The quickening pace of the escalating trade disputes between the US and China has left most of us scratching our heads and searching for answers. Retaliatory tariffs, threats of additional tariffs, political posturing, etc. have all added to the sense of confusion surrounding this issue, and finding reliable sources of information continues to be a challenge. While the entire North American forest products industry is impacted by these disputes and tariffs, it is especially frustrating for the forest industry in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), which has historically higher trade volumes due to its proximity to Asian markets.
As I reported in August, China's Commerce Ministry released a list of proposed tariffs on $16 billion in US goods as a response to the US’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods. China's list identified duties of 5, 10, 20 or 25 percent on 5,207 US imports that include a number of wood products such as softwood and hardwood logs, veneer and lumber, chips, pellets, MDF, OSB, wood pulp, paper and other processed and unprocessed wood materials. However, there are some recent changes to these percentages that are worth noting.
To limit further confusion surrounding this issue, I am including below the verbatim language published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service on September 25, 2018:
“On September 18, 2018, China’s State Council Tariff Commission (SCTC) announced that it would start enforcing additional import tariffs on U.S. products exported to China valued at $60 billion (“the Supplemental Tariffs”). This round of Chinese tariffs was first announced on August 3 in response to the U.S. announcement of a proposed $200 billion in additional tariffs and was reported in GAIN Report CH18043. The proposed Supplemental Tariffs were originally divided into four schedules, each with a different tariff rate (25, 20, 10, and 5 percent). In the September 18 announcement, SCTC combined Schedules 1 and 2 and set the tariff rate at 10 percent for both; Schedules 3 and 4 were also combined at a tariff rate of 5 percent. There are a number of food, agricultural, and agricultural-related products across these schedules. The Supplemental Tariffs went into effect on September 24.”
This is the most recent statement from the USDA related to the issue. Based on this information, it appears that forest products that were previously categorized in the 20 and 25 percent lists will be consolidated to the 10 percent list, and forest products that were previously categorized on the 5 percent list will remain there.
You can view an unofficial version of the updated HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) at the following links:
China recently reported slowing economic growth in 3Q2018 of 6.5 percent, falling short of expectations and dipping below the 6.7 percent expansion in GDP it experienced during the previous quarter. Leland Miller, CEO of China Beige Book, a data collection firm focused on the Chinese economy, believes that China could be facing a rough 4Q2018 and 1Q2019 as economic growth slows due to the effects of the continued trade war with the US. "The tariff situation has created a very bad potential problem for [the] China fourth quarter of this year, potentially in a big way first quarter next year as well,” Miller said. “What Trump did with his tariffs is pull a lot of the growth forward and really scare them in terms of what could happen in 2019," he added.
Breakbulk log exports from the PNW to China have decreased roughly 18 percent in 2018, but they have not altogether disappeared. January through September shipments totaled roughly 293,000 MBF compared to 2017 same-period shipments of 357,000 MBF, and 2016 shipments of 368,000 MBF.
It’s important to remember that this is a fluid situation and is subject to change without notice; trade dynamics may change from day to day, and week to week at the rate we have been going.
Regional Log Prices
While the tense trade situation has undoubtedly driven regional log prices lower, the abrupt crash of the North American lumber market has had a larger effect on these prices. Flagging US homebuilding and a high degree of uncertainty in the market have combined to reduce demand, and supply has followed suit as a result. Throughout the PNW, many sawmills are reducing production—some through reduced operating hours or curtailed shifts, and others are temporarily curtailing production altogether until markets improve. Most sawmills have full log inventories that were purchased at peak prices earlier in the season. Though prices are adjusting, it will take some time to work through these inventories.
Domestic prices for Douglas fir logs have remained at sustained high levels (above $800/MBF) since December 2017; prices also crested $900/MBF in May and June of this year. However, prices began inching down in July and dropped markedly through September, when domestic prices hit $843/MBF—a 7 percent drop in three months.
Export prices for Douglas fir logs have also come down from a high point of $894/MBF reached in May. Prices have continued to drop on a monthly basis at a more incremental rate than have domestic prices, reaching $861/MBF in September—a 4 percent drop in four months.
The current log market is both challenging and volatile for suppliers and mills in the PNW. Identifying new opportunities to improve performance and efficiencies is really the only way to ride out the storm. Forest2Market’s transaction-based data is the most effective way to stay on top of product and pricing trends, which provides users with the most accurate information to increase value and maintain profitability during periods of high volatility and uncertainty in the markets.