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June 2024

Cover: Softwood Lumberman Walk Ahead Carefully…Hardwood Lumbermen Don’t Feel Too Good

The Annual U.S. Sawmill Operations and Capital Expenditure Survey revealed pretty much what we expected for both softwood and hardwood lumbermen.

Inside This Issue

THE ISSUES: It Could Be Worse, Really

The results of this year’s U.S. Sawmill Operations and Capital Expenditure Survey have us longing for the old days, though the old days were only a few years ago, when lumber prices were setting records and the homebuilding and remodeling markets were going gangbusters.

Perhaps the negative thing about surveys in general is that when it comes to reporting the results, as we do throughout this issue, some generalization has to come with it. That is, the survey may reveal a significant percentage of lumbermen who are feeling less optimistic these days, and perhaps downright pessimistic, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a percentage who are more upbeat.


Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Timber Processing

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Pepto Bismol

Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Timber Processing

Remember the glory days, of only a few years ago, post-pandemic, when 90% of softwood lumbermen felt excellent or good about their lumber business situation?

Remember a year ago, by which time that number had fallen to 42%?

Well, the number continues to shrink. The results are in for Timber Processing’s Annual U.S. Sawmill Operations & Capital Expenditure Survey, and only 29% cited their lumber business situation forecast for 2024-2025 as excellent or good (and frankly only 2% of those said excellent, while 27% said good). Another 36% said it was fair (compared to 49% a year ago), but the real stickler is that 32% forecasted it as poor, compared to 9% a year ago. In other words, a lot of last year’s good and fair forecasts slipped into the poor category this year.

“Lumber markets—terrible for the rest of 2024. Better in 2025. Our business situation—we are prepared for a recession. General state of things—very concerning,” commented Charles Thomas III, VP of longstanding Shuqualak Lumber in Mississippi.

“Until the feds drop interest rates it will be tough,” said Tim Biewer, owner of Biewer Lumber, which operates saw­mills in Michigan, Wisconsin and two new ones in Mississippi.

“It is going to be another rough year,” said Dave Pengilly, GM at Sierra Forest Products in California

“Too much lumber in production for today’s demand. Until people start curtailing production it is just a race to the bottom. I hoped most sawmillers would have seen with COVID what supply and demand can do for our industry. I’m not saying lumber needs to be $1000/mbf, but we can’t survive with $400/mbf standard decking and timbers and in some instances sub $300/mbf dimension,” said Ryan Miller, VP at Randy Miller Lumber in North Carolina.

“The market is down, and we are adapting as usual and will continue to adapt to current market conditions,” said Allan Jacobs, Senior Project Manager at Canfor Southern Pine.

Still Standing

Article by Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief, Timber Processing

U.S. hardwood lumbermen are increasingly concerned about their lumber business situation, as 45% forecasted it as fair for 2024-2025, while 36% said poor or very poor, and 19% said it was good.

That compares to 67% who said it was fair a year ago (2023-2024) and 11% who said is it was poor or very poor, and 22% who said it was good. It’s a far cry from two years ago, 2022-2023, when 13% said business was excellent, 62% said it was good, 21% said fair, and only 4% said poor or very poor.

These are some of the results from Timber Processing’s Annual U.S. Sawmill Operations & Capital Expenditure Survey. The 24-question survey was e-mail blasted in April to management personnel who subscribe to Timber Processing. It drew responses from representatives of companies that operate 40 U.S. hardwood lumber sawmills. Responses came from owners, presidents, vice presidents, general managers, regional mangers, project managers, plant managers and supervisory personnel.

An open ended question invited comments as to how hardwood lumbermen foresee lumber markets and their business situation.

“Lumber markets are still depressed in all areas. Manufacturing costs continue to soar. Attrition rates will remain high. Do not expect any significant changes to the market until 2025,” said Ray White Sr., CEO of Harold White Lumber in Kentucky.

“Poor markets in 2024 with hopes of rebounding in fourth quarter 2024 for a much needed robust market in 2025,” said Tim Parker, owner of Parker Lumber in North Carolina.

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