Story by Rich Donnell,
I was in a good mood on a recent Friday, thinking ahead to the weekend and planning to watch college football, when our receptionist placed the Western Wood Products Assn. 2009 lumber production report on my desk. End of good mood.
Believe me, I’ve always loved statistics. I can recite you baseball statistics from years and players gone by. Much of that stems from when I was a kid collecting baseball cards, and when I would analyze a player’s yearly and career statistics on the back of his card. For example, I know, as well as I know my son’s age, that Tim McCarver hit nine homeruns during the 1964 regular season when he was a catcher for the Cardinals. More importantly, I know that his tenth homerun that year beat the Yankees in the fifth game of the World Series, a series that the Cardinals won in seven games. Today, when I’m watching McCarver do a television baseball broadcast I sometimes bring up those facts to anybody within listening distance. Most people respond as if they were psychologists and ask each other (as if I wasn’t there) “why does he retain such facts?” (I don’t have a good answer—other than that I was a big McCarver fan, because I was a catcher like he was, wore number 15 like he did and batted left-handed like him.)
But back to the WWPA 2009 lumber production report. Indeed this is one for the record books, in a negative way. The report’s headline quickly bears that out: “Historic Downturn in Lumber Markets Shows in Final Totals for 2009.” Need we read on? Sure, there’s no assisting the Titantic now.
- The Western lumber industry posted its worst year in modern history, producing 10.39 billion BF, the lowest annual volume since WWPA began compiling statistics in the late 1940s. The previous low was in 1982, at 13.7 billion BF. (Remember when we thought that was horrific.)
- Lumber production in the Southern U.S., according to WWPA, declined 19.5% to 11.79 billion BF.
- Imports, mostly from Canada, were down 30% from the previous year, to 8.9 billion BF.
- Overall demand for lumber was 31.3 billion BF, less than half of what was used five years earlier. Just 7.3 billion BF was used for residential construction, compared to 27.6 billion BF in 2005.
- Just 554,000 houses were built in 2009, a 39% decline from the previous year, and the lowest annual total since 1945 when 326,000 houses were built. Most forecasts I’ve seen, perhaps erroneously based on the slight uptick we saw in the first quarter, suspect housing starts to reach 600,000 this year and maybe 700,000 next year.
All of this kind of reminds me of the statistics on the back of a player’s baseball card. “Boy, he had a good run for several years, and then, look, all his production numbers fall off drastically. He must have passed his prime.” I am not sure if our industry has passed its prime, but I know we’re looking to bounce back. Just one good year, to feel good about ourselves again, to know we still have it in us to produce.