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‘Better Times Lie Ahead’

Timber import volumes in 2023 continued to improve as the year progressed, with total volumes for the full year likely to be only slightly behind 2022’s figures, according to the latest TDUK statistics.

Timber import statistics for November 2023 show the market continued to improve in 2023, relative to 2022, with total import volumes for the full year likely to be only slightly behind 2022’s figures.

Import volumes in the month of November 2023 were 0.9 per cent higher than in November 2022.

The deficit in the cumulative annual volume of the UK’s timber and panel imports after 11 months of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022, reduced once again to stand at around 117,000m3 – down from 123,000m3 last month.

This cumulative reduction in volume of all imports in 2023 to November over 2022 was 1.3 per cent.

This is a significant improvement on earlier in the year, as during the spring import volumes were on track to be the lowest since 2013, but imports during the second half of the year allayed any fear of this being the case.

The loss in volume peaked at 384,000m3 in May 2023 and has reduced each month since to stand at 117,000m3 – or just 1.3 per cent below 2022.

The 0.9 per cent growth in the month of November completed six months of consecutive growth of the combined volume of the main timber, panels and engineered wood products imported by the UK.

This better second-half performance has been realised largely through higher softwood, hardwood plywood, OSB and MDF imports.

Signs of change

“It’s encouraging to see main timber import volumes have now seen six months of consecutive growth in the second half of 2023, with statistics for the year just 1.3% below 2022 levels,” says TDUK head of technical and trade, Nick Boulton.

“This supports our belief – and the Construction Products Association (CPA) forecasts – that while the market may be challenging for the coming months, particularly in the core newbuild housing and RMI sectors, better times lie ahead.

“It’s important to remember that while 2024 may have started slowly, this is likely to be an election year and the political parties will soon begin to set out their manifestos and plans for the construction and housebuilding sectors.

“The industry is expected to see recovery begin in 2025, post-General Election, and we look forward to learning how the different political parties plan to support the move towards timber as a core low-carbon building material, as has already been set out in the Government’s Timber in Construction Roadmap.”

Softwoods: volumes high, but prices fall

Softwood imports supplied by Sweden, Latvia and Finland in November 2023 were higher than in November 2022, which was instrumental in total volumes for the month being a little higher.

Throughout 2023, volumes from Sweden and Finland have been higher than in 2022, but volumes from Latvia are lower, with the share of supply slipping to 16 per cent of the total.

Outside of the leading group, volume increases have also been recorded from Norway, Estonia and Austria, however, it is the 16 per cent growth of an already high volume from Sweden which carried the market forward in 2023.

However, the value of softwood imports in the 11 months of 2023 to November was 24 per cent lower than over the same period in 2022.

The value of planed softwood imports fell by 22 per cent and sawn softwood values decreased by 25 per cent over the same period. With values lower by 24 per cent and, as shown above, total volumes a little higher than a year earlier by 1.7 per cent, the 24 per cent reduction in value is because of the 25 per cent reduction in the average price.

Hardwoods: USA tops the temperate hardwood table

Following record volumes in 2022, hardwood imports fell back in 2023 by around 23 per cent, or 123,000m3.

Around one half of this shortfall is attributable to a decline of 63,000m3 from Latvia.

Of the leading group of supply countries, only Romania realised any growth in 2023, up by 11 per cent.

Volumes from the USA were virtually the same as in 2022 which, on a lower market, has raised its share of supply in the 11 months to November 2023.

Imports of temperate hardwoods also declined by 12 per cent in the 11 months to November 2023.

Most of this lower volume resulted from a reduction in volume from France of 15,000m3 and an 11,000m3 drop in volume from Estonia.

Substantially less oak has been imported from France and much of the lower volume from Estonia was comprised of sawn birch.

Matched against a lower overall volume compared to 2022, similar volumes of oak, poplar and ash supplied from the USA enabled the share of supply from the USA to rise in 2023 to resume leadership of temperate hardwood imports.

TDUK members can read the full report online on the TDUK website.

As part of their membership, TDUK members receive access to a wide range of statistics and market data to help them stay up-to-date with all the latest developments from across the timber sector.

This includes timber import data for softwoods, hardwoods and panel products, construction demand forecasts from the CPA, and our structural timber price index, which indicates the price of structural timber imports by combining a basket of common products widely used in the construction industry.

TDUK also offers access to CPA data on housing starts and completions, as well as work across public and private housing.

More at www.timberdevelopment.uk

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