Fur Market Report: June-July 2007
By Parker Dozhier
Russia, unquestionably the world’s largest consumer nation of fur products, experienced one of the mildest winters since records began in 1879.
In an environment such as Moscow, where the average December temperature is minus 25 degrees, fur is far more than a mere luxury. But during most of December 2006, Muscovites basked in temperatures in the mid-40s. The mild weather continued well into January.
Russia’s mild winter triggered a wave of repercussions in the fur trade felt around the world.
The first response was the activity at the December round of ranch mink and fox auctions in Scandinavia, where prices were about 30 percent lower than previous offerings.
The early wild fur offerings — while reasonably successful considering the retail marketing reports filtering out of Russia — did not live up to the expectations of many fur buyers, trappers and hunters.
Slightly softer prices on several articles, less than 100 percent clearance of some offerings — muskrat in particular — and the lowering of late-season prices in the country resulted in many trappers questioning the actual depth of the fur market.
Some trappers propose curtailing production via a boycott, while others suggest, “We have overproduced.”
It is certainly true that the muskrat harvest more than doubled as a result of favorable prices in the 2005-2006 season. Let’s first look at the question of overproduction.
Did we overproduce?
The answer is yes and no.
No, in that North American fur trappers did not produce too many muskrats, or any other fur, for that matter.
However, if we consider the global harvest of all fur, the answer is yes.
But it is yes only because the largest fur-consuming markets in the world experienced a weather phenomenon that lowered the demand for fur.
Data supplied by the International Fur Trade Federation indicates roughly 40 million ranch mink were pelted this marketing season. That’s a lot of mink.
Add the millions of ranch fox, chinchilla, fitch and Finncoon, often marketed as raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) that hit the market this season.
In France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, people eat a lot of rabbits, and they don’t throw the pelts away. Last year, France alone exported more than 100 tons of rex and Angora rabbit pelts. The skins of younger rabbits butchered for meat compete with our lower grade (hatter) beaver in the felt trade.
Popular hats with Russians are made from curly lamb — karakul — Namibian and broadtail lamb. Curly lamb high-fashion garments are becoming increasingly popular.
Excessive populations of possums are destroying critical vegetation in New Zealand to such a degree that they pose ecological disaster. Wildlife managers are encouraging those in the trade to increase production. Between Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, millions of possums are pelted each year. Still their populations continue to swell.
Let’s not forget that 14 nations harvest seals. Together, Greenland and Canada take about 1.5 million harp seals each season. I don’t have the harvest data on the worldwide production of cape, hooded and northern fur seals, but you can be assured it’s a bunch. Seal pelts are large. You get a lot of fur for little money.
The high-fashion luxury markets stand apart from the utilitarian fur trade. As a result, the markets for our fishers, sable, spotted cats, coyotes, beavers and gray foxes remain relatively strong. If a fur maker wants to include these unique articles to their offerings, they have only one source: North American wild fur.
In rapidly developing China, Russia and Eastern Europe, income and wealth are soaring for those at the top. The “good life” is defined by a person’s assets.
Fur is at the top of the list, and not just hats and coats. Fur bedspreads, pillows, shawls and stoles, along with a host of accessories such as rugs, wall hangings, toys, fur mittens and muffs are only part the wealthy’s must-have luxury shopping list.
The utilitarian fur market is a different matter. Warmth is the motivating factor, followed by cost, then style, and finally, durability.
A rabbit fur hat is warm, cheap and comes in many styles. Sure, it will only last a year or so, it sheds and it doesn’t stand up to the snow and rain well, but it costs much less than a muskrat hat.
But if it’s not cold, why buy anything?
Prices edged up for recent ranch mink offerings in Copenhagen. Manufacturers are said to be lowering wholesale prices in hopes of moving inventories.
Retail furriers, still holding unsold goods because of the mild winter, are reluctantly taking on more goods at lower prices.
The May and June offerings of wild fur are expected to set the tone for this coming season.
If clearances are good and prices are favorable, next season will likely be a replay of this last year. Articles moving into the high fashion trade are expected to remain strong. Items destined for the utilitarian trade, such as linings, hats and trim might be met with price resistance.
As for a boycott, the tactic might work from the standpoint of the buying public, but never from the standpoint of the producer.
Besides, with so much fur on the market, from so many sources, if a million or so muskrats were taken off the market, who would notice?