US softwood lumber imports from Europe sets record as exports plunge

Imports from Europe soared to record volumes in 2022, surpassing the old mark established in 2005

The unprecedented surge in shipments from the European Union propelled US imports from all offshore suppliers to the second-highest total on record.

North American exports, meanwhile, sustained a multi-year fade amid strong domestic markets, unrelenting competition from Europe, Russia, and other producing regions worldwide, and declining demand in China.

US imports from Europe reached 2.03 billion board feet (bbf) last year, jumping 27% compared to the 2021 volume and overtaking the previous record of 1.9 bbf set in 2005 amid the historic US housing boom. Total US imports from overseas climbed to 2.65 bbf, up 21% from the previous year and trailing only the 2005 volume of 2.93 bbf for highest all time.

European shipments to the US have increased for eight consecutive years from a 2014 trough of 126 million board feet. Last year’s hike was second only to a 52% surge in 2020 as the steepest annual gain during that run.

Historically high prices in the US provided unusually strong returns for European suppliers. The Random Lengths framing lumber composite price averaged $779 last year, second only to the 2021 average of $855 as the highest on record.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 launched widespread speculation among traders that European softwood lumber exports would slow dramatically. Many analysts predicted European mills would funnel a large percentage of total production into domestic markets to compensate for the sudden absence of Russian imports.

The US becomes a target for lumber exports

However, weak economies throughout Europe undermined the region’s demand for softwood lumber. As a result, producers ramped up exports and the US was a primary target.

Fading US imports from Canada was another contributing factor. Canadian shipments to the US fell 7%, reversing a 5% gain in 2021. Europe helped fill the void from a nearly 2 bbf decline in US imports from Canada last year.

Imports from the top 10 European suppliers soared to 1.96 bbf, up 22% from 2021. Germany remained the dominant supplier. Shipments from that country jumped 18% to 952 million board feet (mmbf), falling just short of the record 976 mmbf exported in 2005.

Plantation Pine imports were mixed, but strong by historical standards. Shipments from South America increased 9% to 449 mmbf.

Canadian overseas exports plunged to 1.46 billion board feet last year, down 29% from the previous year on the heels of a 15% decline in 2021 compared to 2020. Historically strong domestic demand prompted Canadian producers to allocate a higher percentage of available lumber to the US.

Exports to China once again plunged, falling 33% to 528 mmbf on the heels of a 42% drop in 2021 compared to 2020. The steep downward trend in Canadian exports extended throughout the Pacific Rim. Shipments to Japan fell 28% to 528 mmbf. US exports to offshore destinations plunged to 387 mmbf in 2022, down 25% from 2021 and the lowest volume since 2006.

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