A planned prohibition against log exports from Russia isn’t expected to have immediate impacts on U.S. log producers but may create future market opportunities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to ban shipments of conifers and valuable hardwoods by early 2022 while proposing subsidies for wood processing facilities within the country.
“They want to have more value added and more work,” particularly in rural areas, said Hakan Ekstrom, principal of the Wood Resources International forest market analysis firm.
Though the announcement doesn’t yet have the force of law, “it tends to be when Putin wants something, it will happen,” Ekstrom said.
For Northwest forestland owners, Russia’s proposal is noteworthy because a majority of its logs have traditionally been sent to China, which is also a market for U.S. logs, he said.
“There will definitely be changes to trade flows and opportunities to expand exports to China,” Ekstrom said.
Currently, the domestic housing market in the U.S. is strong enough to discourage log exports to China, which have also suffered due to trade disputes with that country, said Gordon Culbertson, director of international development for the Forest2Market analysis firm.
Meanwhile, Russia has been reducing log exports for the past five years or so, which has mainly increased market share in China for logs from New Zealand and Australia, Culbertson said.
At this point, China would have to be willing to pay a premium to obtain Northwest logs, he said. “For them to compete, the logs would become very costly.”
While Chinese buyers have historically been focused on the lowest-priced logs, in reality “they cannot get enough logs from other countries outside Russia” to meet domestic demand, said Ekstrom.
The Chinese appetite for U.S. logs “depends on what the domestic sawmills pay for the logs,” he said.
If the U.S. domestic market for lumber weakens, the Chinese market can serve as a backstop for the log market, he said.
For example, U.S. log exports to China rose during the housing downturn associated with the Great Recession a decade ago, which prevented prices from plummeting even lower.
“That market will always be there as an alternative to the U.S. market,” Ekstrom said.
Over the long term, China may have little other choice than to buy more lumber and value-added forest products, even though it’s usually preferred to buy raw logs for in-country processing, he said.
In the Northwest, log prices have recently declined about 15% from their summer peak of about $850 per thousand board-feet, though that’s still about 10% higher than last autumn, Culbertson said.
A looming influence on domestic log prices is the tremendous amount of burned wood from this year’s forest fires coming onto the market, he said.
Mills will have to process those logs quickly to avoid degradation in quality, which will likely depress prices as the market is flooded, he said.
Burned wood chips are also unacceptable in the pulp and paper market, which reduces the value of logs due to the loss of this valuable byproduct, Culbertson said.
“We’re going to see a lot of logs coming on the market,” he said.