Latest reports on the past year in the global timber trade are not for the faint-hearted

You know where you stand straight away with the latest UNECE/FAO Forest Products Market Annual Review as it uses the strapline “forest products markets in a global economic crisis”. Overall, it estimates, the UNECE region (North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union CIS states) saw forest products consumption drop 117 million m³ in roundwood equivalent in 2008. About the only area that held up was wood fuel.

Wood Markets Group Inc’s Global Lumber Cost Benchmarking doesn’t hold back either, stating that sawmills worldwide last year made the “worst losses in recent history”.

After such a grisly time, the industry is tempted to clutch at even the most fragile straws of encouragement. But those grim market reports are historic and, while not wanting to tempt fate, there does now seem to be more cause for glimmers of hope in the gloom. With Germany, France and Japan technically out of recession, the growing consensus is that the US and UK will emerge, albeit crawling, in the third quarter.

Closer to home several chipboard businesses talking to TTJ for our last edition said they were seeing the first signs of life in construction, with more developers tentatively taking sites out of mothballs, even ordering more portable site sales offices.

And this week we heard from machine suppliers, addressing the topic of merchants adding value by developing further processing activities, that recent weeks and months had seen sales activity that may yet amount to a longer-term positive trend.

So overall there seems to a smattering of the old cautious optimism in the air, with British Woodworking Federation chief executive Richard Lambert probably best summing up the mood by saying we can’t yet be sure this is the start of the market upturn, but we are “at the beginning of the bottom”.

Perhaps we can even put forward the success of the TTJ Awards as an industry plus. We’ve now topped 300 attendees for this year’s presentations on September 17 and we’ve had record entries for some Award categories. Hopefully that’s an expression of the trade’s underlying self-confidence and belief in better times not too far ahead.