Declining trade of softwood lumber, plummeting lumber prices in the US
and slowing wood demand in China were some of the biggest
international lumber developments in the 3Q/18, reports the Wood
Global softwood lumber trade down
Global trade of softwood lumber from January through September 2018 was down 2.5%
as compared to the same period last year. China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the
MENA region reduced their imports, while the US and continental Europe have imported
more lumber this year than in 2017.
Lumber markets – North America
After US lumber imports reached a 10-year high in the 2Q/18, import volumes fell 3.5%
to 9.44 million m3 in the 3Q/18, which was still over 10% more than in the same
quarter in 2017. The trend over the past few years has been that the market share for
overseas lumber supply to the US has increased at the expense of Canadian supply, as
reported in the Wood Resource Quarterly (WRQ). The Canadian share has fallen from 95%
of total imports in 2016 to 91% in 2018.
Lumber prices in the US plummeted during the summer and fall, with major grades falling
about 40% from June to November.
Lumber exports from Canada were down in all markets in the 3Q, and the total export
volume was down 4.3% q-o-q. Almost 80% of the shipments were destined for the United
States. During the first nine months of 2018, export volumes to China were 16% lower than
the same period last year.
Lumber markets – Northern Europe
Lumber exports from both Finland and Sweden slowed substantially in the late summer,
with August shipments being down 10% (Finland) and 6% (Sweden) from August 2017.
The biggest decrease in Finnish exports so far this year have been in shipments to China
and Saudi Arabia, while Swedish sawmills have reduced exports to Egypt, China and Japan
the most. Both countries have kept up sales in the European market in 2018 with only minor
changes in shipped volumes from 2017, according to the WRQ. Lumber prices in both
Finland and Sweden have remained fairly stable during most of 2018.
Lumber market – United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is the world’s third largest importer of softwood lumber, after the US
and China. In 2017, the country imported 7.5 million m3 of lumber, the highest level seen
since 2007 and up almost 50% from five years ago. Sweden has long been the major
supplier, with a market share of about 45%. However, demand for imported lumber to the
UK has fallen by 20% during the first nine months of 2018.
Import prices for lumber have trended upwards in US dollar terms in the past few years to
reach a three-year high in the 2Q/18, followed by a decline of 7.3% in the 3Q/18.
Lumber markets – China
A gloomier outlook by Chinese consumers and a shortage of credits for many provincial
governments and state-run firms have contributed to reduced demand for forest products.
As a result, total softwood lumber imports to China have slowed in 2018, with volumes in
the first nine months falling 11% as compared to the same period in 2017, according to
Chinese customs data. Imports were down from all supplying countries except Russia.