West Coast Business Trends – December 2022/January 2023

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Sales of hardwood lumber are not going great guns on the West Coast, but lumber is still moving.

An Oregon lumberman stated, “The market has been steady. We are seeing prices drop. So, that’s the challenge: No one wants to get stuck with high-dollar inventory. I think the key is: we were fighting for product in the past and then like a light switch, a month ago, people want to sell us lots of lumber. All of a sudden, lumber is available, and prices are going down. We don’t get hurt too much on lumber prices since we have our own mill. So, we’re more versatile. But we’re anticipating prices to come down.

“The market has held over the past several months,” he remarked. “We haven’t seen a big drop-off. We add a lot of value to what we’re selling, and we have our own trucks. Those two things have been advantageous for us in the market.”

He offers all North American hardwoods and some exotics. Poplar is still number one for him, he noted. He sells higher ends such as FAS and Select and Better. He said, “4/4 is king, but we do carry up to 16/4 on some items.”

Mainly, he observed, he sells to end users such as cabinet manufacturers and furniture makers. He also sells to other distribution yards. “I think people are booked for jobs,” he commented, “but the quoting is slowing for future orders. People were busy when their customers wanted to spend money, and they still had jobs they were waiting to get to. But that has slowed.

“We have our own trucks,” he stated. “But the price of fuel is outrageous. On the West Coast, there is a lack of refineries. So, we’re paying a lot for fuel. We pay a premium for drivers, too. There’s a lot of competition for drivers because there’s a lack of them. So, you’re competing with big companies that are offering drivers a lot of benefits to join their companies that small companies can’t offer. We’re doing everything we can for retention.”

In Washington State, “It’s been slow the last two months as far as sales,” stated a lumber representative. “I’d say it has slowed moderately; we’re still moving lumber. But definitely, people aren’t buying forward like they would buy a month or two out a year ago because lumber was hard to come by at the time. Now there’s plenty of lumber on the market. Everybody’s flush in lumber now.”

He sells all grades of Walnut, Poplar, Oak, Maple, Basswood and all Eastern hardwoods, in 4/4 through 8/4 “but you could see any thickness go out of here,” he noted. His best sellers are Hard Maple and Poplar. He sells to millwork shops, distribution yards, cabinet shops and others. As to how his customers are doing sales-wise, “We’re getting mixed results,” he said. “Virtually everyone we’re talking to is seeing some slowing. There are a few people who are saying, ‘We’re only working three to four days a week now.’ ”

On a brighter note, “Transportation prices went down, and availability went up,” he stated. “Transportation is pretty easy for us now.”

In California, a lumber provider commented, “It’s not as busy as it was, but there’s still good business. Lack of housing starts and people’s lack of confidence in the economy are factors. Out here, gas prices and inflation are a real problem.”

Nevertheless, he said the market is “still steady. However, you’ve got to work at it.”

He sells all FAS No. 1 and 2 Common in 4/4 thickness in Walnut, Hickory and White Oak all in 4/4. His best seller is White Oak.

He sells lumber to architects, flooring companies and retail lumberyards.

As for transportation, he noted, “Trucks are not a problem. However, getting containers from the mills takes a little longer than it used to.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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