The protracted slump in housing sales and home construction has softened demand for lumber. July's new home sales figures in the U.S. fell 12.4 percent over the month, and were down by 32.4 percent over the year. July's annualized rate of new home sales totaled 276,000 units - the lowest level since 1963. With 4 million vacant homes on the market, and an estimated one in four mortgages currently underwater, there is going to be little demand for increases in production and added jobs in the Rogue Valley's wood product manufacturing sector.
On the timber supply side, figures recently released from the Oregon Department of Forestry are bleak as well. In 2009, the statewide timber harvest was the lowest since the middle of the Great Depression, just 2.75 billion board feet. This year is shaping up to be no better, according to state forest economist Gary Lettman. After rising modestly in the spring, a composite index of framing lumber prices produced by Random Lengths recently fell back to the beginning of the year level - near historic lows. All of this pain shows up in employment trends in the wood product manufacturing sector in the Rogue Valley.