Why did prices and demand seem to be all over the board this season?
Let’s take this one step at a time. Muskrat certainly falls into this category. All signals pointed toward a strong market with increasing demand from the Chinese consumer trade. Last May, the auctions went fairly well.
Muskrat averages had edged up, over $7, even though clearance was less than 100 percent. During the summer, private treaty sales seemed to have cleaned up the carryover. The highly desirable ranch mink was being priced beyond the Chinese consumer’s limited resources. More shoppers were entering the market. Things looked good.
Trappers, understandably, started chasing the market. Those who typically devoted some of efforts toward land trapping pulled on their waders and headed for the water. Prices started off at reasonable levels. Reports of $5 and even $6 highs and averages of around $4 for early collections were common.
Quickly, word spread of worthwhile prices within the trapping community. Then many buyers also started chasing the market. The concept is simple: “If the buyer down the road is now paying a high of $7, he must know something I haven’t heard about. I’ll accept a little less profit if I can make it up with a larger collection. I’ve got to increase my volume. I’ll spread the word I’m paying highs of $7.50 or $8.”
All the while, no one knew where the actual market stood. This in not uncommon in the rural fur trade. There had been no significant reports of any volume of raw goods moving into the consuming markets. The couple of early attempts at international offerings had been met with a big yawn by the fur trade. Large ranch mink offerings continued to post robust activity and higher prices. Ranch fox prices were on fire.
And then, the cycle started. Soon it was $9 and then $10 muskrats and even scattered reports of $11 with averages of $7 or better. Then trappers really leaped on the bandwagon. Life was good, just like the old days. “Money was to be made in that marsh and I’m going to get my share.” That worked out well for several weeks.
And this my dear readers, is how the market in the country gets “over heated.” There’s nothing new here. Throughout the history of the fur trade, it has happened before. And it will happen again.
As always, there were some “flies in the ointment.” No one had a clue as to the pricing ideas of the actual users, primarily in China. These folks know their markets. They know the full cost of transforming our raw goods from shipping and the steps required to get articles before the consumer. Then too, they know their ultimate consumer and surely know at what level the shoppers will be priced out of the market. What value is the raw materials if the eventual finished products cannot be sold? There has to be a profit — regardless of how low a margin — or the raw materials become worthless.
For the trappers who reaped the benefits of this overheated market, congratulations. You might have seen a small profit this season for the first time in years, but unfortunately, it might come back to bite you next season. We’ll see. For the fur buyers who also chased the market and were met with disappointments, well fellows, you stepped up to the table and placed your bets. That’s what the country fur trade is all about. Sorry about that. I’ve been there, too.