Sourcing of Wood Flooring Supply: U.S. Manufacturers Take Share in a Challenging Market Environment

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U.S. manufacturers are finally taking share from foreign-based producers. This follows a decade of significant inroads made by foreign-sourced products. Based on first-half 2019 data, imports could account for only one-third of total dollar wood flooring dollar and square foot sales (U.S. shipments minus exports plus imports) this year. This is down from an average share of 42 percent of total dollar sales and some 55 percent of total square foot sales from 2016 to 2018. Import penetration rates were only about 15 percent in dollars and square feet in 2007.

U.S. manufacturers are regaining share during 2019 due to the sharp drop in import shipments. Based on U.S. Customs data, U.S. wood flooring imports could drop by one-third in dollars, and be cut in half in square feet during 2019. The decline in imports was led by the contraction of shipments from China. Demand for Chinese-made wood flooring already turned sluggish in 2017 and 2018 due to the imposition of antidumping duties and countervailing duties on Chinese engineered wood flooring by the U.S International Trade Commission (ITC). Additional tariffs were added to Chinese wood flooring imports by the Trump administration in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019. As a result, tariff charges could rise to more than 12 percent of the total value of U.S. Chinese wood flooring imports during 2019. This is up from only 3.7 percent in 2017.

U.S. wood flooring imports are also being adversely affected by a weak market environment. Wood flooring sales have been hurt by soaring demand for luxury vinyl tile (LVT) sales. The successful introduction of rigid core LVT has resulted in consumers reducing their preference for wood flooring and other hard surface flooring. Wood flooring sales have also been adversely affected by the decline in housing starts in the first half of 2019. Housing starts declined in response to the sharp run up in interest rates in 2018. The decline in housing starts dampens wood flooring demand since wood flooring manufacturers and marketers have the highest dependence on new residential construction than any other floor coverings sector. In addition, the decline in import shipments can be seen in solid wood flooring product lines. This indicates that the drop in imports could have more to do with the domestic market environment since Chinese imports of solid wood flooring products were not affected by the ITC actions.

Negative market trends are also impacting imports from non-Chinese manufacturers. U.S. wood flooring imports for the next five leading supplying countries declined by about 15 percent in dollars in the first half of 2019. If sourcing was shifting from Chinese manufacturers to producers in other countries due to rising tariffs on Chinese-made wood flooring, then imports from other leading supplier countries would be rising. However, there has been some increase in shipments from manufacturers located in Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, and Poland.

U.S. manufacturer shipments remain sluggish despite the sharp drop in imports. Catalina estimates domestic wood flooring manufacturer shipments in dollars could decrease by 4.3 percent during 2019, while square foot shipments could increase by 5.4 percent. U.S. shipments have been trending downward from 2015 to 2018 as foreign sourced wood flooring took a significant share of the U.S. market. Square foot shipments are estimated to increase due to a drop in average selling prices. Average wood flooring prices shipped from a domestic plant could decline by 9.2 percent during 2019. This decline, combined with a rise in average import prices, has made U.S. manufacturers more price-competitive. Foreign-sourced wood flooring prices increased sharply during 2019, primarily due to rising tariff charges on relatively low-cost Chinese-made products.

As a result, U.S.-made wood flooring could capture 67 percent of total dollar and square foot sales during 2019. This is up from 58.6 percent of dollar sales and 45.8 percent of square foot sales in 2017. Meanwhile, Chinese-made wood flooring’s dollar share could decline to 17.0 percent of total U.S. sales during 2019, down from a 23.5 percent share in 2017. On a square foot basis, Chinese-made wood flooring could drop to 19 percent during 2019 down from 31.2 percent in 2017. Chinese manufacturers have lost share in both solid and engineered product lines.

Domestic manufacturers could gain additional share in the second half of 2019 due to the sharp drop in hardwood lumber prices. This followed gains in 2017 and 2018. Over the first half of 2019, the Producer Price Index for hardwood lumber declined by 11.9 percent. The decline was even sharper in June, when prices dropped by 19.5 percent. The cut in material costs could make U.S.-made wood flooring even more price competitive with foreign-sourced products. However, U.S. manufacturers must increase their investment in new domestic production capacity after consolidating production facilities over the past decade as import penetration rates rose.

Catalina Research tracks wood flooring industry trends, including an analysis of U.S. manufactured versus foreign-sourced products, customer demographics and distribution channels, factors driving demand, and the outlook for 2019 and beyond. This data and information is part of the Catalina Report on Wood Flooring released in July 2019. For more information, contact Stuart Hirschhorn, Director of Research at 561.988.0853 or shirschhorn@catalinareports.com.

Stuart Hirschhorn is Director of Research for Catalina Research Inc. in Highland Beach, Florida. He can be reached at 561.988.0853 or shirschhorn@catalinareports.com.

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