Over the past year, all kinds of prices in Estonia have seen largely sharp increases – but lumber prices have halved. Behind this particular drop is the same factor troubling the entire construction and real estate sectors – the high Euribor, which has dealt a blow to demand from which there is no quick recovery in sight.
Toomas Tauk, managing director of lumber retailer Puumarket, said that lumber is nearly 50 percent cheaper than it was this time last year due to the decrease in local and especially Scandinavian construction volumes.
"The price of wood moved in the exact opposite direction to overall inflation, and came to a halt over the summer," said Tauk. "While the last six months were marked by a clear oversupply of wood, by now production volumes have been reduced, and it looks like prices have either bottomed out or did so in the fall."
Should prices go up in the new year, it won't be by much, and no major price increases are foreseen for at least the first half of the year, he continued.
According to the managing director, major manufacturers are still keeping their factories open despite the decline in demand and profit margins; production volumes are adjusted according to demand as they await the next economic upswing.
Estonian Forest and Wood Industries Association (EMPL) CEO Henrik Välja told ERR that sawmills in Estonia have been forced to cut production due to a shortage of raw material, and that in the face of falling prices, buyers throughout the supply chain have deliberately reduced inventories.
"This balance may now quickly reverse, as there are no more buffer stocks, and producers can't lower their prices either," he noted.
Lumber prices were brought down not just by the decline in demand on export markets and high interest rates, but also by so-called "pre-consumption" dating back to COVID-19 lockdowns, Välja added.
High Euribor ravages market
Saaremaa-based Saare Ehituspuit produces lumber chiefly for the local market. Speaking to ERR, managing director Andres Kirst said that price fluctuations haven't been as big for them as a smaller and local producer, however both prices and production have nonetheless fallen for them as well.
It is also clear that the collapse of the Nordic, Western European – particularly German – and Chinese markets have had a severe impact on lumber and wooden house manufacturers.
"But some kind of increase is starting to occur, as a sawmill in Germany also started buying sawlogs from us, and they're paying more than they pay here," Kirst noted.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the market stagnation caused by the high Euribor may continue for some time, and recovery from it may take a long time.
"The slump will last for as long as the Euribor remains high – for as long as it is artificially kept high," the company director said. "Everyone's waiting for the Euribor to come down, and if it doesn't return back to where it was, i.e. zero, then it will just take time for people to get used to the fact that the Euribor is higher and more money will be spent on loans."
Forecasts indicate that demand should increase and construction pick up again as the Euribor falls, Tauk noted.
"According to banks' forecasts, the Euribor should fall to 2.5-3 percent next year," he said. "In our analyses, we are taking into account that with the decline in the Euribor and the recovery in consumer confidence, construction volumes and demand will start to go up beginning mid-next year."
Despite there being nothing positive to see at the moment, Välja likewise believes that this slump and stagnation in the lumber sector can't last long.
"Wood construction as a key technology in reducing the construction sector's carbon footprint is certainly on an upward trend in the long term," the industry association chief said. "However, activity on the real estate markets of both Estonia as well as [our] main export markets is still very low."
Nonetheless, the lumber construction boom has been going on for some time already internationally, he highlighted, adding that it's crucial that Estonia doesn't miss the boat on this.
Wooden house producers seek government support
Annika Kadaja, general manager of wooden house producer association Woodhouse Estonia, told ERR that the country's wooden house manufacturers don't see the economies of their target markets stabilizing; rather, the forecast is the opposite – the recession will continue. Cheap lumber isn't providing Estonian companies an advantage either, as lumber has gotten cheaper in their target markets as well.
According to Kadaja, however, there are several things the state could do to help the wooden building sector.
"This fall, we submitted specific proposals to the government for what the state could do to support one of the largest exporting industries in Estonia," she said.
"One proposal was to increase the share of wooden construction in public buildings, including making countercyclical investments and building modular kindergartens, for example – on the other hand we have a major shortage of kindergarten spots," Kadaja explained. "And of course it's also true that if we in Estonia were to develop a culture of wooden and industrialized construction, then it would support our exports as references as well. The state must be domestic companies' biggest fan, and support as much with its orders as well."
In 2022, exports of Estonia's wooden house producers totaled €540 million.
Editor: Aili Vahtla