Softwood log export slide continues as India dominates
Australia’s softwood log exports continued to slide in May, with year-end exports totalling 2.808 million m3, down 18.3% on the prior year as India continued to dominate the ‘post-China’ market for Australia’s roundwood.
Since China imposed import bans on Australia’s logs, total exports of softwood logs have slumped, as we can see below. One of the features of the new era of softwood log exports is that larger dimension logs (mainly the pine logs shown in the blue bars) have declined most dramatically. The smaller dimension logs have declined less. More on that later.
In May, softwood log exports totalled 158,110 m3, up 24% on the prior month, but a massive 51% lower than exports in May 2020.
Exports of the larger dimension (>15 cm SED) logs, shown below have declined very dramatically, partly as a result of China exiting the market. Other buyers have not taken up these logs, but look closely and we can observe that exports were already in decline as local processing demand soaked up supply.
The decline in volumes is one thing, but the fall in export prices has been very remarkable. In May 2021, the average export price was AUDFob105/m3, down from AUDFob157/m3 a year earlier.
By contrast, smaller dimension (<15 cm SED) pine logs hardly missed a beat. Sure, they dropped, but have since rebounded, totalling 111,684 m3 in May and 1.523 million m3 for the full year. That was 3.1% higher than for the year earlier.
The export volume resilience saw average export prices in May fall to AUDFob110/m3. Though low, this was not the lowest price of the year, and remarkably, the weighted average price was higher than for the larger dimension logs!
Disrupted log export markets throw up peculiarities like the reversed differential in average prices. But that doesn’t explain the situation. We may only be able to go part way here, but it could be that exports by country provide the best indication.
Here we can see that for total softwood log exports, India has taken up the bulk of the volume in the vacated market. In May, its 96,669 m3 was more than 61% of total exports for the month, and at an average price of AUDFob110/m3. Shipments of the larger dimension logs (25,522 m3) were transacted at AUD96/m3 in May, while the smaller dimension logs totalled 71,146 m3 and transacted at an average AUDFob115/m3.
There may be some settling of softwood log export volumes, but right now at least, the prices indicate its all a bit of a scramble.