As auctions near, experts believe market will open
near levels it reached in May 2013
This is one of the most anxious times of the year for trappers. Indeed, many trappers have their fur sheds packed with skins by now and possibly have many freezers of frozen skins left to flesh and dry. In some Southern states, this is peak trapping time, and prime fur is being harvested daily. In the North, snow is enabling travel over frozen waterways, and marten trappers can get in remote areas by snowmobile and harvest even more martens for the hot market. But one thing unites all trappers at this time of year — everyone hopes for good fur prices.
Some trappers need good prices because part of their livelihood depends on it. Others need good prices to make sure their expenses associated with new equipment are paid out. Some might say they don’t trap for the money, yet higher prices are a form of respect for the animals. And whether you trap for money or not, I have never met anyone who was upset about adding a few dollars to his pocketbook.
In January, the cards are played, a large percentage of the fur is caught, and now, selling is what most trappers anticipate. And because none of the major wild fur auctions have occurred yet, the only guidelines we have are speculation on what might happen, the hearsay from some of the industry leaders, the gut feeling of economists and some of the trends set by country buyers. There is still a lot of uncertainty, and we all keep our fingers crossed that if prices don’t skyrocket like they did in 2012-2013, they will at least stay even so that we can profit yet another year.
We have worked hard, and we had gone several years without real monetary rewards. But in trapping, you do not get what you deserve. You get what the market is willing to pay. And there are a few factors that make a big difference in the balance. The signs point to this selling season opening strong, and a few key factors can still influence prices upward.
The foremost influence at this time of the year is weather in China and Russia. Last year, record cold temperatures were observed in these countries before the sky-high sales of February and March. Cold weather moves fur. Currently, we know that storage rooms of auction houses are empty, and the energy of the first wave of buying is fueled by the early season’s sales of fur garments. So if the autumn is cold, customers go in the stores, buy goods and start depleting inventory. The fur brokers are notified of the increasing activity, and larger orders are placed. When dozens of brokers all receive larger orders, competition enters the buying room since no one can afford to have their fur stores running out of inventory, especially not when customers pour in asking for goods. So cold weather remains the primary determinant of what will happen in a month or so at international auction houses of wild fur.
Other issues might influence prices as well. For example, last season’s high skin prices caused an upswing of garment prices, and in some areas, retailers noticed that customers experienced “sticker shock” when exposed to the higher garment prices. Industry experts believe this might generate caution and more prudent buying by brokers, especially for higher-end goods. Customers who resist price increases on high-end goods could possibly turn their attention to other alternatives, and some other goods might yet gain in customer attractiveness.
Customs issues in China might also affect prices downward. Because of the recent high prices and the high volumes of skins imported to China, the Chinese government has been investigating some brokers who were in the habit of discretely importing goods without proper declaration in order to avoid import taxes and duties. More investigations and possibly some new taxes on importation could bring down the amount buyers might be willing to pay for fresh skins. The impact of this emerging issue remains unknown. Time will soon tell how much influence it will have on the purchasing behavior of major fur brokers.
Fur volume will definitely go up this year. If you attended any trapper’s convention this past year, you could easily detect the growing excitement and anticipation for the upcoming trapping season. Many equipment and supply dealers had their best year ever. In the field, this translates into more trapper activity and thus should yield more goods for the market.
We already know that the ranch fur business also experienced a major boost in production. World production of ranch mink is estimated at somewhere between 75 to 82 million skins, with China alone producing 28 to 35 million skins, making it the leading country in terms of production. Money attracts interest, and the past few years have been extremely profitable in the ranch fur business. Not surprisingly, almost everyone has upped their production, and some countries, such as China, have experienced exponential growth. This added production in fur eventually might have a cooling effect on prices, but no one knows exactly when that will occur. We do know that several new fur stores have opened in China. The demand seems to be growing, but how much fur they can absorb is unknown.
On the wild fur side, every trapper I know or have talked to aimed for a larger catch this year, stimulated by last year’s prices. The volume of the fur offering should reach record levels. Again, what impact this might have on prices remains unknown. If cold weather bites China, this might have no effect at all on our prices. But if warm weather plagues the key areas, fur might move more slowly.
Right now, every major auction house has been preparing for more volume and the associated logistical problems that go with it. Some auctions have increased the size of their auction rooms, boosted their storage capacity and added more sale dates. Everyone in the industry is getting ready to handle more fur.
So, what can we realistically expect at this point? Industry leaders talk about the selling season starting at May 2013 levels, or possibly at a slight 5 to 15 percent cooling on some prices. Ranch mink is expected to cool off, but some experts think that some wild fur items might dodge this. Among the most wanted wild fur, muskrat, fox, coyote and prime heavy raccoon should remain in very high demand. The muskrat is a more affordable alternative to expensive ranch mink, and the trim trade, as strong or stronger than ever, continues to want more long-haired skins. The trim trade is not limited to China and is gaining popularity worldwide, so the global traction of this trade might help carry prices forward on these items.
Serge Lariviére, a Trapper & Predator Caller field editor, is a wildlife biologist in Quebec, Canada. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a preview of the January 2014 Fur Market Report. The full column, including a species-by-species breakdown of forecasted prices, is available in the January 2014 issue of Trapper & Predator Caller.
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