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Lumber futures fall for an eighth-straight day, as speculation that took prices to a record unwinds

A customer wearing a protective mask loads lumber onto a cart at a Home Depot store in Pleasanton, California, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Lumber futures fell for an eighth-straight day on Wednesday and threatened to derail a monthslong frenzy that pushed the price of wood to record levels amid the pandemic era.

Lumber futures for July delivery fell about 5% to $1,201 per thousand board feet on Wednesday, according to FactSet. Prices hit what’s known as limit down, the maximum percentage decline allowed by the exchange.

Prices have fallen every day since lumber hit a record of $1,711 per thousand board feet on May 10. Despite the swoon, the price of lumber is still up about 37% in 2021.

“Price stifled demand. Period. There’s no other question about it,” said Robin Cross, a commodities broker with StoneX who trades at the CME Group. “It’s not like I have a whole bunch of guys calling and selling it. What’s really happening is guys bought high-priced inventory, and they’re afraid to add to it. … No one wants to get left holding the $1,700 bag.”

Tens of thousands of stuck-at-home homeowners, and new home builders, have for much of the last year snapped up processed pine by the ton. But more recently, with sawmills unable to keep up with demand as the calendar turned to spring, a speculative frenzy entered the market with traders bidding up prices aggressively since March.

Single-family housing starts dropped 13% in April, the biggest decline since the pandemic hit, data this week showed. The rise in lumber costs was partly to blame for homebuilders slowing production even as housing demand increases.

Cross explained that while lumber looked overbought as recently as earlier this month based on price and technical metrics, he said its recent pullback is starting to look overdone in the opposite direction.

“I do believe that in the market we are going to see a dead cat bounce. When the market got up to $1,733, that was the most overbought lumber market in history. Technically speaking, not just on price,” he said. “Now, sitting at $1,201 and a singular straight line [downward], it’s not quite the most oversold market in history. But it’s pretty damn close.”

While the rules for reaching limit down prices vary by asset class, reaching that level in commodity markets can be especially stressful for traders who are unable to sell their positions because trading on exchanges is halted as soon as the limit down price is met.

Lumber futures’ limit down price change on May 19 is $63, according to the CME Group. As of the latest reading, lumber futures had hit that limit and had been halted at $1,201.

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