New Zealand's export log market took a hit from the trade dispute between the US and China as the declining value of the yuan crimps the buying power of the country's largest log market.
The average price for New Zealand A-grade export logs dropped to US$133/JAS from US$141/JAS in August, and US$145/JAS in July, and is now the lowest since June 2017, according to AgriHQ's Forestry Market Report for September.
"The Chinese log market has again dominated talk in the NZ forestry industry amid its sudden depreciation these past two months. Purely from a data perspective August and early September don’t make for pretty reading," AgriHQ analyst Reece Brick said in his report. "All of this weakness is directly related to the reduction in Chinese buying power, itself due to the depreciation of the CNY:USD."
The yuan has depreciated 7.5 percent since mid-June, recently trading at 6.8763 per US dollar. Still, Brick said that despite the fall, market sentiment has stayed "quite positive" as factors such as port-level inventories, offtake rates and shipping rates otherwise point towards healthy fundamentals for New Zealand log trading in China.
"Consensus among the majority of traders is that we’ve settled at the bottom of the market for at least the time being," he said. Chinese demand for New Zealand logs has been strong over recent years after Asia's largest economy clamped down on the harvesting of its own forests and reduced tariffs on imported logs to meet demand in its local market. However, trade tensions between the US and China have dented the value of the Chinese currency and traders fear rising tariffs will hurt economic growth and dampen demand.
"What the future looks like will largely be dictated by the actions of the Trump administration," Brick said. "The latest round of 10 percent tariffs covering US$200 billion of Chinese products is yet to be felt within the log industry. The main headache, however, is that there’s no end in sight for the trade war. It’s expected the latest tariffs will be lifted to 25 percent by Christmas, while Trump has threatened to extend these tariffs to another US$267 billion worth of Chinese products.
"Given log demand is so closely tied to economic growth, we can only hope these two power-houses can settle their differences sooner rather than later. Just don’t count on it," he said.
Brick noted that neither India nor South Korea, New Zealand's other major log markets, have provided any significant relief for exporters either. However, he noted the weaker New Zealand exchange rate against the US dollar had offered some protection for local export traders against the depreciation within China.
Southwest China to see investment in timber ports and processing zone – A cooperation and investment agreement was recently signed between China Forestry Group Corporation and the administration in Ba’nan district of Chongqing municipality. An investment of RMB23 billion will be used to build timber trade ports, a timber processing zone and a wood products demonstration and trading centre in Western China.
Currently in China the timber ports and industrial zones are mainly distributed in coastal areas and along the border areas and there is a gap in the southwestern regions of China.
The new infrastructure will result in large volumes of imported timber entering the southwestern regions and this will cut transportation costs for enterprises in the region and will also expand employment opportunities. It is forecast that demand for timber would expand to 100 million cubic metres in the southwestern region including Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi provinces, Xizang Autonomous Region and Chongqing municipality.
Chongqing municipality is the distribution centre in southwestern China and the technology for timber processing mills is well established and production costs are very competitive, say analysts.
Traders in China are complaining that the landed cost of imported North American logs has jumped by around 30% as a result of the depreciation of RMB and the trade frition between China and the United States.
Although shippers in the US have been lowering log prices to maintain market share in China the higher costs continue to be a major challenge to Chinese importers. The reason behind this is that, even with price reductions, landed costs are still higher than previously which means competitiveness in the domestic market is weakened and traders are losing out to alternative timbers.
At present, the price for grade A processing general materials (2-4m) North America hemlock and fir in the Guangdong market is between RMB1680-1760 per cubic metre. The price for grade A processing general material (2-4m) southern pine is between RMB1580-1660 yuan per cubic metre.