Fur Market Report: Stars Aligning for Great Season

Trapper & Predator Caller fur market expert Serge Lariviére

Trapper & Predator Caller fur market expert Serge Lariviére

Momentum and early indicators are pointing
to another very strong year for fur prices

 

Trappers have been waiting for a season like this one for years. In years past, every trapper went out, caught fur and hoped to reach the break-even point with their expenses. Last season’s record sales generated unprecedented price levels — at least in recent years — and now we all live and trap with unprecedented expectations. No one will sell rats for less than $10 apiece. Everyone expects foxes to fetch $50. Otters go for $100, marten for $150, bobcats for $600 and so on. For sure, we are at the peak of the wave, and it might be human nature to expect the exceptional prices of last year to be normal this year.

Although we will know for sure only after the selling season starts in January and February 2014, we can certainly  predict a few things with some degree of certainty. While I must remind you that no one has yet found a 100 percent accurate crystal ball, let me offer a few insights that might help you refine your expectations.

First, last year’s fur is all gone to markets worldwide. This means that the auction rooms are not sitting on large stocks of unsold skins that could compete with fresh goods after buying season starts. Nothing left in inventories is good for the fresh stuff, but it also means that if it all sold, there were likely folks out there who did not get all they needed for their manufacturers. The manufacturers and retailers make a profit when they have things to sell, and to sell coats, garments, vests and accessories, they must first obtain the primary product — our skins. The buyers that failed to fill their orders last year might come in more aggressive for the opening sales of this year, and this should help the markets to open strong. That is one star well aligned with the high expectations of trappers.

Second, fashion is eating up fur. I am told by reliable sources that wherever you go in the fashion world, fur is hot and trendy, and designers are taking advantage of the diversity of species, skin types, colors and textures. They are turning our product into a wide array of fashionable and marketable items.

If the old-style, full-length coats have lost some speed in retail, modern garments such as lighter vests, scarves and accessories have multiplied in the fur stores around the world. Gone is the time where a fur purchase was a coat or a coat or a coat. Today, fur can be shoes, boots, pants, vests, hats and, yes, coats. Diversity is what we catch, what fashion promotes, what people want and what we sell. No one wants to look like everyone else, and our wild fur has this advantage over many other textiles — even over other types of fur.

Third is promotional efforts. Some say this year has the most crowded calendar of fur fairs they have ever seen, with fairs competing now for the best dates and places. From Beijing to Istanbul, Paris, Hong Kong, Milan, Athens, Chicago and Montreal, efforts to display and showcase the new products and designs are underway throughout the world. They will be going on until next spring with great intensity. This is what the trade does to keep the markets fresh, alive and well. And all these efforts contribute to the next item —momentum.

Momentum is an oft-ignored variable that has a strong influence on prices as well. When the market goes real high or real low, it takes a few years to move prices away from such extremes. Luckily, the momentum generated by the extreme prices we have now should have a carryover effect to this year’s levels. Even if the fur craze was to cool off — and we have no indication of that — prices on muskrats, for example, would not drop from $10 to $3. They’d only fall from $10 to $8 or something along those lines. If the increase can happen fast under the right conditions, a downward market should happen at a much slower pace. Maybe this is not necessarily a positive impact, but at least one could optimistically view this as an insurance against a price crash.

Fifth is the trends in the industry. Auctions houses are all geared up for more volume, and every big player in the industry is doing something new this year. Fur Harvesters Auction will combine its wild fur collection with American Legend and sell jointly with Saga Furs in Helsinki this year, hoping to reach a wider base of buyers around the world. North American Fur Auctions has increased the size of its auction room to accommodate more buyers. They also have announced three sales, instead of the usual two, to accommodate the extra volume of wild and ranch fur that is forecasted to be produced.

These five elements suggest what? That the markets should open strong, nearing the levels of the May 2013 sale. What could push the market further upwards is some unusually cold weather in China and Russia, which would be fantastic for us trappers. What could slow down such prices? Warm weather in China and Russia. Right now, the only thing we can do is cross our fingers and hope for a good harvest on our traplines and some nasty cold weather for China.

Serge Lariviére, a Trapper & Predator Caller field editor, is a wildlife biologist in Quebec, Canada. You can e-mail him at trappeurserge@hotmail.com.

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This is a preview of the December 2013 Fur Market Report. The full column, including a species-by-species breakdown of forecasted prices, is available in the December 2013 issue of Trapper & Predator Caller.

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