Japan imports of tropical plywood continue on a downward trend with 2015 figures falling 17% YoY to 2.88 million cubic metres, a level last seen in 2009. Imports in 1Q/2016 fell a further 12% YoY affecting all major exporters—Malaysia (-22.6%), China (-12.4%) and Indonesia (-3.4%).
The biggest impact on the cost of imported plywood is the fluctuating Yen, which has been falling since August 2014 resulting in heavy reductions in purchase of Indonesian floor-based plywood. Unlike concrete forming panels, floor-based plywood is distributed directly to flooring manufacturers, who are very sensitive to prices of flooring products. Since late 2014, flooring manufacturers have been testing domestic softwood plywood to see if a replacement is possible to prepare for future exchange rate fluctuations and supply shortage.
Malaysia supplies Japan with concrete forming panel and analysts speculate that demand for this commodity may recover in late 2016 due to increased construction activity amid preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. If demand recovers, there are concerns that Malaysian plywood manufacturers are unable to address the sudden increase in order intake whilst managing strict log harvest regulations in Sarawak at the moment.
Meanwhile, Japanese plywood manufacturers are making softwood concrete forming panels to take over hardwood panels.