Paper Demand Declines May Cap Prices

Pulp and Paper Week reports that North American printing and writing paper demand was down 4.3 percent year-to-date through June. Demand was down for all grades, ranging from coated mechanical (-7.1 percent) to coated woodfree (-2.0 percent), with uncoated woodfree down 4.1 percent and uncoated mechanical down 4.8 percent. This, on top of a 24 percent decline in printing and writing paper demand from 2000 to 2010.

Print data tells a similar story. Inflation-adjusted print sales year-to-date through June are down 2.4 percent, according to industry watcher Dr. Joe Webb. We would expect print sales to perform a bit better than paper because print revenue includes non-print, value-added services, which have been growing—and the data supports that assumption.

Clearly, the weak economic recovery has not done anything for paper demand, or for print.

Although paper demand is down, paper prices are up from year-ago levels. Paper demand has declined, but capacity has declined along with it, allowing mills to balance supply and demand.

  • Uncoated woodfree has seen the greatest capacity rationalization and, hence, the most bullish prices, but prices may be hitting a ceiling as the most recent increases on offset grades are meeting resistance.
  • Coated woodfree prices—especially for sheets—have struggled in recent years, largely because of imports. It is noteworthy that coated woodfree imports have continued to rise since the imposition of anti-dumping duties against China, as imports from Korea and Europe have more than replaced the lost imports from China.

While paper capacity has been rationalized, print capacity has not been rationalized to the same degree. Overcapacity in print has actually gotten worse and printer margins continue to be squeezed. While print capacity as measured by the Federal Reserve has declined by 15 percent over the past 10 years, print volumes have declined by 24 percent. And this does not adequately reflect the fact that many presses are not fully crewed, so potential capacity is even greater.

Jack Miller is founder and Principal Consultant at Market-Intell LLC, offering Need to Know™ market intelligence in paper, print and packaging. Previously, he was senior consultant, North America, with Pira International.

Known as the Paper Guru, Jack is the former director of Market Intelligence with Domtar, where he also held positions as regional sales manager, territory sales manager and product manager. He has presented at On Demand, RISI’s Global Outlook, PRIMIR, SustainCom World and at various IntertechPira conferences. Jack has written for Printing Impressions, Canadian Printer, Paper 360, PaperTree Letter and Package Printing, along with publishing a monthly e-newsletter, MarketIntellibits.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from The College of the Holy Cross and has done graduate studies in Statistics and Finance.

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