Prices have been all over the map this season. A few of the larger country buyers and regional collectors went into the season with standing orders, the rest were on their own, flying blind. Initially, prices were set based on hear-say, best guesses and shear guts. There was little, if any, consistence in their pricing scales this season. Understandably, most fur buyers were even more conservative early in the season than they typically are. They treaded softly into uncharted waters.
A waiting game was the order of the day, or weeks for that matter. Fur buyers I’ve visited with during the season all seemed to have one thing in common, they were seeking some information. It didn’t seem to matter if the news was good or bad, they simply wanted some direction. But there was none.
A litany of negative indicators were foremost in their minds. Certainly, some late-season international auctions were less than encouraging. Weaker prices and a large volume of unsold goods does not breed confidence. In fact, these factors can only spawn additional fears.
Adding to those fears were the conditions associated with the worldwide economic turmoil. These elements, when combined, resulted in low opening prices — very low in many cases. Some fur buyers elected to sit out the season.
Faced with low prices, fewer country buyers willing to take wet pelts or goods “in the round,” higher fuel costs and less cash for household expenses, a great many trappers and fur hunters substantially cut their production efforts or merely said “Why bother?” Therefore the harvest size dropped off dramatically.
Possibly the single most important unknown factor was the seasonal retail activity in the consuming countries. In many cases, inadequate information is worse than even bad information. That was certainly the case this season.
Our first signals came from the results of the early ranch auctions. Demand was strong, much better than market watchers had anticipated. Prices advanced slightly, but clearances were excellent. A positive signal? Well, yes, but for a very narrow market. How will these events play out in the wild fur trade?
Seeing these results, country fur buyers immediately began slowly pushing prices on muskrats. Suddenly, they took a more favorable interest in martens and fishers. Apparently there was growing faith in the luxury markets, especially in China. The international ranch fur markets threw our country fur buyers a bone. It didn’t have a great deal of red meat on it, but it was a bone nevertheless.
While, late in the season, trappers responded with efforts to increase their take of muskrats. Production of muskrat went into high gear. Yeah, they were chasing the market, but when you can sell a muskrat for a nearly as much as a raccoon, why not?
Then came the Beijing Fur Fair followed by the Hong Kong Fair. Still more positive signals. This added steam to our ’cat markets and was an additional boost to the interest in fishers and martens. Of particular interest was the additional attendance by Russian retailers at the Hong Kong Fair.
Slowly, information was flowing to our country fur trade. Buyers responded. But was it too late? After all, the season was nearly over in many parts of the country.
This was certainly noted by those conducting trapper association fur auctions and sellers with furs being offered. One excited trapper recently remarked, “Wow, I got twice what I expected.”
Who would have known that retail fur sales in China would go off the charts and Russians were coming back into the market? Don’t forget the Korean consumers who are becoming serious players.
The fur trade was shocked, and excited, by the response and results of the Fur Harvesters Auction in Seattle on Feb. 20. Yeah, sure, the offering was small when compared with most international auctions, but the report was stunning.
Prices advanced, significantly from previous sales on many articles. OK, that’s good, but more importantly, the clearance was nearly 100 percent on each offering. Talk about renewing faith in the wild fur markets… That did it.
Beaver, for example, posted a 95 percent clearance, wild mink 97 percent and lynx-cat over all about 87 percent. Even the lagging coyote and gray fox markets saw an up-tick in interest. About the only weak spot was the offering of semi-heavy eastern raccoons. I take that to mean “coat types” for the most part. And, even these sold at advancing prices with a 60 percent clearance.
As this issue of T&PC approaches deadline, the first major NAFA auction is a few days away. As Yogi Berra said, “predictions are tough, especially about the future.” And, that is so true. Yesterday’s results are no indication of events tomorrow. With that said, here’s a best guess for the remainder of the marketing season:
Chinese and Korean attendance will likely be even higher than usual. Some of the Greek makers selling into the Russian markets will have somewhat less of a force due to major banking problems. However, some Greeks were at the FHA sale. The Russian government has an aggressive position encouraging consumer products to be “Made In Russia.” Look for more spending by the Russians. That will put more people to work. The Korean economy is doing quite well, at least in retail sales.
Prices will surely hold to the levels set on the FHA sale. Be assured, NAFA has noted the FHA activity. There could be some downward adjustment to the averages of the lower grades, but that is to be expected with a larger offering. A lot of low grades, damaged and smalls are just that — cheap. Let’s hope even these sell. That, alone, will tell a lot about the future.
While slight price increases are in order for few articles, don’t expect further significant advances at this time. In many incidences, the end consumer fur products will need to be sold to buyers with limited disposable income.
It seems to me as if most of the fur markets develop later each year, usually after seasons are over. That’s the hand we’ve been dealt, so that’s the hand we play.
Selling the fruits of your hard-earned fur collection is a gamble. When and how are always in question. Fur buyers are, in many cases, taking an ever greater gamble. Today, more often than not, they have no more information than you do. But it is kind of exciting stepping up to the table and taking your chances.