Lake States Business Trends – March 2024

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Among the factors for the recent slowdown in many lumber yards throughout the Lake States, a Michigan lumberman recently suggested that a “lack of vision” loomed as a primary culprit in the downturn.

“It is kind of odd,” he noted. “Six months ago, customers had a little pep in their step. Usually we’d say that (the market) is ‘slow, but it will pick up in a couple weeks.’ Now, people have week-to-week or even day-to-day vision.

“Instead of saying, ‘go ahead and bring (the lumber) in. Let’s go ahead and do this,’” he added. “Customers are now waiting. Our overall volume is similar to six months ago. However, it goes right back again to the customers.”

The source, who specializes in Hard Maple, Red and White Oak and Hickory cut to 4/4 thickness, said that other conditions have led to the “lack of vision” in the market.

“There is a general slowdown in this industry for Hardwood products,” he said. “It is spurred by things like interest rates, the time of the year and Hardwood alternatives. Instead of solid wood floors, people have gone to luxury vinyl plank flooring. High Density Fiber products are replacing Hardwood in many cases.”

Due to many of these factors, the source said he doesn’t expect things to rebound until the third quarter of 2024.

“Demand is down and so is supply,” he said. “It is hard right now to convert a log into lumber and make a profit. A lot of these sawmillers, they know the price of the timber that they have and they are not bringing it in. If demand finally picks up there is going to be a gap out here where there is not enough lumber to supply the demand.

“We are producing a lot of rustic grade and 2 Common and not enough 1 Common,” he continued. “Most people have 2 Common White Oak but no 1 Common or prime. Logs have so much value now, they are not making it to a sawmill. The logs you’re left with are low grade logs.”

A Minnesota source who primarily sells to contractors and cabinet makers said that Hard Maple sales have “started to come back” but that Cherry is “a problem.”

“White Oak is still moving like crazy,” he said. “And Walnut is always high.”

The lumberman said that 25 percent of his sales come from kiln-dried lumber.

“I wouldn’t say that things are slow right now,” he emphasized. “We have been pretty steady.”

He added that the market has been “very competitive” for home builders since fewer houses are being built.

A Wisconsin lumberman was optimistic that the market would improve after the holidays.

“I thought it would be a lot better,” he expressed. “But we are still waiting for things to take off. Things have been lean for about six months.”

He added that sales in flooring, cabinets and moulding have been “slow but steady.”

Specializing in Hard Maple, Basswood, Red Oak and Ash, this Hardwood business significantly curtailed production to 50,000 feet a day.

One of the markets that the business has temporarily cut out is exports.

“We have not been exporting (Red Oak) to China or Vietnam this year,” he said.

Work has slowed to the point that the mill is only operating 30 hours a week.

“One bright spot is the Hard Maple,” he said. “It has really been picking up.”

Another concern for the source is that there are not enough logs on hand to move before the eventual “break-up,” the unideal period of travel time ranging from 6 to 8 weeks when ice is melting and freezing from the roadways.

An Ohio lumberman also noted that the “weather has been terrible for logging.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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