Nothing has disturbed the long-term calm and stable patch in the West African export log market.

Apart from the lower price for iroko in the second quarter, the low to moderate demand pattern over the second and third quarters of 2002 has held prices virtually unchanged for several months. European buyers have been quiet and are still showing little interest in any significant volumes. China is in the market for okume logs and prices here show almost the only rise worth reporting, at around US$10-15 higher in the past two weeks. China has for some time replaced France as the major bulk buyer of okume logs from Gabon. Demands for different species from West African producers have fluctuated without affecting prices even though production and availability from the region have been, at best, only moderate to low over the past three months.

French buyers are looking for niangon logs but rains in Liberia are keeping supply very low and in Cameroon too, heavy rains are adding log transport difficulties to the problems of sawmillers trying to keep production viable. Spain and Portugal are buying, but only at normal to low levels and supply is easily meeting demand with unchanged prices.

Financial difficulty

Gabon also is experiencing supply problems as the state log purchasing organisation SNBG is facing financial difficulties and reported as being unable to meet payments to log producers, causing two companies to close while others are cutting log production still further until money starts to circulate again. This is the second time in recent years that the SNBG has run into money problems. Producers and exporters are resigned to quiet trading through the European winter and there are no forecasts of either significant volume or price movements from now through to the first quarter of 2003.

Third quarter sawn lumber prices again remained stable after some demand-driven rises from May through to August for only the major species. Markets are slow, with most interest in fixed size specifications rather than the usual ‘and wider’ specifications as importers need to be much more specific and working to end users’ exact requirements rather than building stocks in dull markets through mainland Europe.

The Netherlands is reckoned to be the most positive market but even here there are concerns over the low demand and generally poor economic conditions in neighbouring countries that use Dutch importers as stockists and distributors. The Netherlands is overstocked with azobe and there are reports of unsold parcels in the port and on the water from Port Gentil. The recent failures and takeovers in the German furniture manufacturing and distribution industries are obviously affecting both the tropical and temperate hardwood trades.

&#8220The hopes that producers had of a revival in buyer interest after the European holiday period have not been realised”

Low sales

West African mills report low sales overall and buyer interest has dried up for contracts for red species, with moabi, makore, douka and okume lumber out of favour. Moabi prices did weaken in September but have now stabilised. Okume lumber is still selling well into Italy but there is little interest elsewhere in Europe, with Gabon sawmills looking for distributors for UK. Ayous fixed size specifications have moved down by e15/m3, padouk FAS GMS are down by e60-62/m3 while scantlings are up e15/m3. Other than these, any recent prices variations have been very small.

The hopes that producers had of a revival in buyer interest after the European holiday period have not been realised. Prices have held through into the fourth quarter for both logs and lumber and, although log supply for export and local manufacture has been low and harvesting is being affected by the rainy season, it appears demand too has been sufficiently depressed to rule out the possibility of an upwards price trend.

Hopes on the Far East

West African exporters are expecting at best to be able to keep prices at the present levels for European buyers and feel some confidence that the Far East importers, especially China, will remain active enough to hold prices and demand in balance into next year. Once again, market forces have negated the potential upwards effect on prices of the log shortage factor in Far East and Africa.