Closed mills, housing surge support positive forecast for lumber, OSB industries

CALGARY — Financial analysts say Canadian production cutbacks and a consumer-driven recovery in housing starts in the United States could mean better times for lumber and panel products this year.

In a research report, RBC analyst Paul Quinn estimates B.C. lumber producers have permanently closed mills accounting for 18 per cent of the province's capacity, a move that is expected to help to bring North American supply in line with demand and support price increases.

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He adds the closure of three oriented strandboard mills and part of another has removed about 9.5 per cent of North American OSB capacity.

RBC is forecasting that U.S. housing starts will increase by about 2.5 per cent this year to 1.3 million units, driven by strength in single-family housing, and there will be further gains in lumber demand from the adoption of "mass timber" methods which allow construction of taller wooden buildings.

Meanwhile, CIBC analysts are also bullish on the lumber sector in North America, given stronger housing starts this year and their estimate of a five per cent decline in supply from last year.

In a report, they say they expect a robust spring selling season, with lumber prices and producer share prices likely to rise.

"2019 was one of the worst years in memory for lumber and OSB companies, with most reporting significant declines in profitability and seeing their equity value deteriorate," noted RBC's Quinn.

"However, a number of positive developments have us feeling increasingly bullish."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2020.

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