The French beech market analyzed by Claude Schnepf

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Claude Schnepf


Claude Schnepf heads Scierie et Caisserie de Steinbourg, one of the leaders in the beech market in France with 75,000 m3 processed annually, a capacity which will soon increase to 100,000 m3 thanks to a major investment program. The company exports 70% of its turnover outside the EU (€ 21m in 2019), mainly to China, a market that Claude Schnepf has known for 25 years. Interview by Robert Wood.

Fordaq  : “Where are the beech markets heading? "

Claude Schnepf :“On the one hand, we have a market for quality white beech in Europe which remains very conservative. But this need - relatively modest in volume - becomes difficult to meet because of the decline of the eastern beech forests and the resulting discolorations of the wood. In addition, we are having increasing difficulties in disposing of easy-to-dry logs, as winters are increasingly mild. However, some European countries such as Spain are beginning to understand that in the absence of natural white beech, steaming can meet a need for color homogenization. In fact, the world market requires steamed-rose beech, which facilitates the industrialization of processes, particularly in furniture. In this segment, business flows are good with the Emirates, India and Pakistan. We also ship to Algeria which works correctly but with sometimes "stop-and-go" in deliveries due to uncertainties related to payments. Neighboring Morocco is a complicated market with very low prices. We are also launching business in South and Central America, but in confidential quantities. "

Fordaq  : “You trade mainly with China. "

Claude Schnepf  : “Yes, we have been there for several decades and it is our first market. With the coronavirus and the cessation of activity in spring 2020, I feared of a drop in orders in the fall. It was not the case. China is operating almost normally, which is quite impressive. While their exports of wood in the form of furniture and other finished products fell to Europe and the USA, these losses were offset by their domestic market. Coming out of lockdown, it seems that the Chinese have decided to buy more consumer goods. Their industries and other joinery therefore demand wood. "

Fordaq:  "However, the costs of sea freight to China have climbed this year."

Claude Schnepf : “There are indeed significant tariff changes on the cost of sea freight. But be careful, we must make a distinction between very significant increases observed in the China-Europe direction and others, more moderate but nevertheless marked in the Europe-China direction. The price of 40-foot containers, which averaged $ 800-900 a year ago from Antwerp, is now $ 1300. For the past semester, the freight market has become very irregular, characterized by spot prices fluctuating from day to day. We must therefore be able to delay to negotiate at the best price. It's a matter of patience. Moreover, December is not the most representative month for establishing a basic analysis of trade with China. The flow of goods is indeed slowing down due to the proximity of the Chinese New Year. Shipments will not really resume their cruising speed until mid-January for deliveries that will arrive in China at the beginning of March, knowing that it takes 15 days of approach to load on Antwerp and then the sea route takes 32 days to reach China. ”

Fordaq:  “How do you explain this situation? "

Claude Schnepf:  “Since the coronavirus, we have experienced very heckled flows of goods. During the confinement started in February in China, all the containers destined for Europe remained in place in Asia. Then, at the time of the recovery in China, there were staggered shutdowns of activities in Europe and elsewhere in the world because of the evolution of the pandemic. The commercial circuits were completely upset, the logistics did not follow: containers were not in the right place, at the right time or, quite simply, there was a lack of them. Moreover, in addition to the need for financial profitability of transport, it is necessary to avoid loading empty containers on boats for reasons of buoyancy. "

Fordaq: "What are the consequences for the beech markets?"

Claude Schnepf : “The activity of beech essentially depends on major exports. Sea freight is therefore of crucial importance, bearing in mind that the concentration among shipowners has resulted in the emergence of 3 major groups sharing the market. With such reduced competition, freight prices among these major players tend to harmonize. I observe that the influence of the rise in container costs is more noticeable on the exports of logs than on those of sawnwood. This phenomenon does not really bother the French sawyers who prefer to transform on site and ship semi-finished products with higher added value. I estimate that the current freight surcharge is 15 to 20 € / m3 on beech logs loaded in 40-foot containers (around 20 m3 per container). On the other hand, it is only 10 € / m3 of sawnwood for 34 m3 of boards placed in a 40 feet. Even if it seems softer, this increase in freight prices on sawnwood may however reduce the slight price increase of 5% recently occurred on fine qualities of beech, an increase that we had not seen for a very long time. For the short term, many experts believe that sea freight prices could stabilize at a reasonable level by the end of the 1st semester 2021. But we lack visibility. Everything will depend on the evolution of the pandemic. " 

Table 1:


        ONF public sales, Index 100 in 2007  


Q4 2015

Q4 2016

Q4 2017

Q4 2018

Q4 2019

Q4 2020





Standing timber









Shaped wood









Source : Robert Wood


Table 2:


  ONF Jura-Doubs public sales in € / m3 of shaped wood

      Price range   in Q4 2020: from € 40 / m3 to € 75 / m3

Q1 2016

Q4 2017

Q4 2018

Q4 2019

Q4 2020









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