WOOD-BASED PANELS

Lead author: Ivan Eastin / Contributing authors: Orifjon Abidov, Fran Maplesden, Igor Novoselov

Introduction and UNECE region overview

The wood-based panel sector had a mixed year in the UNECE region in 2019. Panel production declined slightly (by 0.7%) overall, and apparent consumption was down by 1.5%, despite the region’s relatively good economic growth. The consumption of structural panels was down by 4.0%, but the consumption of non-structural panels increased by 0.2%.

In Europe, total wood-based panel consumption decreased by 0.8% in 2019, to 76.4 million m³, and the apparent consumption of structural panels was weak (down by 3.4%). Production decreased by only 1.4%, however, due to a decrease in imports (-1.6%) and an increase in exports (+1.9%). The consumption of non-structural panels in Europe was stable, and there was a slight reduction in production ( 0.8%) due to a decrease in exports (-1.4%).

The apparent consumption of wood-based panels increased by 0.6% in EECCA in 2019, to 21.3 million m³, and production increased by 1.1%, to 26.2 million m³. The Russian Federation produced 17.6 million m³ of wood-based panels in 2019, an increase of 1.3% compared with 2018.

The apparent consumption of wood-based panels fell by 3.1% in North America in 2019. Largely due to US trade actions, the value of Canadian and US panel exports fell by 21.9% and 9.7%, respectively. Production capacity increased marginally (1%) in the North American structural panel industry in 2019 but capacity utilization decreased from 78% in 2018 to 75% in 2019.

As in previous years, Indonesia and Malaysia were the dominant tropical plywood exporters in 2019, together supplying over 71% of total world exports.

Europe

Total wood-based panels production decreased by 0.9% in Europe in 2019, to 74.0 million m³. All panel types posted production declines, led by plywood, which experienced a 2.4% drop.

The production of fibreboard (which, with particle board, comprises the group of non-structural panels) declined by 1.9% in Europe in 2019. Fibreboard accounts for one-third (34%) of total wood-based panel production in Europe.

Production decreased across all fibreboard subcategories in 2019 due to announced capacity closures. Medium density fibreboard (MDF) production (by far the biggest subcomponent of all fibreboard products) contracted by 2.2%, and softboard posted the largest production decrease among the subcategories, dropping by 8.6%. The production of hardboard weakened by 2.9% (EPF, 2020).

The production of structural panels, comprising oriented strandboard (OSB) and plywood, declined by 1.4% in 2019 (graph 4.1). OSB production (-0.8%) declined by less than plywood and thus continued growing its relative market share in the European structural panels market.

Demand contracted by 3.4% for structural panels in 2019 and was flat for non-structural panels (-0.1%). The overall consumption of wood-based panels decreased by 0.8%. Exports dropped only slightly in volume (by 0.5%) but significantly in value (by 5.2%). Higher exports of structural panels (up by 1.9%) offset lower exports of non-structural panels (down by 1.4%).

Imports were stable in 2019 for non-structural panels (up by 0.2%) but contracted significantly (by 1.6%) for structural panels (graph 4.2).

Unit values decreased for both imports and exports of traded wood-based panels in 2019 (graph 4.3).

Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

Apparent consumption increased slightly in EECCA in 2019 for both structural panels (up by 0.5%, to 3.9 million m³) and non-structural panels up (by 0.6%, to 17.4 million m³) (graphs 4.4 and 4.5). The apparent consumption of wood-based panels fell by 1.7% in the Russian Federation, to 12.4 million m³. The production of wood-based panels increased in 2019 by 1.1% in EECCA, to 26.2 million m³, and by 1.3% in the Russian Federation, to 17.6 million m³.

The trade volume of wood-based panels grew for three consecutive years (2016–2018) in EECCA, driven mainly by trade developments in the Russian Federation, but it plateaued in 2019 (graphs 4.4 and 4.5). Imports by the Russian Federation reportedly declined volumetrically in 2019 for all panel products (plywood by 14%, fibreboard by 4%, particle board by 14% and OSB by 36%) due to the weakening of the Russian rouble against the US dollar (by 3.1%). At the same time, Russian exporters tried to increase sales volumes to external markets to offset global price declines for exported structural panels (WhatWood, 2020b).

Plywood prices peaked in 2018 and trended downward in domestic markets in EECCA countries and in export markets (as seen in declared unit values) through most of 2019 (graph 4.6). Plywood prices paid to Russian suppliers declined for 15 consecutive months, starting in the first quarter of 2019, although there were signs of price recovery in the second quarter of 2020 (WhatWood, 2020c).

North America

The apparent consumption of wood-based panels fell by 3.1% in North America in 2019. This together with US trade actions, which reduced exporting options, caused the value of Canadian and US wood-based panel exports to fall by 21.9% and 9.7%, respectively. Total wood-based panel production in North America fell by 1.3%, to 45.9 million m³ (graph 4.7). Production capacity increased by 1% in the North American structural panel industry and the utilization rate decreased from 78% in 2018 to 75% in 2019 (CPA, 2020).

The consumption of structural wood-based panels fell by 4.7% in North America in 2019 (graph 4.7), with demand for OSB and plywood falling by 4.1% and 5.6%, respectively. Trends in the consumption of wood-based structural panels were mixed across the four major end-use markets – flat (+0.04%) in the residential construction market; up by 0.6% in the remodelling market; down by 4.5% in the industrial market; and down by 1.8% in the non-residential market (APA, 2020a). North American consumption of non-structural panels (particle board and MDF) rose by 0.9% in 2019, with a decrease in MDF consumption of 4.0% offset by an increase in particle-board consumption of 11.9% (graph 4.8).

The value of North American imports of wood-based panels fell by 21.0% in 2019, to $5.8 billion. Imports to the US fell sharply (by 22.9%), with the exception of particle board (up by 10.2%). In Canada, panel imports fell overall by 8.1% in 2019, although imports of both particle board and OSB rose substantially.

The value of wood-based panel exports from North America dropped by 19.3% in 2019, to $2.8 billion, with Canada accounting for 78% of the total. The value of exports from North America (including trade between Canada and the US) fell by 32.3% for OSB, 14.8% for plywood and 1.1% for fibreboard. Only particle board, up by 8.5%, showed an increase over 2018.

The overall weakening in demand for most types of wood-based panels in North America in 2019 led to a decrease in capacity utilization rates. The drop in demand also led to price declines throughout 2019, although OSB prices recovered slightly in the second half of the year.

Overall, OSB prices were down by 6.2% in 2019. Prices for both western and southern plywood were also lower – by 6.3% for southern plywood and 8.1% for western plywood. Of the non-structural panels, prices for particle board were up by 9.2% in 2019 and MDF prices were unchanged (Random Lengths, 2020). These trends are clearly visible in the declared unit prices of traded structural and non-structural panels (graph 4.9).

Extraregional influences on the UNECE

Outside the UNECE region, Japan is the largest importer of wood-based panels by volume and easily the largest importer by value (table 4.1).

China is volumetrically the world’s largest wood-based panel exporter, followed closely by Canada. Five countries in the UNECE region are among the top ten exporters globally (table 4.2).

Imports by Japan and the Republic of Korea and exports from Indonesia and Malaysia continue to dominate the global trade in tropical plywood (table 4.3). The UNECE region accounts for less than 25% of total tropical plywood imports.

Japan’s imports of tropical plywood declined by 19% in 2019 (to 1.6 million m³) due to weaknesses in the Japanese economy. Plywood from Indonesia and Malaysia, Japan’s major suppliers, declined (and has continued to drop in 2020), while the share of domestic plywood increased to 55% of consumption in 2019 (ITTO, 2020b).

Malaysia’s plywood exports continue to be affected by log supply shortages. Southeast Asian plywood prices rose in 2019 in response to increased log and manufacturing costs. Producers have been using more plantation-grown species, such as eucalypts and acacias, to address supply and cost issues.

According to anecdotal sources, government responses to the COVID-19 virus in Southeast Asian countries had a significant effect on the tropical plywood sector in early 2020. Production in Malaysia’s forestry and timber sector slowed drastically, and trade associations are negotiating with authorities to allow at least partial operations (ITTO, 2020f). Most wood industries are operating in Indonesia, but production is slowing. 

Although Viet Nam has been less affected by COVID-19 than some other Asian countries, the government there has been providing emergency support. Growth in the country’s export-oriented wood-processing industry is expected to slow in 2020, however.

UNECE subregional data summary and forecast

Table 4.4 summarizes data on wood-based panels production, consumption, trade and the declared value of cross-border trade. Additional information and the complete forest products database is available at www.unece.org/forests/fpamr2020-annex.

Initial data supplied by UNECE member states (all figures are year over year) indicate that the production of wood-based panels will decrease in the UNECE region at an annual rate of 4.3% in 2020 and increase by 4.9% in 2021. Subregionally, the forecast is for Europe to decline by 3.9% in 2020 and grow by 3.8% in 2021; EECCA to decrease by 6.8% in 2020 and increase by 10.9% in 2021; and North America to shrink by 1.4% in 2020 and 2.4% in 2021.

<< CHAPTER 3 >> CHAPTER 5