US Housing Starts & Softwood Lumber Prices: November and December 2020

WSPF-SYP-ESPF-2x4 Softwood Lumber Prices-2year-TOTAL-US Housing STARTS: NOV 2020

US Housing Total Starts November 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices December 2020

At a completely unusual time of year, US housing starts for November 2020 increased — for the third straight month even. Residential starts rose +1.2% to a 1.55 million annualized rate from a downwardly revised 1.528 million a month earlier. Single-family starts, which use much more wood than multi-family and are the largest share of the housing market, rose for a seventh month to a 1.19 million annualized rate, or +0.4%, the highest rate since 2007. Starts for projects with five or more units, a category that tends to be volatile and includes apartments and condos, increased to 352,000.

Relentless unseasonably strong demand pushed lumber prices even higher, for the week ending December 11, 2020 the price of benchmark softwood lumber commodity item Western S-P-F KD 2×4 #2&Btr rose another +$92, or +14%, over the previous week to US$744 mfbm, said Madison’s Lumber Reporter. Last week’s price is +$154, or +26%, more than it was one month ago. Compared to one year ago, this price is up +$350, or +89%.

Madisons Lumber Reporter Weekly Price Chart: December 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%.

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

December 11, 2020 “Softwood lumber prices continued to rocket upwards last week amid acute supply shortages.”                            — Madison’s Lumber Reporter

US Housing 1-Unit Starts November 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices December 2020

WSPF-SYP-ESPF-2x4 Softwood Lumber Prices-2year-1 UNIT-US Housing STARTS: NOV 2020

Most important for the North America softwood lumber industry, single-family building permits in the US jumped +1.3% to a rate of 1.143 million units in November. Homebuilding is being driven by lean inventories, especially for previously owned homes. Indeed, that backlog continues to grow, with the number of single-family homes permitted but not started construction up +16.3% from November 2019 to November 2020, as building material delays and higher costs hold back construction.

Western S-P-F softwood lumber purveyors in the US reported another gangbusters week of sales as scores of buyers jumped into the fray, capitulating to the strong, upward trajectory of demand. With Canadian producers selling out domestically every day, primary and secondary suppliers in the US were under siege from desperate customers whose hand-to-mouth strategies have ensured perpetually-light inventories.
Canadian Western S-P-F lumber producers, meanwhile, continued selling out like crazy every day, leaving not a speck of fibre for the US market. Sawmill order files were to the first week of January and fully expected to move further this week. Producers in BC reported log supply was becoming a real problem in that province’s Interior. Any heretofore freezing weather events were short-lived and on balance the climate has been so mild thus far this season that harvesting and hauling crews simply can’t access and convey enough raw logs.

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

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

As for the East, sawmills in Eastern Canada — specifically Quebec — are already on their yearly seasonal break, and those in the West are not far behind with curtailments and closures. Usually at this time of year construction activity is down to almost nothing, and lumber producers are spending their time doing year-end accounts and taking inventory.

In order to be in a good position for tax reporting, sawmills want to empty their yards of manufactured wood products before year-end. Also they want to have their log yards stacked as full as possible. Because demand has been so consistently strong, which is very unusual for December, lumber suppliers have been quoting wood sales into January 2021. This with the accompanying increase in prices, of course. Customers, while reluctant, can do nothing but accept the higher price lists because none have been stocking inventory and there continues to be rush of real building projects to serve.

Forest industry expectations, therefore, are that current softwood lumber price increases will remain through the Holidays and into the beginning of January.

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

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