Inland West Business Trends – July/August 2022

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A change from recent trends, Softwood lumber in the Inland West region is selling slowly.

In Wyoming, a sawmill representative noted, “Most items are weakening. The stud market is falling apart. The Ponderosa Pine board market has softened over the course of the last two weeks. The shop market is holding its own, but I expect that to weaken sometime soon, based on the reports we are getting from every other market.”

He said that, compared to a few months ago, his market is worse.

He handles Ponderosa Pine Common boards, shop and ESLP studs. His best-seller is Ponderosa Pine boards in 1×4 through 1×12.

Most of his sales are to distribution yards. “Distribution’s been doing OK in sales,” he observed.

“The only transportation issues have been with the Union Pacific Railroad out West. Trucks have been decent.”

A Montana lumberman said his market is “softening. Dimension is softening. Pine boards are still high in price but very available. We’re having steady-to-slowing sales. A lot of that is seasonal. The volume and frequency of quoting prices to potential customers is decreasing right now. It could be that a lot of factors go into that including rising interest rates and a decrease in new housing starts.

“Prices are starting to soften, and the lower the prices, the more volume you move. So, for us, the market is about the same as it was several months ago,” he stated. “I don’t think the full downturn of a recession or anything like that has hit just yet, but sales are definitely slowing down.”

He handles 1×4 through 1×12 Ponderosa Pine/Lodgepole Pine, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 1×4 through 1×12 Doug Fir, No. 2 to No. 3 2×4 through 2×12 Doug Fir and SPF. His best sellers are 2×6 SPF and 1×6 Ponderosa Pine/Lodgepole Pine.

“We sell mostly to distribution yards and wholesalers,” he stated. “The sales are still really strong-to-normal, maybe with a slight downtick. Their sales are still very steady.

“The availability of trucks is a little bit better, but prices continue to climb,” he remarked. How transportation goes is kind of week-to-week, day-by-day. It’s hard to quote things delivered to a customer when the freight rates are jumping up every other day. So, I’d say that my biggest challenge is with freight. We use flatbed trucks 98 percent of the time.”

An Idaho lumber provider said his market is “slow. I sell Pine and Cedar. Pine sales are OK, but Cedar sales are challenging. Customers have seen prices go down and are hesitant to buy during a declining market. Cedar probably has an element of pull-forward business. During the last two years when people were stuck at home and getting mailed government checks, they may have pulled-forward projects – like decks – from future years. But this year, the market is very challenging.”

The market is worse than it was six months ago, he noted.

He handles Ponderosa Pine in No. 2 Common, No. 3 Common and No. 4 Common and Cedar in Premium, No. 2 and Better.

He sells primarily to distribution yards. “Sales are slower,” he observed. “We’ve actually been polling our customers. Their sales total 70 percent of where they were last year. So, there’s takeaway – customers buying products – and there’s consumption, but customers are definitely in the mode of making their inventories lean.

“Transportation is a challenge,” he stated. “Trucks have gotten somewhat more available, but they’re more expensive. Rail cars are hit-or-miss in terms of availability. There are times when we get a lot of rail cars that show up. There are times they don’t send us cars. It’s a challenge, but it’s a little easier because we don’t have as many people looking for our rail cars to bring them lumber. But when they do show up, we have to load them and get them out.”

By Terry Miller

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

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