China casts shadow of uncertainty

“What’s going on with China?” is a typical question among North American lumber buyers as they try to calculate the next move in their markets, especially in spruce-fir-pine. Wholesalers ask the question because, unlike those times when their customers are obviously looking to replenish stocks, there is no “feel” for when Asian customers will enter the market to purchase additional volumes. It just happens. Subsequently, lumber availability can dry up in a matter of minutes, and prices can leap when they appear most vulnerable.

“It is the biggest unknown in the marketplace,” remarked an SPF trader, regarding China. That “unknown” could play a much different role in markets if western mills, and in particular those in British Columbia, did not sell significant volumes to China on a program basis. Those steady flows of program lumber limit the potential for large, open market buys, thus reducing the likelihood of market volatility. So, while it might be easier for wholesalers to keep tabs on a marketplace in which all lumber exports to China flowed consistently, it would also likely eliminate some of the market volatility that is so vital to their profit margins.

Recently, North American SPF buyers stayed out of the market in significant numbers. Many wondered what the next market move might be. The price of western SPF 2x4 #2&Btr has now risen or held for 16 consecutive weeks, yet is still $50 below its 2013 high. It is also October, and the potential for snow is increasing, yet secondaries have reported steady takeaways from their yards as of late. And then there is China. When considering that part of the equation, and whether that country will again leave a bigger footprint in the market in the coming weeks, it is important to remember that China typically imports some of its greatest volumes from North America in the last quarter.

This article was provided by Crow’s Market and Price Service/RISI. For a free trial of this service, visit

Login or Register to post a comment.