Highlights for U.S. hardwood exports to Europe
2011 was an unstable year for U.S. exports of American hardwood to Europe with some positive growth in exports to Northern European countries but increasing difficulties in the South.
AHEC reports on the positive trends and identifies areas for potential growth:
U.S. hardwood lumber exports to Germany totalled 55,900 m3 during 2011, up 13% on the previous year. Sectors of importance to hardwood were performing well in Germany during 2011. Construction activity was strengthening, mainly in the refurbishment and renovation sectors. This was reflected in positive trends in the German door, flooring, and furniture industries. According to the German Furniture Industry Association VDM, turnover among German furniture manufacturers showed year-on-year growth of 6% in 2011, significantly higher than the 3% forecast at the start of the year. The trend towards sustainable design in Germany has also boosted interest in wood, particularly temperate hardwoods, in the furniture sector.
During 2011, US hardwood lumber exports to the UK – now the second largest European market – reached 70,500 m3, up 27% on the previous year and close to the levels typical in the UK prior to the recession. Given that the latest UK total hardwood lumber import figures to end October 2011 show a decline of 12.2% (to 329,000 m3) on the same period the previous year, the rise in American hardwood exports to this market indicates an increase in market share.
Although new build remains weak in the UK and there were some signs of cooling market sentiment towards the end of 2011with in¬creasing nervousness over the euro-zone crises and tightening government austerity, UK importers reported generally steady activity in the joinery, shopfitting and hospitality sectors. The ability of American shippers to supply the UK market relatively quickly has become increasingly important now that customers are more reluctant than ever to commit ahead.
Charts 1 & 2 demonstrate the volatility of European Markets:
Rest of Europe: Export to Estonia have continued to rise, mainly of ash for heat treatment for use in external applications and flooring. Exports to Turkey, particularly ash and white oak, also increased strongly in 2011. There were also encouraging signs of a return to market growth in Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark.
Market upturn in the 4th quarter
Considering short-term quarterly trends (Charts 3 & 4), after the sharp downward fall in US hardwood lumber exports to Europe during the third quarter of 2011(mainly due to weak Italian demand), there were encouraging signs of improvement in the last quarter of the year. American hardwood lumber exports to Europe reached 97,300 m3 in the October-December 2011 period, up 11% on the previous quarter, although down 17% on the same period in 2010. Exports to most European markets and all the main species were higher in the 4th quarter of 2011 compared to the previous quarter. The only exception is the UK where there was a slight tailing away in quarterly exports in the last quarter (17,900 m3 compared to 18,400 m3 in the third quarter).
Exports by Species
White oak and red oak
Exports of white oak continued to dominate with a volume of 176,000 m3 in 2011, almost exactly equivalent to the previous year. Gains in white oak exports to the UK, Sweden and Germany were offset by declines in exports to Italy, Portugal, Ireland and France.
Exports of red oak lumber to Europe were down 5% at 14,100m3 during during 2011, negatively affected by the downturn in Italy and Greece which offset some slight gains made in Germany and Russia.
The downturn in Italian purchasing meant that U.S, exports of tulipwood lumber fell by 27% to 78,100 m3. Exports to Italy alone fell from 79,000 m3 to only 46,654 m3, a decline which overwhelmed minor gains in tulipwood exports to other European markets, notably the UK, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and (most surprisingly) Greece.
Exports of ash lumber to Europe continued to rise in 2011, up 25% at 47,800 m3, boosted by interest in the species as an alternative to oak in furniture and for heat treatment for external applications. Exports of ash lumber rose very strongly to Italy, up 68% to reach 15,000 m3, probably indicative of the recent fashion for species with distinctive grain in the European furniture sector. Ash exports also increased strongly into the UK, Estonia, Germany, Turkey and France.
Exports of walnut lumber also continued to rise strongly in 2011, up 39% at 26,000 m3. The increase was heavily concentrated in Germany for which exports increased by 41% to close to 10,000 m3.
Exports of cherry and hard maple lumber to the European region remained at low levels during 2011– so no sign yet of a change in fashion trends which currently discriminate against these species.
Charts 5 & 6 demonstrate the export patterns by species over the last 5 years: