US Housing Starts & Softwood Lumber Prices: September and October 2020

October 21, 2020 – Vancouver, BC, Canada Madison’s Lumber Reporter

After dropping a little bit in August due to a plummet in multi-family home building, privately-owned US housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,415,000, the US Commerce Department said Tuesday. This is +2% above the revised August rate of 1,388,000 and is and astonishing +8.1% above the September 2019 rate of 1,274,000.

For the week ending October 16, 2020, the price of benchmark construction framing dimension softwood lumber commodity item Western S-P-F KD 2×4 #2&Btr continued to remain firm, at US$960 mfbm, said Madison’s Lumber Reporter. This price is unchanged from one month ago.

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%.

US Housing Total Starts September 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices October 2020

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

“Western Spruce-Pine-Fir prices held firm, Eastern S-P-F plummeted again, and panels’ prices were flat.”                                      — Madison’s Lumber Reporter

US Housing 1-Unit Starts September 2020 & Benchmark Softwood Lumber Prices October 2020

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

Single-family housing starts in August were at a rate of 1,108,000; this is +8.5% above the revised August figure of 1,021,000. Single family starts were up an amazing +18.2% year-over-year. Single-family building permits increased almost +20% compared to September 2019, also a huge jump, to a rate of 1,119,000 units.

“Western Spruce-Pine-Fir sawmills in the US enjoyed two-week order files, while those in Canada were running wood ordered three weeks ago. Order files were shrinking as supply caught up with demand, however normally for this time of year sawmill order files are approximately three days, so prices for benchmark Western Spruce-Pine-Fir are not expected to drop significantly any time soon.” Madison’s Lumber Reporter

It is safe to say that a price floor on softwood lumber has been reached, although where exactly that will land remains to be seen. Madison’s Lumber Reporter expects that by US Thanksgiving this year, we will know the “new bottom” for lumber prices, and that January 2021 will see a return to hot demand for construction framing lumber commodities.

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

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

Softwood Lumber Prices Drop as Autumn Arrives

The sales price of most softwood lumber continued their recent drops last week, except benchmark items Western S-P-F KD 2×4 R/L and benchmark panel commodities Oriented Strand Board and Plywood (Ontario). This suggest an ongoing sellers market and that producers are able to sustain manufacturing volumes based on their sawmill strong order files. Suppliers don’t need to lower prices to close sales; instead they are focussed on making wood already ordered and getting previously-sold materials out to waiting customers. The biggest pickle right now remains to be transportation, as trucks are still difficult to source and expected rail cars are not arriving.

Producers of Western S-P-F commodities in the United States reported flat pricing last week as overall demand was stalled. Prompt availability popped up with increasing regularity as both primary and secondary suppliers dealt below print levels when terms seemed prudent. While prices were flat from the previous week’s levels on dimension, studs took a tumble as stud mills tried to entice reluctant buyers. Demand remained strong in most regions, with pent-up construction activity robust where weather permitted.

It was another quiet week according to Western S-P-F lumber producers in Canada. The trend of cautious customers sitting on their hands and waiting for previously-booked orders to arrive persisted, and suppliers spent much of the week tracking down shipments for irate buyers. While sawmills held their dimension prices firm at the previous week’s levels, wholesalers and distributers captured the majority of fill-in sales with more flexible pricing and quicker shipment times.

Compared to one-year-ago, last week’s Western S-P-F KD 2×4 #2&Btr price was +$445, or +86%, higher than the 1-year rolling average price of US$515 mfbm and was up +$521, or +117%, compared to the 2-year rolling average price of US$439 mfbm, said Madison’s Lumber Reporter.

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

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