West Coast Business Trends

Oct Issue

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The Hardwood markets on the West Coast are mixed, varying depending on which lumber provider is telling his story.

In Oregon, a distribution yard representative described his market as “staying status quo. As much as the inventory’s in balance, it doesn’t take much to get it out of balance. As we sell lumber, we get stock in. The material we’re getting in, much of it arrives very late, compared to the original shipping dates. It’s been a real balancing act.”

However, if he had to lean toward his market being better or worse, he would go on the side of “better,” he said. “It’s probably healthier than what it was. All of us distribution yards could really grow our sales and revenue if we had normal availability of stock. The prices we pay are still high, and certain items are scarce. But for the most part, our vendors have been able to keep us in product.”

He handles all domestic and imported species and sells this lumber to other distribution yards, cabinet manufacturers, fixture display companies and to retailers. “We’ve been pretty blessed,” he stated. With COVID and many big industry meetings being halted, display business companies (his customers) were without business. “Many of them pivoted into commercial fixtures,” he noted.

“Transportation is a mess,” he remarked. “We’re very dependent on container shipping from our suppliers in the East and South. Everything is so congested as far as the rail lines go.” Ocean shipping is congested, too, he added, “and it doesn’t matter where in the world you are.

“Also,” he said, “labor’s tight. We’re trying to recruit for new employees and the employment costs are up.”

A Washington lumber provider noted that his market was “a little slower than it was four weeks ago. But it’s not bad. It’s tapered off from what it was. Prices are steady. We aren’t seeing a drop in prices we pay overall but we’re seeing more availability. The prices are still holding firm, but they’re not increasing like they were. They’re still at their peaks, and we don’t see anything softening yet, which is odd. We didn’t think the high prices would hold on this long. There are a few species like Hard and Soft Maple that are really just not out there; there’s still a lack of availability. But the mills are catching up to fill orders.” 

The market is “slightly worse” than it was six months earlier, he stated. “The order files have taken a breather, but that’s typical this time of year,” he said. “Demand has softened in the last couple of weeks.”

He sells Red and White Oak, Hard and Soft Maple, Hickory, Poplar, Walnut “and a few other oddball species,” he noted. His best sellers, he said, are Hard and Soft Maple. “The mills are struggling to keep up with supply – in higher demand and shorter supply,” he said. However, “If you’ve got the right match for your customer, it’s usually a pretty easy sell.

“We sell to distribution yards, millwork shops and end use manufacturing companies in flooring, cabinetry and moulding,” he remarked. “A lot of our customers are still doing really well right now. 

“Transportation is still tough, but in the last month, we’ve found it is getting a little better. My assumption is: there is less freight for truckers to haul. That’s why you have more trucks available. We were having trouble getting trucks for a while. It wasn’t about how much you were willing to pay; the availability just wasn’t there. And now we’re seeing the availability there.”

In California, a lumberman stated, “The market is good, but you have to have lumber to sell. I would say access to lumber is improving in certain species.”

Compared to a few months ago, he said his market is “about the same, which is good.” He sells FAS No. 1 and No. 2 Walnut, Hickory and White Oak, with White Oak and Walnut being his best sellers. He sells his lumber to flooring manufacturers and retail lumber yards. “Their business has been very solid,” he remarked. “They’ve been booking orders on a regular basis.”

Asked if transportation is a problem, he said, “It’s harder getting containers delivered from the mills, but transportation in California is no problem.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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