Sawmill Curtailments Bring Increasing Lumber Prices

Since October 2022, quite a few sawmill operators have taken downtime and curtailments. This is normal for the time of year, as usually lumber demand slows in winter and regular maintenance needs to take place, as well as employee vacation time.

Over the past few months there has been perhaps a bit more than the usual reduction of lumber manufacturing volumes, as companies chose to be intentionally proactive against prices falling even further than they already were into the end of last year.

In the week ending January 27, 2023, the price of benchmark softwood lumber item Western Spruce-Pine-Fir 2×4 #2&Btr KD (RL) was US$394 mfbm, which is up by +$20 or +5%, from the previous

week when it was US$374 mfbm, said weekly forest products industry price guide newsletter Madison’s Lumber Reporter.

This is up by +$1, or 0%, from one month ago when it was $393.

Field inventories remained pretty thin according to suppliers, with most buyers still reluctant to secure early coverage in advance of the spring building season.

More sawmill shutdown and curtailment announcements sent ripples through the lumber market; sales of panels continued to struggle.
Madison’s Lumber Reporter

More shutdown and curtailment announcements from Western Canadian producers generated a wave of demand for Western S-P-F commodities. A palpable contingent of buyers in the United States was busy scrambling for pressing inventory needs after they heard the news. Sawmill order files were largely into the week of February 13th, with prompt availability getting scarcer by the day.

Canadian purveyors of Western S-P-F lumber described an improving feel to the market. Attendees of the previous week’s Western Retail Lumber Association Building and Hardware Showcase in Winnipeg, MB, noted a positive tone among suppliers and buyers who met at the conference. There was an increasing perception that downside risk was evaporating as sawmill asking prices continued to firm up and order files stretched into the two- to three-week range on many items. Mill sales lists got thinner with each passing day, consistent with ongoing curtailments among major producers.

Producers of Western S-P-F studs in BC and Alberta reported a solid market. Limited supply was outstripped by burgeoning demand generated largely by sweeping curtailment announcements among large Western producers. Prompt offerings dwindled rapidly, with order files in many cases stretching into mid- to late-February. Some buyers remained on the sidelines and unwilling to commit just yet, while many others were spurred into action by the turbulent supply situation.
Madison’s Lumber Reporter
Madison’s Benchmark Top-Six Softwood Lumber and Panel Prices: Monthly Averages

Compared to the same week last year, when it was US$1,220 mfbm, the price of Western Spruce-Pine-Fir 2×4 #2&Btr KD (RL) for the week ending January 27, 2023 was down by -$826, or -68%.
Compared to two years ago when it was $894, that week’s price is down by -$500, or -56%.