France: mixed 2016 results on the hardwood market

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Stabla ash log prices in France

On the French hardwood market – depending on the species and the product grades – the results of 2016 are heterogeneous from the point of view of timber auctions. In the oak sector the situation keeps getting better. French sawmill owners benefit from the fortuitous combination of circumstances, namely: since spring the oak log export volume has gone down, all the adjacent markets (Europe and France itself) see the upward trend, the Asian demand has rebounded, the US dollar is still strong and the US producers have significantly lowered their exports to China. 

In these conditions and because of the lack of raw material, a new year-on-year growth of standing oak prices has been observed at the latest December auctions (see the table below). The auctions results are in agreement with the analysis made by ONF concerning the second half of the current year. The medium growth of standing timber prices came up to 8% when it came to the assortments of diameter 50cm and over. 

Nevertheless, it seems like in a number of French regions there was a price reduction on the market of oak assortments of a smaller diameter and the one of lower grade assortments, which are heavily exported.  «In the Aube region, we have observed a slight price decrease – by 10% year-on-year on average for C and D grades, because in our region the primary processing is present. In the neighbouring regions, where the sawmills are in crisis, the price decrease is more significant», noted Christophe Baudot who manages Groupement Champenois.

On the ash timber market, the producers are almost surprised by the price stability. Despite the sanitary cuts necessary due to Chalara fraxinea infestation, the volume of the cuts doesn't have negative consequences for log prices that remain stable throughout the year. At some auctions there was even observed a price growth (+10% in a year in Lorraine). But again, it's Asia who rules the market. «My turnover in Vietnam and Indonesia remains stable as well as the prices», confirms Michel Jacquin, a French forest exploiter.

On the other hand, beech market's situation is not positive. Except for exports to Maghreb countries and Asia, foreign market availability for the French beech shrinks like the talisman in Balzac's "The Wild Ass's Skin". « In France, demand keeps getting weaker because of shutdowns and delocalisation of our furniture enterprises. There remain some niche markets, like wooden stairs' one, which, however, also suffers from the construction sector shrinkage. » The head of the Les Avivés de l’Est sawmill, Éric Ducrot, still hopes for the rebound period on the beech market. 

Moreover, the stagnation of the French wood-based panel industry (enterprises' logyards are full) and a weak demand for firewood (the third year in a row is characterized by a mild winter) do not encourage improvement of the current situation. As a consequence, standing beech prices are stagnating (40-50 euros/m3 on average for standing timber of a diameter 40 cm and over). According to ONF's sources, prices in Franche-Comté decreased by 2-3% year-on-year, while in Normandy and the French north – by up to 15%.

Table 1


       Prices in euros/m3, processed timber, roadside



 01/12/2016 Changed over 1 year
1 m3 79                                111                              +40,5%
1,5 m3          127                              150                              +18,1%
2 m3 160 177,5 +10,9%
2,5 m3 187,5 199                     +6,1%

3 m3

209 217 +3,8%

3,5 m3


231,5 +2%

Source : Robert Wood, ventes ONF de Courlaoux (Jura)


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