Northeast Business Trends – August/September 2022

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The hardwood lumber market in the Northeast is strong. Three lumber providers who were interviewed said the same thing in different ways.

A Vermont sawmill representative remarked, “Our market is holding up well. I would say it’s strong. It’s certainly not as good as it was several months ago but I don’t want to mislead you. The difference is: it’s just not as urgent as it was then. But as far as actively selling lumber and getting lumber, everything’s working pretty well. It’s still strong. Several months ago, people were panicked, thinking they needed to buy immediately. Most people would prefer this over what it was then.”

He sells Red and White Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Ash, Birch and Cherry in all grades. His best sellers are Hard and Soft Maple.

His sales are primarily to distribution yards, and he carries out some exporting. “The distribution yards still have pretty good order files,” he observed. “Those order files may be shrinking a little bit. They’re still actively trying to purchase lumber every day. I haven’t heard them say they’ve got more lumber than they need. They’re still looking. Among our export customers, it’s hard to get good information. The few I’ve heard from indicate that there’s a little concern over the economy, but they say they’re very busy. They’re listening to the news, and information in the news is getting mired down, but in the hardwood lumber business, the market is strong.

“Transportation is a struggle,” he added. “Certainly, the cost of fuel and the availability of trucks are both problems.”

“The market is very strong,” said a lumber-woman in New York State. “There’s a big demand for rough cut, green lumber. That’s our specialty. The housing starts are a big part of it. I’d say the overseas market is really strong now also.

“We’re doing better than six months ago with more orders coming in and quicker payments from our vendors,” she stated.

“We manufacture Hard and Soft Maple, Red Oak, Ash, Cherry and Yellow Birch. These are all strong sellers. Everything is No. 3A and Better. The top three right now are Yellow Birch and Red and White Oak. We sell predominantly 4/4, but we’ve done 6/4 and 8/4.

“We sell to brokerages in the Northeast,” she continued. “They buy everything we can make.”

Regarding transportation, she said, “We have our own fleet of trucks, and that’s killing us. The price of diesel is a daily distraction and a morale killer amongst our truckers. Some of them are independent, and it’s triple what their fuel costs were from a year ago. It’s definitely a huge psychological burden to people that make their living over the road and people who rely on off-road diesel to run their machines in their yards. That’s what we do here, off-road and on-road. I do my best to keep my independent truckers happy with giving them an extra payment, by-the-load or by-the-thousand-foot-truck.”

In Pennsylvania, a lumber representative was asked about the health of his market. “It’s good,” he replied. “We’re doing OK. We’re moving right along. We’re heavily into the domestic market now. Freight has been tough to ship for exports. It’s been challenging to secure containers and equipment, and bookings keep getting rolled for export orders. The domestic market is good. However, we’re in a typical summer slowdown and the industry in general is facing uncertainties. I don’t see pricing going up any more. I see it leveling off, which is probably what it needs to do. Our sales are going well and we’re OK right now. But you can’t plan on the future right now. Are we into a recessionary mode? We don’t know. It seems like we are. Going forward I think it’s a good time for lumbermen to be cautious.”

Compared to a few months ago, his market is now “not as great as it was. Six months ago was really good. It’s not like sales are falling off a cliff. I don’t see that.”

He provides his customers – distribution yards and end users – with Cherry, Red Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Hickory and Poplar in all grades, mainly FAS and No. 1 Common in 4/4 through 8/4 thicknesses.

“All of my customers are cautious in their purchasing of lumber. No one wants excess inventory. The RV industry is slowing down due to high diesel prices. That’s really going to affect the marketplace.

“Transportation is definitely a problem,” he noted. “Diesel prices keep going up quickly. My customers don’t want to pay for diesel costs. Also, international bookings keep changing at the port.”

He said that, all in all, “The market’s not bad. That’s how it is in the lumber industry in general. It’s certainly been a lot worse. It’s going well right now.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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