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Global paper, forest products 2020 industry outlook ‘negative’: Moody’s

December 12, 2019  By CFI staff, Moody's Investors Service

Photo: Annex Business Media

The 2020 outlook for the global paper and forest products industry remains negative, Moody’s Investors Service says in its recently released outlook report.

Earnings declines will be seen primarily in the paper, paper packaging and market pulp sub sectors as excess supply causes prices to fall. Conversely, the outlook for wood products and timberland is positive with earnings expected to strengthen with rebounding wood product prices, the report states.

“We expect operating earnings for the global paper and forest products industry to decline by 2-4 per cent in 2020,” Ed Sustar, a Moody’s senior-vice president, said in a news release. “Lower prices across most sub sectors will be the primary driver for lower earnings, as well as the on-going secular demand decline for paper, partially offset by lower costs for recycled fibre.”

However, singling out the wood products and timberland sub sector, Moody’s says operating earnings will increase by about seven per cent in the coming year. North American wood product prices will rebound as capacity curtailments remove some slack from the market. U.S. housing starts likely will be flat, while U.S. South log prices likewise will stay flat on the back of excess inventory of standing timber.


OSB prices will increase by 20 per cent in 2020 as capacity curtailments remove excess supply from the panel market, the report states.

In the paper packaging and tissue sub sector, operating earnings will decline by about two per cent in 2020 on the back of lower corrugated container prices, given capacity additions haven’t yet been absorbed by weaker demand growth. Consumer packaging and tissue prices will stay at current levels, while recycled fibre costs will remain below the long-term average.

Operating earnings for commodity and specialty paper firms, meanwhile, will fall by about five per cent, with commodity paper consumption also set to decline by about five per cent due to digital substitution. Prices will fall for most grades of commodity paper, as curtailments have not kept pace with declining demand. Nevertheless, specialty and non-integrated commodity paper producers will benefit from lower pulp and recycled fibre costs.

Market pulp producers will see operating earnings decline by around nine per cent in the coming year, Moody’s says. Although pulp prices will begin to rise as inventory levels normalize, average prices in 2020 will remain below 2019 levels. Demand for pulp will remain muted as orders from particularly China slow.

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