Saturday, February 02, 2008

Now you see it....

Whilst down near Hull for the Aunty's funeral, it so happened that I had a conversation with one of the big timber importers that have traditionally used Hull as their base. Historically, this was because lots of the wood and paper pulp used in the UK has come from Scandinavia, Germany and Russia.
His take on things was most interesting.
He says that the first sign they had of impending Doom ( the Credit Crunch, the coming Recession etc etc) was during July, when their phones stopped ringing. Noone was calling asking for wood. It was so unusual he had called a couple of the others in the trade - both in Hull and over Liverpool way - and they told him the same had happened to them.
Being not daft, he immediately told his staff to slash all their prices by 10% NOW. As a result he was able, over the next six weeks or so, to get rid of the timber he had paid for at only a small loss. Those still left with any are looking at losses up to 40% now. And there's little or no volume. The one saving grace is that only 15% or so of timber in the UK market actually comes from the UK - the rest is imported, so however much it falls, there is always going to be a market for the imports. The price is another matter, of course.
He told me that things in North America were even worse. 70% of Canadian lumber goes to America, and as a result, the volumes had dropped by 85% year on year. Mills were closing, and, as he said, many would never re-open as they were now not tecky enough to compete.
An interesting side-light is that the average US house is priced at about half the UK average, but their prices have already come back over 10%. Ours haven't really moved.
That is the " joy" of the American economy and it's " Destructive Capitalism". Yes lots of people will go bust, yes house prices will probably end up some 30% down from their peak, and yes the Banks will write off more millions.
But at the end of the carnage, there WILL be winners and survivors. Just look at the Dot Com bust - we ended up with some serious businesses, witness Microsoft's bid for Yahoo.
So the adjustment is already well underway.
It's just a question of clinging on for dear life and making it to the other side.
Oh, and by the way, there are still 10 -12,000 people still not back in their houses after last year's floods in the Hull area.
Great living in a modern society isn't it?

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