Data Sources for Analyzing Timber Markets in the U.S.

22 05 2013

If a tree falls in the woods, will someone buy it?  Who?  What will they use it for?  How much will they pay for it?  How many other trees will they need this year?  Next year?  A rigorous timber market analysis (TMA) process helps prioritize questions, aggregate data, conduct analysis and communicate results and recommendations.  Much of the data required for TMA in the United States is readily available.  The following list includes a sample of free and fee-based data sources for supply, demand and price data:

Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data from the U.S. Forest Service.  The FIA Program includes a “continuous forest census” to help project how U.S. forests are likely to change over the next 10 to 50 years. Specific data from the FIA Program includes, for example, inventory, growth and removal data for hardwood and pine. The USDA Forest Service manages the FIA Program in cooperation with state and private forestry organizations. The McSweeney-McNary Forest Research Act of 1928 created the FIA Program, which initiated the first forest inventories in 1930.

Timber Product Output (TPO) data from the U.S. Forest Service. The TPO Database includes a standard set of consistently coded data variables for each U.S. state and county related to forest harvesting and tree removals.  Specific data includes, for example, the volume of roundwood products harvested, logging residues left behind, and the wood and bark residues generated by primary wood-using mills. The latest data available from the TPO Database is dated 2009. When using TPO data, Forisk often projects the base numbers to the current year by applying annual changes in wood demand.

Wood Demand data from the Center for Forest Business at the University of Georgia.  The Wood Demand Research Program collects wood use data from participating mills on a quarterly basis. In addition, the Program publishes Forest Industry Shapefiles that track all forest industry facilities.  These shapefiles are updated two times per year and can be used with GIS/map-making software.

Timberland owner data from Forisk Consulting. Forisk tracks hundreds of the largest private timberland owners and managers in the United States that own 10,000 acres or more. This is part of Forisk’s ongoing research program of timberland investment vehicles and is updated annually.

Wood bioenergy project data from Wood Bioenergy US. Forisk analyzes the U.S. wood bioenergy sector through tracking and screening all announced and operating wood-using bioenergy projects in the United States. In addition, WBUS tracks and analyzes project development over time. This is part of Forisk’s ongoing wood bioenergy research program and the WBUS database is updated every two months.  The project lists provide a means for evaluating the relevance and implications for wood bioenergy to specific timber and wood markets.

Several organizations provide regional and local stumpage and delivered price information.  State forestry and natural resource departments sometimes track sales from public and/or private lands.  A good example is the Oregon Department of Forestry.  One source specific to the U.S. South is Timber Mart-South.  Managed by the independent, non-profit Frank W. Norris Foundation located at the Warnell School of Forest Resources at the University of Georgia, Timber Mart-South publishes quarterly and annual reports of stumpage and delivered prices in the US South. Timber Mart-South has surveyed and reported timber prices since 1976.

Timber markets are uniquely local.  Decision-supporting analysis of timber markets depends on a process of systematically evaluating and tracking local wood raw material markets for investing in and managing timberlands and wood-using facilities.

Forisk will cover these and other data sources during “Timber Market Analysis” on August 12th in Atlanta, a one-day course for anyone who wants a step-by-step process to understand, track, and analyze the price, demand, supply, and competitive dynamics of timber markets and wood baskets. For more information, click here

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Wood Supply Agreements, Part II: Basic Principles for Transfer Price Calculations

12 05 2013

This is the second in a two-part series related to wood supply agreements and their relevance to analyzing timber markets.

Part I of this series on wood supply agreements introduced basic pricing mechanisms often used in supply agreements and associated concerns raised by parties to these agreements.  Bioenergy firms new to local wood markets, in particular, focus on potential conflicts of interest associated with price indices or pricing mechanisms implemented by the same firm that collects and reports the underlying price data.  They ask “how reliable and independent are these data sources and indices?”

As a general rule, we find it helpful to avoid swimming in the toilet or peeing in the pool.  Clear, verifiable methodologies for collecting data and reporting changes over time facilitate strong wood supply relationships.  In specifying these methods, parties in a long-term wood supply agreement may rely on a set of working principles.

We believe the following three criteria for establishing an independent pricing mechanism include the proper principles while maintaining the practical necessities of an operational transfer price in a real world forest products or bioenergy supply agreement:

  • Reflects market prices: The log or wood transfer price should approximate an “arms-length”, market based price. While the transfer price may deviate from the market price for a given month, the prices paid by the mill or bioenergy plant for raw matieral over time should minimize the perceived and actual missed opportunities of bypassing other customers and markets.  This criterion passes the fairness test and retains the benefits of operating in a market environment.
  • Easy to implement and to use: The model should be easy to understand, easy to explain, and easy to use.  Complex transfer pricing methods do not create value for business owners; simple transfer pricing models allow managers to focus time and resources on operating the business.
  • Retains flexibility:  At times, the two parties may feel the transfer price requires an adjustment.  Rather than disregard the model to make an adjustment, an approach should be determined in advance for adjusting the model or revising the price. As such, the option would exist for both parties to agree to periodically review and revise, if necessary, the transfer price based on new information or on a region-wide log price index.

Situations exist when both parties want to revisit prices and how they were calculated, and accounting for this in advance based on clear principles can minimize unnecessary costs, friction and arbitration.

For investors and analysts evaluating wood and timber markets, Forisk offers “Timber Market Analysis” on August 12th in Atlanta, a one-day course for anyone who wants a step-by-step process to understand, track, and analyze the price, demand, supply, and competitive dynamics of timber markets and wood baskets. For more information, click here





Wood Supply Agreements, Part I: Pricing Mechanisms and Market Analyses

9 05 2013

This is the first in a two-part series related to wood supply agreements and their relevance to analyzing timber markets.

In his 1989 book Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis wrote, “Risk, I learned, was a commodity.  Risk could be canned and sold like tomatoes.”  This represented a prevailing view among the sophisticates of Wall Street prior to the mortgage bubble and collapse of AIG.  Though the view of risk “as a commodity” varies over time, it remains critically important to managers and investors exposed to timberlands and wood-using assets.  One tool employed to mitigate risk in timber-related industries is a wood supply agreement.

Forest industry managers and bioenergy project developers sometimes use wood supply agreements to manage the costs and flows of logs and other woody raw materials to manufacturing facilities and bioenergy plants.  Integrated forest products firms also used them to work through the operational impacts of timberland divestitures.  A typical agreement comprises a contractual obligation by a supplier to provide agreed-to volumes of wood to a buyer, who commits to purchase this raw material at the contract price.

Most agreements reflect a tradeoff between security and flexibility.  In guaranteeing volumes, the supply agreement secures supply for the mill and a market for the timberland manager.  The aspects subject to negotiation include product, volume, timing, and price.  Product specifies the species and “specs” of the product to be delivered.  Pine pulpwood or hardwood logs?  Volume specifies the amount of wood covered under the agreement, whether it is fixed or a range.  Timing specifies the timeframe covered, and the time periods for actually delivering the wood.  Price specifies the method and manner for pricing the wood delivered, and the process of updating and communicating this price.

The “pricing mechanisms” built into wood supply agreements are of central importance.  They have influenced many a bonus, ulcer and sleepless night.  How can fair prices be calculated over time that account for actual market activity while minimizing the “penalties” for being locked into a set marketing arrangement?  Existing supply agreements attempt to balance two competing aspects of pricing wood based on available data.  The first asks the question, “How does the market price this wood?”  The second asks, “What is the value of this wood in the market?”  The first is the question of the wood buyer, and the second is the question of the stumpage seller.

Common approaches include rolling averages, indexing, and blended indexing.  Rolling (moving) averages are used within the forest products industry, and in other heavy industry settings, to calculate transfer prices and for raw material supply agreements. One advantage of a moving average is that it reduces the peaks and valleys associated with changes in log prices.  One disadvantage is that, for any given month, the transfer price lags the actual market price, though this should balance over time.

Recent issues related to supply agreements have focused on reduced confidence in the data underlying a supply agreement and concerns about conflicts of interest associated with pricing mechanisms or indices provided by the same firm that collects and reports the underlying price data.  These issues become relevant when conducting due diligence on timber markets or wood baskets as they can affect the ranking and risk assessments associated with potential or existing wood procurement strategies.

For investors and analysts evaluating wood and timber markets, Forisk offers “Timber Market Analysis” on August 12th in Atlanta, a one-day course for anyone who wants a step-by-step process to understand, track, and analyze the price, demand, supply, and competitive dynamics of timber markets and wood baskets. For more information, click here