There is no doubt that the advent of the Covid-19 virus has upended life in many ways. The impact has been profound and we are encountering disruptions in the supply chain for even the most basic goods. It is not just the supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizer that has been affected. For those of us in the building materials industry, we have seen the direct impact this pandemic has had on the supply of lumber and other essential building products. One of the biggest impacts, has been on lumber pricing. This emerging issue is on the minds of every supplier in the US. We felt it prudent to update our customers with some of the reasons behind the drastic price increases.
The CAMP Lawsuit
The Coalition of American Millwork Producers (CAMP) filed a petition with the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission in early 2020 to address the abuses of product dumping and price subsidies brought on by China and Brazil. The petition argued that the excess product dumped into the US markets created a devastating economic impact for American Workers and Producers. These actions saw China and Brazil increase their market share by more than 10 points over the last several years, while the US has lost nearly the same amount during the same period. The attempt to correct these abuses and restore fair trade conditions by the Mills and Manufacturers of the Pacific Northwest and California has had somewhat of an unexpected consequence.
In the Summer of 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce heard arguments and ruled in favor of Brazil but not China. Importers of record were hit with tariffs retroactive one year and increased tariffs were placed on Chinese wood products. This caused a mass exodus of manufacturing out of China into Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, the mills who filed the suit had nowhere near the capacity to manufacture what China had been producing. In essence, all that they did was raise everyone’s prices. The transition has been rough. Manufacturers have experienced significant setbacks with misruns and quality issues. This has led to a strain in the supply, and we can only hope that the transition will soon steady itself.
Despite these setbacks and the overwhelming amount of corruption plaguing the manufacturing industry, our suppliers have been doing everything they can to shield us in any way they can. However, in many instances, our suppliers are forced to pay payola-style bribes just to get containers out of port which has led to a price increase on every container, a staggering blow in the grand scheme of things.
The industry as a whole is still dealing with the effects of COVID and the CAMP lawsuit. Globally, COVID-19 shut down forestry, manufacturing and distribution in many countries. While these operations have resumed, they are limited by social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines. For manufacturers, this means a reduction in capacity due to social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions. The economy was dramatically affected by COVID-19 shutdowns in the end of Q1 and beginning of Q2. Statistically the recovery began in April, which caused a dramatic increase in demand for shipping containers as the economy rebounded. While the news had most people believing that we were on the verge of a depression, the economy bounced back within 2 months.
This major setback with shipping and the availability of freight containers has been dramatic. One of the shipping issues reported was the Port of Los Angeles had about 30 container ships moored off the coast of California waiting their turn to dock and be offloaded. The problem that this is creating is that shipping companies don’t want to send back a ship full of empty containers. While the dollar is strong, American exports are not as sought after, this is partly why China regularly devalues their own currency. So, there isn’t really material going back into Asia or Chile, at least not enough to fill a container ship. While there is hope with increased vaccinations and an overall reduction in Covid-19 cases, we could see these disruptions continue through the end of the year.
- Finger Joint Imports: There have been considerable quality issues that we’ve encountered from “fill in” product. Domestic boards have had major quality issues and we are having recurring problems with 777 and 555 that are now made in Chile rather than China. Manufacturing is getting backed up, which is why we expect shortages and price increases to continue throughout this year. Jamb imports have been greatly affected since the CAMP suit. While we sell very little jambs, we are seeing customers buying 1×2 and 1×5 boards to make their own applied stop jamb in response to the shortage.
- MDF: A resin shortage used in MDF manufacturing has caused supply issues as well as price increases. Finger Joint demand is also stretching the MDF market as people who can’t source FJ boards are going to MDF. While we don’t foresee any particular supply issues at this point, it has definitely affected pricing. Mill orders are pretty much full through March and should open up after that. We are fortunate for our top partner Metrie, who bought the largest US MDF manufacturer last year.
- Hemlock: Harvesting of Hemlock has been affected heavily by COVID restrictions. Added to this, Hemlock has become a pretty popular framing lumber in Asia. So, being at a premium now, harvested Hemlock is valued 30% higher form framing than lumber grade. This is going to tighten up the Hemlock market by summer as more and more timbers are allocated to framing lumber.
- Fir: Due to massive wildfires in the Summer/Fall of 2020, we have lost about 10% of the harvestable trees on the west slope of the Cascades. This is pushing out lead times and pushing up prices.
- Poplar: Poplar prices continue to rise. As of now there isn’t so much of a supply and demand issue, but with FJ boards becoming less available in the coming months we are sure to see people opting for Poplar as a price alternative. There are poplar increases in the market and will be a pretty significant market increase in April as well.
We understand the great impact that these price increases and product shortages can have on our customers. For 75 years, we have been committed to providing our customers quality Millwork, Stairparts, Lumber and more. We will do anything and everything for our customers to help shield them from the impact of this crisis, and have trained our sales and warehouse team to offer comparable substitutions to best suit their needs. We will continue to update our customers as new information and insight emerges.