In the Lake States region, a sawmill spokesman said he has seen an uptick in his company’s business. Other lumbermen, at the time they were interviewed, indicated strength in lumber sales mixed with weakness.
A sawmill representative in Illinois stated, “I sense a slight improvement in our business activity compared to the fourth quarter of 2022. Prices are stabilizing and, in some cases, going up.”
However, he remarked, “From a year ago, it’s worse. Probably the decline started in October with a big-time drop in sales and falling prices. I think the falling prices have stabilized. Since three to four months ago, business is definitely improving.”
The lumber he saws includes Red and White Oak, Ash, Poplar, Walnut and Cherry in 4/4 through 8/4, grades No. 2 Common and Better. His best sellers are Ash and Poplar.
He sells his lumber to both end users and distribution yards, split about 50-50. How well his customers are doing in their sales to their customers “depends on which business sector they are in,” he noted. “The RV industry is really off. The cabinet industry and distribution yards are still strong. Residential flooring sales are weak.”
Asked about how transportation is going for him, he said it “has definitely improved, with a lot more trucks available. Prices are still high because of the fuel prices. But at least you have trucks available.”
Another Illinois sawmill representative said his business is “a struggle” these days. He said the value of lumber has dropped by about half. Compared to a year ago, he stated, the economics of his business are far worse. However, the market has improved of late, he remarked. Nevertheless, logs are still hard to buy.
In Minnesota, a lumber provider stated, “Our sales are good but it’s somewhat not as good as we’d like. It’s still acceptable but there are certain items that are not moving and certain items that we’re going to get shortages on, I believe. Still, it’s going OK. Some people are staying a little bit leery about if they want to make any commitments to buy. Our customers’ customers are in the same boat, where they’re just not ordering as aggressively as they were.”
He assessed his business activity and stated, “I would say it’s a little worse than several months ago. People are still waiting for the bottom in pricing, and I think we’re seeing it in a few items. But the fear factor just isn’t there with the customers in terms of lack of supply of lumber. If you run out, you can just go down the street and get it from ‘Joe Blow.’ There’s still a lot of kiln dried lumber in sheds now.”
He sells Hard and Soft Maple, Walnut, Cherry, White Ash, Yellow and White Birch, Elm, Red and White Oak and Alder in 4/4 through 8/4 on most items and some thicker stock in Walnut. Grades include No. 2A, No. 3A and No. 1 Common up to FAS 1-Face and Better.
He offers lumber to both distribution yards (a lot of them) and end users. He exports his lumber, too. End users include cabinet, moulding and millwork manufacturing. “They’re telling us it’s quiet,” he remarked. “They have a lot less urgency to buy lumber.
“Transportation has eased a little bit, but not as much as I thought it would,” he commented. “A customer sells lumber in California, and it’s like a slow boat to China, getting the containers to California.” He believes it’s because there are so many containers at the port, and they don’t want more right now. “Deliveries to California by rail, where it would take a week, are taking 14 days,” he stated. “Prices are going down in freight but not anything that really helps us. The cost of lumber has dropped so much while the cost of freight has not dropped comparatively.”
A Michigan sawmill representative, at the time of this interview, remarked that it was hard to say how his business activity was going. “Pricing has flattened out, but demand is OK. I’d say the market is fair, not terrible, just alright.” Compared to a few months earlier, he said, it was “not as good.”
He sells Hard and Soft Maple, Red and White Oak, Hickory, Walnut, Cherry, Basswood and Poplar in No. 3 and Better, 4/4 through 8/4. His best sellers, he said, are Red and White Oak and Hard Maple.
His customers are split 50-50 between distribution yards and end users. The business activity of distribution yards is good, he said. The fiscal health of end users is mostly good, he stated, but for RV manufacturers, it’s very slow.
Transportation is “fine,” he said. However, the weather makes it hard to get logs out.
Another sawmill spokesperson, this one in Wisconsin, said his market was “steady. It’s going. I wouldn’t call it strong, but I guess I wouldn’t call it weak either. I think it’s starting to pick up quite a bit in the Red Oak, and we do a lot of Red Oak. So, that’s a plus. The sales level is kind of on a week-by-week basis. The good thing is: I’ve had a lot more inquiries the last two weeks than I’ve had for probably four or five months.”
His sales were “better than it’s been the last couple of months.”
He sells Red and White Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Hickory, Basswood and Aspen in 4/4 and some 5/4. The grade is No. 3 Common and Better. His best sellers are Red and White Oak. His customers include end users and distribution yards. He said their sales to their customers are “decent.”
He said he has “no problem with transportation at all.”