Lumber futures scored the biggest gain among major commodities for the month of February, as Donald Trump’s first full month as U.S. president fed uncertainty surrounding the nation’s lumber trade dispute with Canada.
Random length lumber for May delivery LBK7, -2.57% was trading at $365.90 per 1,000-board-feet Tuesday afternoon, set for a roughly 10.9% gain for the month. Year to date, prices have climbed nearly 16%, based on the most-active contracts, after jumping almost 23% in 2016, according to FactSet data.
For comparison with other major commodities, iron-ore futures have tacked on around 5.8% and wheat futures WK7, +2.20% have climbed more than 5%, for the month. West Texas Intermediate oil futures CLJ7, +0.37% traded about 2% higher and gold futures GCJ7, -1.03% were up about 3.5% from the end of January.
The U.S. had been negotiating with the Canada to reach a new trade agreement on lumber. Those negotiations ground to halt at the end of last year, likely pending the results of an investigation requested by the U.S. Lumber Coalition into unfair import practices, according to a Tuesday article in Builder Magazine.
The U.S. Lumber Coalition alleges that subsidies offered by provincial governments in Canada provide Canadian lumber producers with the ability to sell below the market value of timber—putting the U.S. lumber industry at a disadvantage.
The dispute resulted in softwood lumber negotiations hitting a brick wall as the end of 2016, said Adam Koos, president of Libertas Weatlh Management Group.
Next steps will depend on how Trump’s trade team approaches the issue. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was sworn in Tuesday, while U.S. Trade Reprsentative-nominee Robert Lighthizer awaits confirmation.
Meanwhile, a border-adjustment tax plan favored by House Republicans adds another degree of uncertainty. Under the plan, imports would be taxed at a rate of 20%, while exports would be excluded from taxes in the form or rebates.
“When you have this kind of uncertainty, the normal supply and demand equation gets disrupted by emotion and worry,” Koos said, adding that lumber prices have “reached exhaustive overbought levels” in February.
Month to date among exchange-traded funds that track forest products, the Guggenheim MSCI Global Timber ETF CUT, +1.18% has gained about 1.9%, while the iShares Global Timber & Forestry ETF WOOD, +1.15% was up 3.6%.
Demand for lumber is also set to get a seasonal boost.
“Spring is the time when U.S. housing starts get into high gear,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group.
Construction on new U.S. houses fell 2.6% in January, but permits to build new homes climbed 4.6%. That implies that builders will break ground on more units in the months ahead.
And data released Tuesday show that U.S. consumers are the most confident in the nation’s economy in 15 years. The survey of consumer confidence rose to 114.8 in February from 111.6 in January, according to the Conference Board.
“With strong consumer confidence, there is an expectation that this building season could be the strongest in years,” said Flynn.