Challenges and projections for European forest sector in 2018

Challenges and projections for European forest sector in 2018

All kinds of projections regarding forestry and wood industries have to take into account relations between wood supply and forest products demand at certain markets. Here are FBA’s forecasts for European forest sector for 2018, together with challenges that key wood market players will face.

1. New challenges for pulp and paper industry

Pulp and paper industry is characterized by high capital intensivness, mature markets of several core products, low innovation intensity, and increasing amount of international companies operating in global markets with high price volatility. The main challenges for pulp and paper industry in 2018 will remain, i.e:

  • transformation towards a low-carbon bioeconomy
  • new green innovations amidst a prolonged global recession
  • tension between sustainability and cost competitivness

European pulp and paper industry will experience higher tension with respect to payments for carbon emissions, especially in the situation when many of the competing regions outside the EU are not going to doing so in the foreseeable future. There are already first signals showing concerns of industry federations about cost increases due to environmental regulations. The increase of pulp and paper innovativeness may follow the Porter hypothesis, which states that strict environmental regulations can induce efficiency and encourage innovations that help improve commercial competitiveness.

In order to handle these challenges, pulp and paper industry will have to increase its innovativeness, create new products or applications for fiber. Finish Metsa Group and Swedish Södra Cell are often put forward as pioneers in the development of the biorefinery concept, being a promising solution for pulp and paper industry challenges. Nevertheless, biorefinery concept is still far away, operating on pilot projects, only in few countries in Europe. Coming years should show if the concept will survive with respect to profitability and technology challenges.

On the other hand, the negative impact of environmetal policies in Europe leading to the increase of costs may be dampened by the price developments in the global market.

>>READ MORE: Does an aggressive acquisition strategy always pay back? – pulp and paper industry example

For instance, it is expected that market conditions will favour pulp price hikes in 2018. As BTG Pactual analysts in their report dated Nov. 15, 2017 noticed tight markets, low Chinese pulp inventories, healthy demand favour a “pricing outlook that will again surprise on the upside in 2018, not to mention a very bullish 3-4 years’ outlook on a lack of supply coming to the market.” All eyes will be on the policy development in China, which has recently stopped imports of several grades of waste paper as a part of campaign against foreign garbage, which has created shortage of raw material and impacted the paper production. Further capacities close to 300 000 tonnes per annum are shut down due to lack of environmental compliance. As a result, packaging paper prices, for instance, have shot up by 40 per cent to over 5,500 yuan per tonne since August, according to Bloomberg data.

According to Moody’s Investors Service, the outlook for the global paper and forest products sector will remain stable in 2018.

The stable outlook for paper and forest products globally next year is underpinned by an expected 2%-4% growth of our rated paper and forest products companies, as strength in the wood products and paper packaging subsectors offset decreased demand for commodity paper as the shift to digital-first alternatives continues,” says Ed Sustar, a Moody’s Senior Vice President.

>>READ MORE: Is the paper industry getting greener? Five questions answered

2. Sawmill industry in Europe has to look for new markets

During last years, a reduced consumption of lumber in Europe has forced European sawmills to find new markets. European sawmills have continued to take market share in China, Japan and other countries in East Asia as continued low activity in European construction reduced the lumber consumption. According to Forest Business Analytics, this trend will continue.

Main challenges that European sawmilling industry will face in 2018:

  • Climate change mitigation and its impact on sawmills firstly through increaseing energy costs and secondly through emerging energy products.
  • Impact of biorefineries on demand for pulpwood and in consequence increase competition for the raw materials
  • The maturity of the market for oriented strand board along with the rise of engineered wood products that substitute for what would traditionally have been solid wood have altered the input mix to the manufacturing processes
  • A smaller need for large sawtimber (glued substitutes, CLT)
  • For some countries in Europe, due to the age-class distribution of forests, the proportion of thinnings, compared to clear-cutings, is expected to increase during the next decades.

Despite above challenges, one of the biggest strengths of sawmill industry is capacity in substituting other raw materials with higher carbon footprint, what is highly appreciated among European policy-makers. One of the examples is the development of building systems based on building components like CLT or LVL. Today the focus is on 6 main countries: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Sawmilling industry has basically 3 ways for strategic renewal and increase in profitability:

  1. investments in new product development
  2. developing marketing processes
  3. increasing forward integration (e.g. wood-based bioenergy through efficiently combined heat and power production with sawmilling)

>>READ MORE: Global trade of softwood lumber has gone up 66 percent in seven years

3. European biomass and bioenergy sector will continue to race forward

The European Union Parliament voted on January 17th 2018 to increase its renewable energy goal for 2030 from a goal of 27% to a new target of 35%. European Parliament also agreed on increasing the EU’s energy efficiency target to a minimum of 35% — binding for the EU as a whole but indicative for national targets — and a move to ensure that 12% of the energy consumed in transport comes from renewable energy sources. Members expect that by 2022, 90% of the fuel/petrol stations along the roads of the Trans-European Network will be equipped with recharging points for electric vehicles.

>>READ MORE: Global wood pellets market is expected to register a CAGR of 15.2% from 2017 to 2025

These policy developments will drive biomass and bioenergy sector forward. The competition between traditional uses of biomass, bioenergy, traditional forest industries (panel, pulp and paper) and growing sectors such as biomaterials and green chemistry will increase.

Nevertheless, despite some expect significant impact of biorefineries on demand for pulpwood and in consequence increase competition for the raw materials, the story may be not as clear as one may think.

For instance, recent study, published in Biomass and Bioenergy journal found that the European forest industry production will be rather little affected by the increased competition for biomass with the energy sector.

>>READ MORE: The True Story: Competition for biomass in Europe will not affect forest industry.

Figure below shows projected harvests of sawlogs, pulpwood and forest chips in the EEA when (i) demand for energy wood stays at 2010 level (“Now new bioene”), (ii) wood use increases in heat and power production but no wood based biofuels enter the market (“No BTL”), and (iii) all bioenergy increases contributing to limit climatic warming to 2 °C (“Bioene 2 C”).


Source: Kallio et al. (2017)

Key insights for 2018

  • Environmental regulation are expected to improve competitiveness and offset compliance costs by driving resource efficiency and new innovations in European forest sector, especially pulp and paper industry.
  • Lack of consumer demand, uncertain policies and indifference among regulators – significant barriers to advancing sustainability
  • The further development and use of CLT, LVL materials and other wood components will increase due to current carbon policy appreciation in Europe
  • Innovativeness, new products or new applications for fiber are expected in 2018 (e.g. biomaterials and green chemistry such as Swedish breakthrough in the development of biofuels)
  • Dynamic smaller and medium-sized companies will further focus on niche products
  • Whereas large-scale multinationals will further rely on bulky products that still have economies of scale (pulp, energy)

Forest Business Analytics (FBA) – a specialized consulting and business analytical company in forest and wood industry sectors – has worked with the leading forest companies for years, and understands the challenges in wood demand and supply management. We have been involved in outlooks for consumption, production and trade for wood-based products in specific markets. Our clients use FBA services to develop forecasting tools to project the direction of their forest-related business.

Rafal Chudy Forest Business AnalyticsRafal is currently the Chief Economist at the Forest Business Analytics where he has worked since June 2016. He is responsible for wood prices analyses, wood market research, portfolio optimisation, foreign exchange rates modelling, and forest and wood industry business performance analysis. He is also currently studying for a PhD in forest economics with a specialisation in forest sector modelling. Prior to this, he worked at the National Forest Holding in Poland where he held various roles. Most recently, he was Forestry Officer, Forest Service Specialist and Deputy Forester.

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Main photo: Mjøstårnet (The tower of lake Mjøsa) build from CLT in Norway. Photo credit: Rafal Chudy