No relief for DIYers: Lumber’s retail price hits all-time high—up 323%
We’re amid a historic North American lumber shortage. It’s why home builders, who are worried they won’t get the materials they need for spring and summer projects, spent weeks engaging in a fierce bidding war over lumber futures. That frenzy seems to have reached its climax: Since May 10, the July futures contract price per thousand board feet of two-by-fours has fallen from over $1,700 to $1,453. While that’s still well above pre-pandemic levels—when it typically traded in the $300 to $500 range—the pullback has many in the industry believing the worst of the price surges is over.
But don’t expect to find a lumber discount in the aisles of Home Depot or Lowe’s just yet. While the futures price has pulled back a bit, the current “cash” price (the price sawmills charge distributors and wholesalers) just hit a new all-time high. On Friday, the cash price per thousand board feet of lumber climbed to $1,514, according to industry trade publication Random Lengths. That’s up a staggering 323% since April 2020.
“Lumber futures are indicating that potential savings could happen in the future,” Andy Goodman, CEO of Sherwood Lumber, tells Fortune. “However, ‘future’ is the operative word. The July contract represents bulk lumber that ships in that month and arrives in August to the distributor and then the retailer.”
Dustin Jalbert, a senior economist at Fastmarkets RISI where he specializes in wood prices, also thinks retail lumber prices should dip a bit soon, but adds, “It’s far from a done deal.” While April’s 9% dip in new housing starts signaled that some builders are finally balking at exorbitant prices for lumber, demand remains incredibly strong. Even though starts were down last month, they’re still stronger than all but five other months since the end of 2006. Unless demand pulls back further, sawmills will continue to struggle to match it.
As Fortune has previously explained, this historic lumber shortage was spurred by a perfect storm of factors set off during the pandemic. When COVID-19 broke out in spring 2020, sawmills cut production and unloaded inventory in fears of a looming housing crash. The crash didn’t happen—instead, the opposite occurred. Bored, quarantining Americans rushed to Home Depot and Lowe’s to buy up materials for do-it-yourself projects, while recession-induced interest rates helped spur a housing boom. That boom, which was exacerbated by a large cohort of millennials starting to hit their peak home-buying years, dried up housing inventory and sent buyers in search of new construction. Home improvements and construction require a lot of lumber, and mills couldn’t keep up. Cue record prices.
That elevated demand and constrained supply remain the reality. It’s also why a price correction could take months to materialize.
“With the pent up demand, fractured supply, and delayed job site activity, we see projects extending deep into the summer and fall,” Goodman tells Fortune. “This supply and demand gap likely will not be filled until late 2021 or early 2022, meaning that substantial cost savings will not trickle down to the consumer until then.”
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