Northeast Business Trends – February/March 2023

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Across the Northeast region several lumber representatives reported mixed feelings as to where lumber sales and prices stood at the time of this writing. Some noted that their markets are still strong, while others mentioned that sales are soft and that the lumber purchasing seems to be spotty.

A Connecticut lumber provider described his market as “quiet for sure. Everybody I talk to says the Maples are tough to sell. However, the consensus is that Red Oak has stabilized and is selling. So, there’s a plus, I guess. Also, production generally seems to be down.”

He said, “The general consensus is that there will be a little buying uptick sometime in the first quarter. The million-dollar question is: what happens after that? I think the question is: what’s the real hardwood market at this point? So, when we get that uptick, is it a matter of customers buying a load here and a load there and the business is still soft? Is it: we have a steady point to move forward from, and customers will be good for a couple or three loads a month? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. And I think that’s the biggest question.”

His market is “worse overall” than it was several months earlier, he remarked.

He handles Red and White Oak and Hard and Soft Maple (60 percent of his sales are in Red Oak). He also sells Birch, Ash and Hickory. Thicknesses are 4/4 to 5/4 and grades are No. 3 Common and Better.

He sells to both distribution yards and end users. “I think the end users’ business is very quiet. Distribution can be quiet, and then they get an order.

“As for transportation, the bulk of our sales are FOB mill (meaning the buyer pays delivery charges). Or we’ve got local sales that we can deliver with our truck. Domestic transportation hasn’t been a huge issue. Also, export transportation is a little better, more consistent. Log flow has been OK. Manpower-wise, we’re fortunate; we’re in pretty good shape.”

In New York, a lumberman said his market is “getting better than it was.” In the recent past, he stated, the market was “not good. The market is very competitive. What it costs to produce lumber and what you can get for it does not work out well. So, business is not great. Business is just so-so. It’s break-even at best.”

Even at that, he said the current market is “better than it was six months ago,” he observed.

He offers Red and White Oak and Hard Maple in FAS and Better and No. 1 Common in 4/4 through 8/4.

He sells his lumber to both distribution yards and end users. “They’re struggling in their sales,” he stated.

“Transportation is OK,” he remarked. “The cost is high because of the price of diesel fuel but we’re able to get trucks.”

A lumberwoman in New York said that her market is strong overall, however, she did remark that it is weaker than it was six months ago. “The price of furniture grade hardwood lumber for export has literally tanked. Our pallet markets are still strong, but with the drop in furniture grade hardwood, we are doing worse,” she stated.

She said they handle Hard and Soft Maple, Red Oak, Yellow Birch, Cherry and Ash, in grades FAS1F, Selects and No. 1 Common and No. 3 A and Better, in thicknesses of 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 and 8/4. She said that Yellow Birch has the biggest demand.

She sells to export wholesalers, who have said that their sales have been impacted by China’s involvement in the global marketplace. “China has had a strong presence in the Northeast hardwoods for at least the past three decades, and their market has changed to where they have stopped importing from us. One of the fears of the big lumber houses is that they are going to get stuck with a lot of the lumber that they have on hand,” she said.

She said that the company she represents owns their own trucks so the only issue with transportation continues to be the cost of diesel fuel.

In Maryland, a sawmill representative said that his market is tough. “Last year was a good year. This year is similar to 2009. Products are hard to sell, we can’t get orders for some things, and prices are half of what they were last year,” he said.

He said that they mainly deal in Poplar and Red and White Oak in grades FAS1F, No. 1 Common, No. 2A and 2B Common, with thicknesses of 4/4, 5/4, 8/4, 10/4 and 12/4, depending on what the customer needs, but they mainly do 5/4. He said that White Oak is doing the best as far as price, but when it comes to what species is moving the best, they are all tough to move.

He sells to distribution yards, and exporters. “I talk to all of them, and they all seem to be having a tough time,” he remarked.

He said that his company isn’t having an issue with transportation or their labor force right now.

A Pennsylvania lumber spokesman said that, at press time, their business was starting to pick up on the export market. “We are noticing that pricing has begun to increase slowly. We have noticed that on the domestic front people are spot buying, but we are encouraged that our customers will start buying more frequently in the new year,” he noted.

“Our sales are worse than they were six months ago. We started to notice a slowdown in about mid-June, and then sales really fell off over a three-and-a-half-month period. We have never seen a decline in our sales that fast,” he said.

He deals with Red Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Hickory, Poplar and Cherry, in grades FAS No. 1 and 2 Common, in thicknesses of mainly 4/4 and some 5/4 and 6/4. His bestselling is Red Oak in the export market, but he mentioned that its price has deflated.

He sells to distribution yards, mill workshops and manufacturers. He commented that most of his customers have said that their sales are also slower.

“Transportation has always been a topic of concern. Right now, we are able to find all the trucks and containers that we need for our domestic orders. Exports on the other hand, we are having trouble finding available bookings,” he said.

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By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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