Lake States Business Trends – January 2024

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From mill fires to a diminishing pulp market, one Michigan lumberman recently emphasized that he has “never seen the industry this bad.”

However, a source from Minnesota called the market “stable,” and added that things aren’t as “crazy as they were the last couple of years.”

At the time of this writing, a third source from Wisconsin took the middle ground and noted that the market was usually “slow” during this time of year.

“This is an annual trend,” she noted. “A lot of it is just our distributors who have year-end inventory coming up and don’t want to bring new inventory in,” said the Wisconsin source. “It is a trickle-down effect. So, the manufacturing plants, their customers are pushing them off orders because they want to bring new materials in.

“That comes back to us,” continued the lumberwoman who primarily handles Poplar, Red Oak and Hard Maple with thickness going up to 8/4. “People really don’t want to place orders now. We’ll get going at the beginning of 2024, after the holidays.”

The Michigan source, who primarily handles Red Oak and Maple, acknowledged that the market was slow while emphasizing that he was also dealing with other factors. The lumber supplier said a local mill caught fire a few months ago.

“So, that screwed up the local market,” he added.

He also stated that the “elephant in the room is the pulp market.”

“That has slowed down, too,” he said. “We have a couple of large pulp manufacturers here. They have both slowed up. That leaves a big hole in the pulp market.”

He added that “loggers can’t stay profitable in the woods, and it rolls down-hill.”

“The market is slow right now in all sectors,” he said. “It seems like there is less demand. Plus, interest rates are up and everything seems to be up.”

At the time of this writing, the source noted that the current state of the market would further be “disrupted by the holiday season.”

“So, there probably won’t be too much more business until the first of 2024,” he noted.

The source said that many members of his trade “saw the trend coming.”

“But it was really accelerating here two or three weeks ago,” he noted.

The Minnesota lumberman said that the market was “crazy” for the last few years but has “stabilized” in the past few months.

“The housing market slowed down,” he said, noting that his main clients are builders specializing in moulding, cabinets, Hardwood floors and trims.

“It is good now,” he noted, “because certain woods got crazy expensive and then when it slowed down it went ridiculously too low. So, now they’ve come back to where they should be.”

Specializing in all grades of lumber species native to southeast Minnesota, the source said he could go up to 8/4 in thickness.

The Michigan lumberman said that Red Oak and Maple are still selling, primarily in 4/4 and 5/4. However, he added that Aspen and Basswood have “been in the tank for several months now” and that Maple “is hard to get.”

“Red Oak is still good,” he continued, “and is in good demand but the price still isn’t great. At least they’ve got demand again.”

While the three sources from the Lake States had different experiences regarding the current market, they all agreed that the competition for White Oak has gotten “unreal.”

“White Oak is a challenge,” said the Minnesota source. “Nobody has good White Oak and it is in such high demand.”

He believes that architects and designers have “specked it out.”

“Then it must be rift cut because you can only get so much when you quarter (the wood). That is by far the toughest one on the market for anybody.”

The Wisconsin source agreed.

“White Oak is the hardest to get because it is in such high demand,” she added. “The stave mills use it for bourbon barrels. No matter what the economy is doing, bourbon is still being produced and consumed.” n

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

The premier online information source for the forest products industry since 1927.

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