West Coast Business Trends – May 2023

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West Coast lumbermen, when recently interviewed, voiced positive sentiments about their markets.

“The market is starting to pick up, more so than a couple of months ago,” stated a lumber provider in California. “We are getting more business.

“Business activity is the same as six months ago – it’s continuing to pick up some,” he remarked.

He handles Walnut, White Oak and Hickory in FAS, No. 1 and No. 2 Common. White Oak was his best seller, at the time of this interview.

He sells his lumber to flooring companies and retail lumber yards. “Business is improving for some of them,” he said. “They’re getting more inquiries and more orders.

“Transportation is not a problem,” he observed. “In Northern California, snow and rain there have affected our business,” he remarked. “Some orders have been put on hold.”

To the north, in Oregon, a lumberman stated, “Our business activity is all right. It’s a little soft; it’s not robust. But we are doing pretty well. Some people are nervous about the economy but we have customers who are booked out through the end of the year with jobs.”

Asked to compare current business activity with several months ago, he replied, “That’s a really good question. A few months ago interest rate hikes were a concern. Now, dealing with our market is day to day but about the same as several months earlier. There are some indications of market softening. You have interest rates that have risen that have deterred people from doing projects. We’re doing good in spite of all that.

“We handle virtually all domestic and some exotic species of lumber, primarily in Select and Better and 4/4 with some 12/4 and 16/4,” he said.

He sells lumber to distribution yards, manufacturers and end users, “the whole gamut,” he commented. “From what we hear, a lot of manufacturers are still busy. They are short-handed, doing the same amount of work with fewer employees. Portland is different from other cities. There’s a lot of red tape required to build houses. So, Portland never overbuilt like other big cities. We haven’t seen a dramatic decrease in home prices; they’ve gone flat.

“I don’t know what the next three months will hold. People are nervous. There’s not a lot of confidence in the market. We’re preparing for a recession. I don’t know if it’s going to be that severe.”

He said, “Transportation is expensive. We’ve relied on our own trucking and have pushed it to the limit because we can make it work with what we have now in trucks and drivers.”

Further north in Washington, another lumberman noted that he had “increased activity this month. Last month was slow as far as booking orders. Looking forward, business looks stronger.”

Compared to a few months earlier, he said, the market was “weaker.”

He sells lumber in all thicknesses, mostly 4/4, in Select and Better, No. 1 Common and No. 2 Common. Species include Hard and Soft Maple, Poplar, Red and White Oak, Beech, Alder, Hickory and “any eastern Hardwoods,” he remarked. Poplar is his best seller, followed by Hard and Soft Maple, all in upper grades and No. 1 Common.

His customers include both end users and distribution yards. “Our feeling is still that their order files have been reduced. They’re not ordering quite as much as they did in the past. Their orders from their customers are down 35 percent, I would think, based on their orders to us.

“Transportation has been good,” he stated. “Lumber is moving at a reasonable rate. However, interest rates are the killer. People are financing furniture for their homes, and the interest rates have slowed purchases down. We’re trying to weather the storm.”

By Miller Wood Trade Publications

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

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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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