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US lumber prices bounce back despite low housing starts

North American lumber prices have bounced back but how long will this last? Madison’s Lumber Reporter has been following the ups-and-downs of North America construction framing softwood dimension lumber prices in 2019, which remain baffling. Sources: Timberbiz, Forest2Market

A look at the latest US housing starts and home sales data shows continued mixed performance with US housing starts dropping by 4% in July while the inventory of available homes continues to decrease steadily even as home prices are pushed further upward.

If the lumber market seems soft, the data demonstrates that steady demand for finished lumber products is simply not there. While existing home sales and home inventory levels provide some guidance on the general direction of the market, a jump (or upward trend) in housing starts will ultimately drive the kind of lumber demand needed to move the needle.

The price of benchmark lumber commodity Western Spruce-Pine-Fir KD 2×4 #2&Btr in the first week of September gained +US$24, or +7%, to close the week at US$370 mfbm compared with US$346 the week before.

That week’s price was also up +US$24 or +7% from one month ago. Compared with one year ago, this price is down -US$114, or -24%; it is also down -US$78, or -17% relative to the 2-year rolling average price of US$448, and down just -US$2 relative to the 5-year rolling average price of US$372.

Producers of kiln-dried Douglas-fir dimension lumber also enjoyed another strong week. Buyers were in the mix every day, keeping suppliers busy; sawmills had order files into mid- and late-September on all commodity items.

With the impressive recent rally in green Douglas-fir prices, dry fir commodities are now finding their way into a few Southern California markets at a discount to green on a delivered basis.

In Eastern Canada, brisk sales of Eastern Spruce-Pine-Fir have allowed sawmills to extend their order files into mid- or late-September. The flurry of buying activity slowly died down during the Labor Day weekend, but a resounding sense of optimism remained. After seeing the quick shift in the market, a considerable number of buyers booked orders thereafter to fill in their nearly-depleted inventories.