US Housing Starts & Softwood Lumber Prices: June and July 2020

US Housing Total Starts June 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices July 2020

The USA purchases approximately 65% of Canada’s dimension lumber production mostly for home construction framing, while Canadian buyers account for about 10%, and those in Japan take 6%.

For the week ending July 17, 2020, prices of standard construction framing dimension softwood lumber items increased yet further, according to weekly lumber price publisher Madison’s Lumber Reporter. Benchmark softwood lumber item Western S-P-F 2×4 #2&Btr KD popped higher still, up by +50, or +10%, to US$554 mfbm, from US$504 the previous week. The price for this lumber commodity was up +$160, or +41%, from one month ago. Compared to the same week in 2019 this price is up +$186, or +51%. — Madison’s Lumber Reporter

Single-family housing starts in June were at a rate of 831,000; this is +17% above the revised May figure of 709,000.

* Madison’s Lumber Prices, weekly, are a good forecast indicator of US home builder’s current lumber buying activity ——> DETAILS

July 17, 2020  “Construction of U.S. homes jumped +17% in June as some states reopened, but the pace still lags last year after this spring’s massive slowdown in building activity due to the coronavirus outbreak.”                                        — US Commerce Department

US Housing 1-Unit Starts June 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices July 2020

Single-family housing starts in the US came in at a rate of 831,000 in June, +17% above May’s revised figure of 709,000. June’s figure is down -4% year over year, though it’s better than numbers forecast a few months ago, according to Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Year-to-date, single-family starts are remarkably down just -1.3% compared to 2019. Challenges in the sector persist. There were just 497,000 single-family homes under construction in June, down nearly -5% year over year and lowest since fall 2017. This reflects a couple of months of declining starts since the onset of the pandemic. 

On the multifamily side, the start pace for units in buildings with five units or more was 350,000 in June.

Benchmark Softwood Lumber Commodity Western Spruce-Pine-Fir KD 2×4 #2&Btr Prices: July 2020

Western Spruce-Pine-FIr KD 2x4 #2&Btr prices JULY 2020

Prices of Softwood Lumber Continue to Rise as Demand Flows East

Unabated purchasing of North American construction framing softwood lumber moved prices higher last week, as customers turned to the eastern market. Buyer dismay at record-high Western S-P-F prices brought significant demand for Eastern S-P-F, with those prices responding upward accordingly. Confusion reigned throughout the marketplace, with the closing of July lumber futures contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — also at record highs — providing no clarity.

The fact was that end-users needed wood, so producers and secondary suppliers alike could only pick through their weak inventories to find the necessary stock. Sawmills were already booked with production orders well into August thus continuing to rise prices was the only option.

Western S-P-F purveyors in the United States described another crazy week on their side of the border. Producers continued to struggle to keep up with relentless demand as they raised asking prices ever higher as wholesalers and distributers couldn’t fill the gap with their depleted inventories, and buyers clamoured for any stick of wood they could find regardless of cost.

Primary and secondary suppliers of Western S-P-F commodities in Canada had very tight inventories while demand only seemed to be intensifying with each passing week. Sawmill order files were into mid- to late-August, and worsening rail car supply has put mills up to three weeks late on orders already made. Producers continued to sell out before 8:00am every day, ending up with little or no items on offer for ravenous US customers.

Madison's Historical Softwood Dimension Lumber Price Comparison Table JULY 2020

The above table is a comparison of recent highs, in June 2018, and current July 2020 benchmark dimension softwood lumber 2×4 prices compared to historical highs of 2004/05 and compared to recent lows of Sept 2015: