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Wood fibre prices drop for most North American pulp mills in first half of 2019

Wood fibre costs declined for many North American pulp mills during the first half of 2019, with the exception of the US South

August 29, 2019  By Wood Resources International LLC

Pulp logs on a truckPhoto: Annex Business Media

Wood fibre costs fell in most regions of North America during the first six months of 2019, with the biggest declines in Western Canada and the US Northwest.

Prices for pulplogs and wood chips in the US South bucked the trend, with softwood fibre moving up to its highest levels in three years and hardwood fibre prices hitting an all-time-high.

Canada West

In British Columbia, the average price for pulplogs fell slightly to C$51/m3 in Q2 2019. In the interior of the province, pulplog prices were steady because pulp mills made a push early in the year to build up their inventories before the spring breakup. Production also slowed at several pulp mills due to lower NBSK prices. In the southwest coastal region, there were no significant supply or price fluctuations.


Of the three regions in Western Canada, residual chip prices in the interior of BC saw the steepest decline in Q2/19 at six per cent quarter-over-quarter, as a result of the slipping NBSK pulp prices (see more in the latest NAWFR). Wood chip prices in coastal BC fell just over two per cent from Q1/19 and were down four per cent in Alberta.

Canada East

In Eastern Ontario and Quebec, weather-dependent harvesting challenges during the winter months resulted in mediocre hardwood log inventory levels in Q2/19. This caused the prices for hardwood pulplogs to edge upward to levels last seen in early 2016. There was no movement in the price for residual chips in Q2/19. However, the opening of two new pellet mills during the second half of the year is expected to upset the current supply and demand balance and could therefore change chip prices late in 2019 or early 2020.

In the Maritime provinces, mill and pulp mill inventories remained stable during the spring thaw. Sawmills were not running hard, so the demand for sawlogs was tepid. The price for softwood pulplogs remained flat in Q2/19, while the price for hardwood pulplogs rose by two dollars/odmt. This price increase was primarily due to higher handling costs of moving the pulplogs from auxiliary wood yards, as well as in some cases temporary bonuses.

US South

Wet weather conditions in the US South continued to restrain harvesting in Q2 2019.

However, pulp mill maintenance outages and falling pulp and paper product prices led to softening demand for wood fibre this quarter. The result was an easing in softwood pulplog prices from Q1/19. Even though hardwood pulplog pricing remained flat, the region was slowly reducing its reliance on long-distance haul supply sources, as well as finishing harvesting operations in timber stands that were purchased when rates were higher than in Q2 2019.

US Northwest

With sawmills in the US Northwest running at only slightly reduced production levels in Q2/19 due to small adjustments of US lumber prices, residual chip supply remained stable. Residual chip prices dropped mainly as fibre demand diminished due to seasonal pulp mill maintenance outages. The reduced fibre consumption resulted in most pulp mills being able to build their fibre inventories going into the second half of the year. According to the North American Wood Fiber Review, most sub-regions of the Northwest saw pulplog and residue prices decline in Q2/19 to reach their lowest levels since early 2018.

US Lake States

As winter weather of snow and freezing rain continued longer into Q2/19 than usual, more pressure was placed on fibre buyers and their inventories. Some pulp mills reported having adequate volumes, while a few others struggled with insufficient wood supply, especially of hardwood fibre. The result was that the price for hardwood pulplogs increased nearly four per cent between Q2/18 and Q2/19, reaching its highest price seen since early 2017. The pricing for softwood pulplogs remained unchanged from Q1/19.

US Northeast

As is customary in the US Northeast, the arrival of spring meant that logging contractors had to contend with muddy harvesting conditions, which prevented much fibre moving from the woods to the logging yards. Softwood fibre prices remained stable during Q2/19. In contrast, hardwood pulplogs edged upward to levels not seen since Q2/16. This price increase was due to the higher cost of reloading the pulplogs stored at the satellite yards.

About the North American Wood Fiber Review (NAWFR): The newly revamped market report has tracked wood fibre markets in the US and Canada for over 35 years and it is the only publication that includes prices for sawlogs, pulpwood, wood chips and biomass for all major regions of North America. The 36-page quarterly report includes wood market updates for 15 regions on the continent in addition to the latest export statistics for sawlogs, lumber, wood pellets and wood chips. To learn more about the NAWFR, please go to www.WoodPrices.com.

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