Market Monitor: TTF advises on timber supply chain

Market Monitor: TTF advises on timber supply chain

With the triple whammy of Covid, Christmas demand and Brexit preparations placing significant pressure on the nation’s ports in December, growing numbers of building materials suppliers were reporting increased supply issues. Indicative of the concerns across the sector, the Timber Trade Federation is advising firms to strengthen their purchasing strategies with suppliers as a lack of stock on the ground and tight supply conditions are set to continue well into 2021.

The Timber Trade Federation has warned that the “very challenging” situation for the timber supply chain in 2020, affected by pandemic-related issues and massive changes in market dynamics is setting the scene for continuing tight timber supply conditions “certainly into Q2, 2021, if not longer”.

With European sawmills temporarily shut in the early part of the pandemic, lockdowns across the UK and Europe then produced a massive surge in demand for timber for DIY and garden projects, which began to impact supplies through to Britain’s construction sector. Additional high demand for structural timbers, particularly CLS and carcassing, from across Europe and especially from the USA, has also affected the amount of material available in traditionally well-stocked markets such as the British builders’ merchant sector.

With demand continuing at a high level into 2021, there has been no ‘quiet season’ in Britain’s building trade, and thus little opportunity for sawmillers and importers to replenish stocks on the ground in the UK to their previously-plentiful levels.

Furthermore, with continuing spikes in coronavirus cases such as that recently seen in the UK’s largest timber-supplying partner, Sweden, there are additional impacts on operating conditions. Import logistics, especially with the end of the Brexit transition period and the new arrangements with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, may add further pressures on supplies as the timber sector will need to compete with many other industries in obtaining road haulage capacity within the UK.

To ensure available material is distributed equitably, many TTF members are continuing to operate on customer allocations. Volumes are likely to be available but on much longer lead times than previously. Merchants and others in the supply chain are advised to contact their supplier to discuss future needs, and similarly to become more aware of the factors influencing suppliers’ capacity to meet demand.

Indeed, the TTF is concerned that companies without a longer-term purchasing strategy “will struggle to replenish stocks through just-in-time buying in Q1 and Q2, 2021”.

David Hopkins, Chief Executive of the TTF, said: “Pre-COVID, timber buyers were used to their being plentiful landed stocks available to meet immediate demand.  Suppliers were also used to having time over traditionally quite periods in the trade to re-build stocks for the following season. This situation has now been turned on its head.

“We would like to reassure the wider sector that volume supplies are available, though on much longer lead times than we have all been used to (and) this situation will be with us well into 2021. The challenge going forward will be to achieve the balanced product mix needed by the market, a factor which may be further complicated by the haulage demands and new customs and plant health procedures engendered by Brexit.”

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