red Oak and Hard Maple. Exports from the U.S. set a new record in 2013, and 2014 volumes should surpass it by 5 to 7%.
Sawmills and yards will be working hard to increase lumber production to meet rising demand. Long lead times for new mill equipment and dry kilns are hampering efforts to quickly increase production. Log prices will be equally troublesome. Pending acquisitions of existing sawmills and yards will change distribution patterns and narrow the list of suppliers for some domestic and export customers.
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