Quebec Business Trends – January 2024

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The U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, hunting season and Christmas holiday disrupted production and business activity for those in the Hardwood industry. Businesses were busy preparing their log decks and making operational plans as to production schedules, and planning orders of supplies needed for their particular business needs. Several contacts were seeking new sources of supply to work around species shortages of various grades and thicknesses. Items identified in short supply were Hard and Soft Maple, White Oak and upper grade Red Oak for green stocks. Some end users stated they had ample supplies of Basswood and Aspen for their needs.

It is customary at this time of year for markets to soften. Wholesalers and secondary manufacturers reported weak sales as we come out of the holiday period. Their inventories were sufficient to meet current and short-term needs. Pallet manufacturers expect sales to decline for finished goods at this time.

Production was lower for Ash, but decent. Thus, demand held up well with mills shipping developing supplies. Prices edged higher for the No. 1 Common and Better grades. Kiln-dried business was also decent, but inventories were not high, with pricing steady.

Depending on regions contacted, Aspen was getting mixed reviews. For some it was not doing so well with demand being weak for some time with prices responding accordingly. Sawmills processed Aspen at a reduced rate, thus prices eased pressure on green stocks to a certain extent.

Basswood sales were down as this species is in less demand from secondary manufacturers whose business has also seen a slowdown, and also due to competition of other wood species and non-wood material products being substituted in finished goods rather than using Basswood. Contacts say it is hard to find new orders for this species. Sawmills are also limiting their production, however, in certain areas, supplies are outpacing market demand.

The regionally important species Hard Maple is seeing reasonable activity due to an improved U.S. and Canadian housing market that is showing decent levels of demand for this species. Housing starts that were completed and remodeling activity were holding steady. Consumers are preferring wood imitations or look alike products, and imported goods have invaded the market share of Hard and Soft Maple. Sawmills are limiting production which is keeping supplies down and prices firm to upward, therefore, many grades and thicknesses of kiln-dried inventories are not high.

Activity for Soft Maple in Ontario and Quebec appears to have softened, while contacts say the U.S. border states seem to be more active. Production was noted as limited in Quebec with demand being better south of the border. Contacts noted Sap and Better and good quality Unselected Soft Maple business is good. Certain areas note green Soft Maple availability is low relative to buyers’ needs.

Cherry sales levels vary depending on areas contacted, as do sales to China. Businesses selling to domestic markets state business is weak for this species. Those purchasing this species were taking cautious approaches to increase their Cherry inventories.

Kiln-dried Red Oak markets slowed for both domestic and exports to China. Prices were noted as having gone from firm to soft in a short time. Some contacts noted domestic demand was decent while export markets were slow. Inventories are low and continue to cause prices to be firm for certain items.

White Oak producers are receiving more domestic orders and inquiries than they can supply, with upper grades being shortest in supply, according to certain areas contacted. Prices for green No. 1 Common and Better were rising, as were kiln-dried prices. Export sales for 2023 were noted as off compared to 2022 for certain areas.

Contacts stated Poplar is moving at a decent pace, with prices for certain grades showing signs of downward pressure. Supplies of kiln-dried Poplar are meeting demand, and some contacts state they are exceeding demand.

Walnut appears to remain a constant with steady interest on both domestic and international markets. As production levels were low over the past several months, kiln-dried inventories were thin due to low green Walnut production during this time. Sales and prices for various grades and thicknesses of this species vary according to areas contacted.

Quebec’s forest fire prevention agency said the area burned by wildfires in 2023 was greater than the previous 20 years combined.

SOPFEU director general Eric Rousseau told reporters that some 45,000 square kilometers of land burned during 2023’s record-breaking fire season, including more than 11,000 in the bottom half of the province, where most people live.

This was a record for all time in Quebec. The previous record for the habitable zone was under 3,900 square kilometers in 2005. Rousseau said a very dry spring meant fire indicators were near maximum level in many parts of the province by May 2023. The province, which can fight about 30 fires at a time, was already overwhelmed by the end of that month. Then on June 1 came the string of lightning storms across the province that lit 182 fires in a single day.

In total, there were more than 700 fires across the province in 2023, and some 27,000 people from 27 communities were forced from their homes.

With wildfires raging across Canada, other provinces were also unable to lend workers to assist Quebec. About 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and more than 1,100 firefighters from the United States, France, Portugal, South Korea and Spain helped Quebec. Fortunately, there were no deaths and no primary residences or critical infrastructure destroyed in that province.

Forest Minister Maïté Blanchette Vézina said the province is providing an additional $16 million to SOPFEU. The money will purchase new equipment like vehicles and telecommunications material, as well as fire prevention initiatives and strategies to make communities more resilient to extreme weather events.

She added “major reflections” were also underway as the province reviews its forest management practices and strategies to prevent fires.

Rousseau said the agency is in discussion with the province to replace some of the older water bombers of their fleet.

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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