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NZ log exports hit new monthly record in March, further strength forecast

Wednesday 23rd May 2018

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New Zealand exported a record volume of softwood logs in March, as shipments to most major markets increased, with further strength forecast through the rest of the year, according to AgriHQ, NZX's agricultural analysis business. 

The country shipped a record 1.975 million cubic metres of softwood logs overseas in March, up 22 percent from both the February level and from March last year, AgriHQ said in its latest monthly forestry market report. That beat the previous monthly record set in October last year and puts first quarter log exports 22 percent above last year's levels.

All major destinations for New Zealand logs were up in March, except Japan due to timing issues, although Indian shipments had been volatile as regulators clamp down on the Indian banking system and South Korea was subdued due to a sluggish economy, the report said.

"A stellar March for exports of NZ softwood logs broke previous records," AgriHQ analyst Reece Brick said under a section of the report titled 'Only direction upwards'. "Expectations are for the strength in this market to continue throughout 2018, with demand expected to pick up from India in the second half of the year."

The latest gains come after New Zealand shipped a record 18.8 million cubic metres of softwood logs overseas last year, up 18 percent on 2016, with exports to China jumping 29 percent and accounting for three-quarters of the total. AgriHQ said exports to China continued to grow in March, up 20 percent on year-earlier levels and marking 14 straight months of gains. He noted China's log imports in March were "incredibly strong" this year as Chinese New Year celebrations, which typically lead to a slowdown, occurred in February.

"Any worries around a post-Chinese New Year log slump have been put to bed," Brick said. "In fact the past few weeks have been among the most encouraging in at least the past twelve months, arguably longer."

Log offtake levels at Chinese ports have rushed above previous record rates, with periods where more than 100,000 cubic metres a day has come off, with the average rate sitting around 90,000-95,000 cubic metres a day, he said. That has pulled port-level inventories down to 3.8-4.2 million cubic metres and it’s very likely these figures will be even lower by this time next month, he said.

The combination of higher in-market pricing and the falling value of the New Zealand dollar against the greenback had pushed log export returns further towards record territory, although rising shipping rates had held back values a little, Brick said. 

The average price for New Zealand A-grade export logs over the past month had lifted to US$144/JAS from US$143/JAS, and was ahead of US$130/JAS a year ago, and US$113/JAS two years ago, according to AgriHQ's monthly survey of exporters, forest owners and saw millers. 

Shipping rates were firmer through April and there were mixed views on where shipping rates will track with some saying elevated oil prices pointed towards a lift while others believed there was enough spare shipping capacity across the globe to keep a lid on rates in the medium term, Brick said.

In the domestic market, the price for S1 logs lifted to $134 a tonne from $133 a tonne last month, according to AgriHQ's survey. 

"As a whole, it is still one of the strongest periods ever to be a log trader," Brick said. "Export markets continue to keep domestic mills on their toes, making them pay near to what can be achieved overseas or simply miss out on supplies."

Forest products are New Zealand's third-largest commodity export group behind dairy and meat products. Trade data for April is due out tomorrow.

(BusinessDesk)

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