Northeast Business Trends – July 2022

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Where there is enough labor in the Northeast, the Hardwood lumber markets are strong. Where there is not enough labor, it’s a different story.

A sawmill representative in Connecticut said the market for him is “pretty steady, solid. Things are moving.”

Asked if the market was stronger at the time of the interview or several months earlier, he replied, “That’s a good question. I would say it’s as good. Instead of buying three or four loads in one purchase, people tend to buy two loads and come back in two weeks to buy the other two, where they might have bought four in one trip before. The volume has held; the pricing has held. But the pace is a little different. There’s a little more lumber around. People don’t have quite the sense of urgency to buy lumber that they had two months ago. In terms of dollars and volume, it’s steady as she goes.”

His best sellers are Red and White Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Hickory, Ash and Birch, kiln-dried, No. 1 Common and Better in 4/4.

He sells his lumber to both distribution yards and end users. “I think their sales are going right along fine,” he said. “I don’t get the impression that things are slowing down for them. It’s steady-as-she-goes for them.”

Problems in transportation are mostly on the container front, he remarked. “We do some of the trucking ourselves, so that’s nice and predictable. I can’t say we’ve had many domestic, kiln-dried loads that have sat for an inordinate amount of time. Instead of three to four days, it may sit a week and a half. Sometimes, loads can go out in three to four days. It’s not like all of them are out there a week and a half. It’s not a huge problem.

“I’ve heard customers say that trucking is a rat-race,” he continued. “I can’t say that we’ve really felt that. Other than kiln-dried lumber that we truck, we sell most of our products so that the customers pick the lumber up from us.”

A representative for a concentration yard in Pennsylvania said, “The market is still strong. But it is softer than it was earlier in the year. Up until May, no matter what we had, everything was sold prior to it even coming out of the kilns. Now we’ve had a small amount – a load here, a load there – that aren’t sold before they come out of the kilns but it’s still not difficult to sell the stock we have. However, some prices have been reduced.

“There’s been such a meteoric rise in the lumber pricing over the past year-and-a-half that our prices are probably still higher than they were six months ago, but some of the numbers have come off of where they were two or three months ago. Pricing has softened up a little but there’s nothing that’s hard to move.” His lumber is No. 2 Common and Better, mostly in 4/4. Walnut is his best seller. Also selling well are Hard and Soft Maple, Red Oak and Cherry.

He sells mostly to end users and “a lot of export,” he stated. “All of my customers seem to be doing well, I haven’t heard anybody say they aren’t. It’s been so strong for so long. I don’t hear anyone say they’re struggling to be profitable. I think sales are still petty strong for everyone.

“Earlier in the year, export freight was a real challenge,” he noted, “but now even domestic loads are a real challenge. Prices are rising and availability of truckers is very tight. Freight is the No. 1 thing that’s been a challenge this year. The No. 2 problem is retaining employees.”

A representative of a sawmill in Massachusetts said, “As far as wholesale the market stinks. Retail is excellent. It’s bleak because there is zero labor in this area.”

Compared to six months earlier, he said the market is “exactly the same.”

He handles Oak, Ash, Birch, Beech, Maple and Cherry, mostly in 4/4 but also up to 16/4. He handles only high-end grades.

He does no business with wholesale now, he stated. “They can’t even pay what labor costs me. So, I’m trying to sell everything retail. There is no wholesale in this area now, no one will pay what it costs me. I’m turning the lumber into flooring and things like that and selling it out that way. I’m adding manufacturing to it just to get rid of the stuff. It’s the only way to make a living.”

Transportation isn’t a problem for him, he said. “There’s plenty of that in this area, just no help. We went from 30 people to two. I’m not moving large quantities anymore. I’m not using 18-wheelers anymore. I have my own trucks.”

A lumberman in New York State said his market is “pretty good. The bad aspect is $6.50 per gallon diesel fuel. The good aspects are: we seem to be at an even keel; we seem to be able to buy what we need and sell what we need. This won’t last long though.”

Compared to a few months earlier, he stated, “I’d say the market is about the same.”

He handles 4/4 through 8/4 Red and White Oak in FAS/1 Face, No. 2 Common and Better.

He sells to distribution yards and end users. “I hear reports that their sales are good. However, we’re all concerned about inflation. It costs you more money to get to work and back than it did. Grocery prices are up. So, we all have that concern, but things seem to be ticking along alright anyway.

“Things are going pretty well for us on transportation, except for the price,” he noted. Asked if any other issues are negatively affecting his business, he replied, “No, we’re in pretty good shape.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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