Lumber Market Update-March | Shepley Wood Products
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Lumber Market Update-March

By most accounts, February was a good sales month although it wasn’t quite as robust as January. Locally, construction surged ahead but, outside of our territory, struggles with snowfall and a pullback in demand cooled sales for many in New England. Nonetheless, optimism remains for a strong spring and most dealers have been by buying with a little heavier hand as the market, although holding firm with a few breaks here and there, has opened some opportunities from wholesalers looking to move stock at great discounts. In what has been observed as a “reactive” market, what is being purchased today is likely extending dealer’s inventories beyond their normal “needs” which could mean a little less demand on the wholesale level by the time that spring arrives. It's interesting to note that, in what appears to be a lingering habit from the pandemic years, fewer buyers use the “load the boat” strategy and instead choose to use a fair amount of restraint in purchasing for future needs as the ever-present fact that the market can change on a dime in this global economy has fewer buyers going in too deep and too far out with their inventories. Also undoubtedly having an influence are the numerous consolidations, acquisitions and mergers of retail and wholesale companies in recent years that have put more pressure on buyers to maintain favorable turns of their inventories, to appease upper management. In the broad picture, this has been a healthy behavior for businesses and the lumber market as well, as it has helped to temper much of the short-term volatility we have endured in the past. In any event, at this time prices are flat, and supplies appear to be good across the board, although there are signs of tightening that may soon impact pricing, especially if we see a surge in demand that is accompanied by favorable weather conditions. With winter soon to be in our rearview mirror, we do anticipate that prices will likely push upward for March or, at the very least, remain firm as the next season of homebuilding develops.

We often speak of “comparing apples to apples” and often discover that one is an orange. In many ways, the products we choose to sell are the “oranges” as apples are natively abundant in New England, but such is not the case for oranges which, but for the sake of modern transportation, would otherwise be considered a delicacy.

Product categories are often spoken in generalities, whereas the specifics can change the entire context of the topic or further describe vast differences between two things that would otherwise be considered similar, if not exact. For example, Lamborghini’s and Kia’s are cars, and mansions and cottages are homes, but we all know the very big cavern of differences that separates one from the other. Although building materials speak to this on a smaller scale, items such as lumber, plywood, trim boards, molding (and so much more) can have significant differences that set them apart from each other.For instance, our twenty foot and under lengths of lumber are SPF (Spruce/Pine/Fir) and a grade that is “#2 & Btr” (that is, a #2 grade and better). Many dealers often buy different species in these dimensions because they are usually cheaper than SPF (although SPF is the preferred and better specie to utilize in these parts) and/or choose different grades, such as a straight #2 (missing the “& Btr”, meaning not better). The quality difference is noticeable, and the pricing will reflect that. The same applies to “Premium” lumber (which we commonly buy), as it is a better quality of lumber that does cost more, but the yield supersedes the expense in terms of reduced waste and improved appearance. “Premium” is often not mentioned in our lumber descriptions as it can be hard to come by, but our strategy is to buy it at competitive rates when we can and blend it in with our regular stock, which happens to be #2&Btr “NPS”. “NPS” stands for “No Prior Select,” meaning that the mill does not sell their “Premium” separately but sells it part and parcel as their normal #2&BTR. To save a few dollars, other dealers will buy their #2&Btr from mills that do pull Premium, and the quality suffers considerably when compared to lumber that comes from an NPS mill because there is no “Premium” blended in. CDX plywood is another commodity product that will often be sold under its general acronym but not all CDX is alike, as it is often sold with pine veneers at a considerable discount to the Doug Fir veneers that we carry. There is a big difference between the two, as the performance of Doug Fir is much more stable than pine and, in our always wet and windy climate, pine CDX plywood has a propensity to delaminate and tends to weather very quickly. With lumber and plywood, oftentimes a first glance will indicate that one product is different over the other but, with some other products, it is not so obvious. Take into consideration our “ShepGuard Exterior” trim boards, which are boards made with Radiata pine that is finger-jointed, treated with a preservative that has a fungicide (to prevent rot) and insecticide (to thwart insects), primed and then top-coated with an oil-base primer. Some competing trim boards claim to be as robust with their preservatives or may not mention it at all because they do not use them. Very few (if any) have a durable oil-based top-coat primer as acrylic latex is the prevailing primer. Nonetheless, ours is also unique because our preservative is an “LOSP” (light organic solvent preservative) that is carried into the board via a solvent. The difference here is that most boards (that do indicate that they are treated) use an alternative method, often referred to as “Borate.” Borate treatment is water-borne, meaning that it is carried into the fiber of the board in a water-based solution. What is the big difference between the two? Quite a bit, and especially here on Cape Cod as what carries the Borate in to the wood (water) will also carry the Borate out of the wood (also water) so a board that gets saturated and wasn’t 100% sealed beforehand can leach out the preservative and, before you know it, you’re now on the fast track to rot. We have sold LOSP treated trim boards with an oil-based topcoat for over 30 years and can attest that there is no better alternative primed finger-jointed trim board to use on Cape Cod. Solvent costs more than water and oil-based primer costs more than acrylic latex, but it is about getting what you pay for and, unless you want to consider using a higher-priced trim board such as Azek, ShepGuard Exterior is your one and done PFJ exterior trim board. Finally, we would like to call attention to another primed finger-jointed product, our “Pearltrim” molding. We carry this line in common profiles (such as Colonial casing and baseboard, Speedbase, Stafford, Windsor, and popular crowns) and it is beautiful. With a pearl-like finish (hence, “Pearltrim”), it has a superior “Gesso” prime coat that has been buffed to a wonderfully smooth finish, unlike many other competitors who choose to use a primer that tends to raise the grain and skip the buffing altogether. The result is a consistent, uniform, stable and easy to paint molding that is appreciated by those who use it.

unpredictable as the one we are in now.

Suffice it to say that we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the superior differences of our stock items versus many others in the marketplace but, hopefully, you get the gist of the message and the reasons why we choose to lead with better product lines: we know that they will make better homes and, ultimately, happier customers. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to your Shepley salesperson. Thank you for your business!