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Lumber prices are up 232% and ‘could spiral out of control in the next few months’

April 27, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

Last week the price per thousand board feet of lumber soared to an all-time high of $1,188, according to Random Lengths. Since the onset of the pandemic, lumber has shot up a whopping 232%.

Home builders and DIYers don’t want to hear this, but the ceiling could be higher—maybe even a lot higher. On Monday, the May futures contract price per thousand board feet of two-by-fours jumped $48 to $1,420. That squeeze once again triggered the circuit breakers and caused lumber trading to halt for the day. Why would lumber yards and builders pay above market rates? Severe lumber scarcity has buyers on edge. They’re buying the sky-high contracts in order to ensure they’ll actually get the lumber they need for projects already under contract.

“The market is in trouble. It could spiral out of control in the next few months,” Dustin Jalbert, senior economist at Fastmarkets RISI, told Fortune. The issue? Supply, which is already backlogged, simply can’t catch up as demand continues to grow with the start of the home building and home renovation seasons.

This supply and demand mismatch is largely a result of the pandemic. At the same time that state-mandated lockdowns caused mills to halt production, bored quarantining Americans were rushing to Home Depot and Lowe’s to buy up materials for do-it-yourself projects. That caused lumber inventory to plummet. It only got worse from there: Recession-induced record-low interest rates caused a housing boom. In March, new housing starts hit their highest levels since 2006. Of course, new homes require a lot of lumber, thus exacerbating the shortage.

On the supply side, lumber production is finally rebounding: Wood production hit a 13-year high. But that can only do so much. Limited mill capacity combined with labor shortages, mean supply can’t catch up to robust demand.

Stinson Dean, CEO of Deacon Lumber, told Fortune on Monday that soaring lumber futures contracts, including for months as far away as November, signal that lumber prices will be elevated for quite some time.

For prices to correct, Jalbert says, demand will need to cool down—something that is unlikely to occur until the home building and renovation seasons are over. Simply put, exuberant lumber prices aren’t going anywhere in the next few months.

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