Inland West Business Trends

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Inland West Business Trends 1
Terry Miller

By Terry Miller

The mindsets of lumbermen in the Inland West region were conflicting as they looked to the future when interviewed for this publication.

While one Utah source noted that he’s seen enough orders coming down the pike to give him confidence in 2024, a Colorado source remained unsure about the U.S. economy. “Interest rates, student loans, credit card debt…” said the Colorado distributor, “I’m just a little conflicted.”

Noting that many of his peers shared a sense of “unbridled optimism” about the market, he said that affordability remains to be an issue for many Americans.

“The prices are on an escalator here,” he said. “We’ve turned into mini-California.”

Noting that multi-and-single-family houses are being built in an ample manner, the distributor noted that “inventory is overpriced.”

He specializes in Hemlock, Hem-Fir and Spruce-Pine-Fir (SPF) in 2” thickness for framing lumber.

He added that the mountain homes usually require “front range” lumber and then the quality of wood goes down from production builders to multi-family housing.

When asked if the winter storms in mid-January resulted in discouraging sales projections, he said that the “short stint” of bad weather did not affect his region.

“I was pleasantly surprised by January,” he said. “The weather was really no excuse. Folks don’t run for the exits around here during winter. They just get it done.”

A Utah source said he expects the industry to return to familiar ways this year.

“The outlook is an average year in 2024,” he said. “Depending on some scenarios. The momentum through the end of December didn’t carry through to January, which leveled off. But weather was an issue in mid-January.

“The latter half of this year could be pretty good once the balance of supply and demand aligns,” he continued.

“Inventory levels seem to be fairly ample. A lot of things are coming when the weather improves.”

Specializing in Douglas Fir No. 2 and up, the source also works with some structural grades in Western, Eastern and European Spruce, Pine and Fir.

For dimensional products, his company offers thicknesses of 2×4 to 2×12. His primary clients are national stocking distributors and small independent yards.

“There is a lot of activity brewing,” he said. “We are doing a lot of job quotes.”

He added that there is “promise at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter.”

“Interest rates are dropping and that will spring some buyers back into the market,” he said.

According to the source, October through December of 2023 was “tough.”

“That was an anomaly though for the activity level and sales overall,” he said. “It was good to see a slight rebound in January.”

An Idaho lumberman said that business has been “fair” so far this year.

He noted that the fourth quarter of 2023 was “the hardest and toughest we’ve ever been through.”

“The weather and the fact that we do a lot with the agricultural business made it hard for pricing,” he said.

Specializing in industrial application, low grade materials, he expects a “gradual increase” this year.

“Nothing too crazy,” he said. “But we are optimistic about the Spring.”

A lumber spokesperson in Arizona noted that his sales and marketplace are doing well. “There is demand and customer interest in the products that we have started to develop, especially with the relatively new mill that we are bringing online.”

His company offers Ponderosa Pine in 1-and-2-inch thicknesses and in Select grades, as well as Nos. 2, 3 and 4 Common. “We are also able to offer some proprietary grades, such as, premium fascia, stock Fir, thermal modification, lam stock and pattern stock,” he noted.

He sells to distribution and lumber yards, industrial manufacturers and big box stores. He mentioned that his customers seem to be optimistic as they are watching their sales move in the right direction, at the time of this writing.

“We envision that the market will continue to stay steady and start to raise over the next six months,” he added.

By Terry Miller

Editor, Marketing Consultant, and Third generation publisher. With Miller Wood Trade Publications since 1983.

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