18 Juli 2007

Wood-based panels: growing market, rising prices

European producers fear supply constraints

During their joint Annual General Meeting in June 2007 in Stresa, Italy, the European producers of wood-based panels expressed their satisfaction about 2006 and the beginning of 2007. However, they are worried about the increasing production costs and they fear wood supply constraints after summer.

The President of the European Panel Federation (EPF), Mr Ladislaus Döry, reported during the Open Part of the General Assembly that the increase in production for particleboard, MDF and OSB went along with an even stronger increase of the consumption thanks to the improved macro-economic situation and the enhanced construction activity in particular. Particleboard production increased by 4% to amount to 37.2 million m3, while demand accelerated by 6.2% to amount to 34 million m3.

MDF production rose by 5.6% reaching 12.4 million m3, while consumption gained 6.2% or 11.9 million m3. The strongest growth rates were registered for OSB, as production increased by 12% to reach 3.5 million m3 and demand even increased by 15%. For each of these products, Europe is a clear net exporter. However, Chinese panel producers are expanding their sales volumes in all continents, especially for MDF.

Mr Döry pointed out a number of the main challenges the sector is facing at the moment: Competition with the biomass energy sector and related huge cost increases for raw materials, increasingly stringent regulations on the factories, a potential reclassification of formaldehyde and the extreme competitive pressure from China which the furniture industry as a major customer is facing.

Plywood market fairly stable
Mr Uldis Bikis, President of the European Federation of the Plywood Industry (FEIC), informed that plywood production remained fairly stable in Europe, amounting to 4 million m3 although the situation differed significantly on regional level. The European plywood demand continued to grow, gaining 5.2% and amounting to 4.5 million m3. Imports were underpinning consumption growth. Contrary to other wood-based panels, Europe is a net importer of plywood and competition with overseas exporters is fierce.

Mr Bikis stressed that the technical activities of the federation are increasingly important for the European plywood producers who want to stay ahead of the competition with low cost producers in the commodity plywood markets. To support innovation and technical progress in the plywood industry, FEIC has established a Technical Working Group during the General Assembly in June 2006 in Helsinki.

This Technical Working Group already met three times focusing mainly on steering the European and international standardisation work and on research issues. Mr Bikis expressed his trust that, under the chairmanship of Mr Tero Nokelainen of the Finnish member company Finnforest, this Technical Working Group will become a very valuable platform for exchanging experience and technical knowledge among FEIC members and to develop new projects to further technical progress in plywood and to enhance the competitiveness and use of European plywood.

Soaring costs
Both Mr Bikis and Mr Döry highlighted that the good market situation is overshadowed by exceptionally high cost increases for nearly all cost factors, but in particular for glues and wood raw material. Wood and glue prices soared by more than 20% in 2006 thereby confirming the trend that appeared in 2005. Wood prices suffered from tight competition for wood with the biomass energy sector.

On top of this, the general price level for raw materials is increasing worldwide. Costs for glues followed the strong upward trend oil prices experienced in 2005 and 2006. However, where oil prices decreased in the second half of 2006, resin prices in general did not. Moreover, costs for energy and transport were continuously increasing. This clearly presents a challenge for all companies to safeguard their competitiveness now and in the future.

Problems with wood availability expected
Wood availability is the biggest concern for the European wood-based panel producers. The wood supply was challenged by harvesting problems in the Northern and South-Eastern regions, by massive log exports to China in Central Western Europe and by supply problems for tropical wood originating from Africa. Moreover, the new Russian export tax for logs threatens to increase the costs for wood even further in the near future. All these developments generate a lot of nervousness on the wood markets, which makes long-term planning very difficult for the panel producers.

After the summer, wood supply shortages are being expected. Therefore, EPF and FEIC are co-operating with the governments at the level of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the European Commission in a study to measure current and future real wood availability. The first results of this work are expected in October 2007.

You may download the press release here (PDF-document).

Mr Kris Wijnendaele
24, rue Montoyer
B-1000 Brussels

Phone: +32-2-556 25 89
E-mail: info@europanels.org

Phone: +32-2-556 25 84
E-mail: info@europlywood.org

(Cf. news in German of 2007-05-10, 2007-05-18 and 2007-02-22.)

Source: European Panel Federation, 2007-07-18.

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