RISI Crow’s Market Recap for April 6
A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for April 6, 2018.
Western: regional species perimeter foundation
Southern: regional species slab construction
Crow’s Market Recap: A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.
As the week progressed, more SPF buyers threw in the towel after trying to hold out for lower prices. Demand picked up at midweek and as early as Tuesday. Much of the buying was focused on 2×4, equating to more subdued price increases for other dimensions.
- Southern Pine prices were mixed, but losses continued to outnumber gains in the key upper grades. Buyers, sensing the potential for more downside price moves, held off purchasing some items. Demand for other items improved, and cutbacks in production for low priced items helped boost pricing.
- The downside to Coastal species pricing was not as severe as in prior weeks, but softness remained, particularly in dry Doug Fir. Producers noted that dry was not as active as green Doug Fir, which was reflected in prices of the two products.
- The pace and demand for Inland lumber products indicate that this is a rebuilding market. Hem-Fir is still the leader among Inland products, but Fir-Larch has picked up well.
- After a reduction in available supplies the prior week, SPF stud demand remained good and prices continued to strengthen. Moderate to up-limit gains in futures throughout much of the week prodded more buyers to participate. Western US species were weaker.
- Radiata Pine was being re-examined by some producers in New Zealand, based on decisions being made regarding the local New Zealand market.
- Price activity in Ponderosa Pine industrials varied from producer to producer regarding Shop, but industry consensus showed no major changes in either 5/4 or 6/4 Mldg&Btr. In boards Ponderosa Pine Selects have been stable, but recent activity in Commons have them attempting to regain stronger levels.
- New availability of Idaho White Pine changed the prices of that species, some items elevating while others slumped a bit.
- Additional mill offerings of ESLP are forthcoming.
- As markets headed into April, a month where Western Red Cedar traders expect an uptick in sales activity, the pace of sales was relatively steady and slower than in 2017.
OSB markets twisted in the wind this week, slowed by pervasive late winter weather and a reluctance among buyers to take on volume at current prices. Sources held varied opinions as to whether there is downside or upside.
- Southern Pine plywood sales again failed to keep up with production. Consequently, producers were forced to lower quotes to compete in different regions of the country. Fortunately for producers, a fair amount of liquidity existed in the form of railcar demand.
- Western Fir sheathing sales were mostly lackluster, lending to a mostly flat to moderately downward pricing. Mills did what they could to maintain some semblance of strength in the market. Producers came off prices of those items where lead times eroded.
- Canadian plywood markets were widely described as quiet this week, though some sources noted “spotty” activity. Wintry weather held back most enthusiasm and quelled purchasing. Buyers chased wood, and some volumes ordered in February had yet to arrive.
- Sales improved for some particleboard and MDF producers. MDF sales were solid in the West and East regions. Particleboard sales activity in the West generally lagged that in the East.
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Centuries in the Making: Alexander Lumber (est. 1891)
The April issue of HBSDealer profiled a handful of lumberyards that have survived and thrived beyond the century mark. One of the keys to success across the board: They move on when opportunities present themselves.
See the April 2018 digital edition here.
What follows below is a look at Alexander Lumber, an Illinois institution since 1891.
Alexander Lumber (est. 1891)
Alexander Lumber, with 18 retail locations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, celebrates 127 years in the lumber business.
The company’s roots stretch back to the 1870s when the Alexander family arrived in Wisconsin by way of Scotland and began a sawmill business. Along with retail lumberyards, including 15 locations in Illinois, the company now operates truss plants in Cortland and Le Roy, Ill., and a showroom and sales office in Twin Lakes, Wis.
The first actual Alexander Lumber location opened in 1891 with the aid of two partners, Tom Brittingham and Joe Hixon, and a $5,000 loan from Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago.
John Alexander, the youngest of the Alexander immigrants, eventually expanded the company, which grew with the railroad industry. Alexander expanded west through a series of land leases and “line yards,” which were small-scale yards along the railroad route.
By the 1920s, more than 100 of these small lumberyards were under the control of John Alexander.
The company eventually expanded product lines and built a showroom to serve contractors and builders. Otto Unteed managed day-to-day operations of the company from 1940 until his retirement in 1966.
Russ Kathrein was named president and CEO of the company in September 2014 and Alexander Lumber celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2016. The company expanded into Iowa in 2016 when it acquired Nagle Lumber of Iowa City.
“Alexander Lumber has been looking for high-quality companies that will allow us to grow, while at the same time, diversify our business outside of the Illinois economy that has been our traditional base of business,” Kathrein said at the time.
Centuries in the Making: Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
You might recognize the pair of brothers who were pretty good customers for the old Requarth Lumber, the forerunner of The Requarth Co. of Dayton, Ohio. Their names were Orville and Wilbur Wright. Yes, the same Wright Brothers in your history books.
Requarth moved past supplying aviation industry pioneers many years ago. And that’s one of the recurring themes for each of the businesses profiled that have survived beyond the century mark. They move on when opportunities present themselves.
HBSDealer‘s profiles of lumberyards that have thrived for more than a 100 years offer a glimpse of the durability of this industry. Featured yards include:
- Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
- Alexander Lumber (est. 1891)
- The Requarth Co. (est. 1860)
- S.W. Collins Co. (est. 1844)
Read the feature on Maze Lumber below and stay tuned for the other three profiles coming next week.
Maze Lumber (est. 1848)
In 1848, Samuel Nesbitt Maze founded a business that would continue operating 170 years later and has entered its sixth generation of leadership — a historic trait that few lumberyards can lay claim to.
Situated on the banks of the Illinois River in Peru, Ill. — less than two hours from Chicago — Maze Lumber represents the foundation on which the company originated. Samuel Maze began the business by ferrying wheat up the Illinois and Michigan Canal into Chicago. From there, Maze would buy Wisconsin lumber and ferry it back down for sale at his Peru yard.
“Prior to railroads, that was a huge deal and how we got started,” said Pete Loveland, general manager of Maze Lumber and the great-great grandson of Samuel Maze.
Eventually the business expanded its offerings and sold coal — which lumberyards featured to expand sales during the building offseason.
“We sold lumber in the summer and coal in the winter. Typically, you didn’t have builders working steadily during the winter months,” Loveland said, noting that while the company sold hundreds of freight cars of coal, Maze sold its last truckload about three years ago.
Given its location to the Illinois River, periodic flooding has proven problematic. But its current address on 1100 Water St. is likely to be its home for quite some time. Loveland said that despite the havoc the river might cause, the company has no intention of moving: “We just accommodate it. It’s really a matter of being a major inconvenience.”
He described the river’s proximity to Maze Lumber not so much as a stone’s throw away, but rather “a basketball shot away.”
Having worked in the family business for 40 years, Loveland has seen some major changes at Maze.
“Back in the day, you only had contractors come down to the yard and there was no showroom,” Loveland said. “Now you not only have contractors come down, but you have families too.”
Today, special orders are also the name of the game for Maze as opposed to massive inventories. Due to the diversity of products — millwork, kitchen and bath, windows and doors and fireplace products — “you can’t stock it all,” Loveland said.
The customer split at Maze is roughly 60-40 between contractors and homeowners/DIYers. Among contractors, remodelers are the dealer’s primary customers. Operating in a dense, older market, building permits for new homes can be scarce.
“When we were right in the depths of the recession, there were almost no building permits for a year,” he said.
Given the business is approaching its 200-year mark, perception can be a challenge.
“It can conjure up an image of some type of lumberyard that is living in the past and hasn’t come up to modernity,” Loveland said. “But it’s not reality. Once people get into our yard, they realize we are cutting edge.”
Maze also continues to provide a strong balance of service, quality and pricing for its customers. “It might be cliché, but the reality is very few are able to provide all three,” he said.
“Over time lots of lumberyards have come and gone in this town. Those guys would come up with crazy pricing strategies and schemes. How did they stay in business with those business plans?” Loveland asked. “They didn’t, that’s the answer.”