Economic Crisis Spreads, Tough Decisions Loom

GENERAL OUTLOOK

One of the better features about this wild fur market analysis in The Trapper & Predator Caller is that the publication goes to press merely days before it reaches your mail box. There is a sincere effort made to bring you the most up-to-date fur market information available at the time.

On the flip side of the coin, worldwide economic events are unfolding faster than we can get them into print.

Nevertheless, this month, the Market Report is the most challenging I’ve ever written. And, if it is challenging for me, just imagine how your country fur buyer feels about the decisions he is dealing with.

The economic crisis is spreading. It’s worldwide and growing with each passing day.

Stock markets have plummeted, available long term credit has diminished and consumer confidence has reached the lowest level ever since it became an economic indicator.

We’re all aware that our only stable fur markets are Russia, Eastern Europe and China. The luxury fur markets in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Western Europe cannot, and should not, be discounted. These affluent consumers have given us an outstanding base for our marten, spotted cats, select beaver and fisher markets. But, it is the utilitarian usage that has been driving the fur trade for several years.

This economic downturn has resulted in unexpected consequences. Rapid changes are occurring in Russia and China.

According to Forbes, a highly regarded U.S. business publication, over 10,000 Chinese factories have closed in the last three months. Another 20,000 factories are expected to be padlocked within the next three months.

Due to waning consumer confidence around the world, these factories, many located in the Pearl River Delta industrial complex, simply can no longer continue to operate. No, they were not particularly involved in the production of furs. They were producing everything from t-shirts to toasters, but the lack of continuing exports and the marginal profits required to remain competitive have led to massive unemployment in many industrial sectors in China.

During good times, these once employed Chinese workers viewed furs as a symbol of achievement. Yes, nice furs were utilitarian, in that a fur keeps your head and neck warm during winter, but still it is a symbol of status. You can stay warm for less money.

The once expanding luxury markets in China are plunging. As reported recently by Xanadu, China’s leading news publication, a number of Starbucks outlets, expensive hair styling salons, personal trainers and designer boutiques are closing their doors. Some mention has been made of a post-Olympic business letdown. But, that does not appear to be the underlying cause.

Of the massive amounts of ranch and wild fur purchased by Chinese makers, about 70 percent of finished products are exported. At least 40 percent of these exports move into the Russian and Eastern European markets. It has recently been estimated that about 30 percent of Chinese fur garment production is consumed internally.

Meanwhile in Russia, the impact of the economic crisis has been deeper and faster. According to Pravda, Russia’s major daily newspaper, scores of supermarkets in Moscow can no longer stock shelves. Shortages of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and even basic items such as cigarettes are reported to be more common with each passing day. Furthermore Pravda forecasts additional hardships as crude oil prices continue to plummet and the U.S. dollar continues to gain value against the Ruble.

In China and Russia, the underlying issue amidst this financial turbulence is the sudden lack of available commercial credit.

South Korea, another major fur manufacturing center and a significant consuming country, has not escaped this financial meltdown. Industry investment credit is drying up.

This is certainly not a favorable setting for the fur trade where long-term credit at favorable interest rates is the lifeblood.

Each level of the fur trade is speculative. Trapping is speculative, as is buying furs, manufacturing garments, and retailing. We are dealing in a nonessential product.

Many country fur buyers have yet to recover from the crash of the otter and muskrat markets. For some, speculating (read that gambling) this season is not worth the risk. “The odds don’t look good. I’m not going to get caught like I was during the ’87-’88 season,” claims a New York State fur buyer.

“I’m going to sit out this season,” one Iowa buyer tells me. Another from Kansas says, “If I do any buying at all, it will have to be cheap.”

The bottom line is that no one knows how deeply into the fur trade this economic turbulence will reach. The luxury markets are unquestionably in for some type of retraction. Our heavy ’cats, marten, select shearable beaver and fisher markets are expected to suffer somewhat due to lack of consumer confidence and tighter credit.

It is likely that long-term commercial credit extended to skin brokers, manufacturers and retail furriers will be the major issue. Bankers are reluctant to extend credit on speculative, nonessential luxury ventures.

On the brighter side, if there is one, the world ranch mink crop is about 10 percent lower this season. Nearly 56 million mink were marketed last season and there will be around 52 million this season. China has dramatically reduced mink production. There is even a greater decline in ranch fox production in the Scandinavian countries.

Again on the plus side, furs are woven tightly into the cultural fabric of Russians, and is becoming so in China and South Korea.

MARKET BRIEFS

BEAVER: Chinese garment makers have been a significant taker of the smaller sizes and lower grades. Advanced dressing techniques in China have led to lower cost, a quicker turnaround time and an acceptable garment quality finish. This has resulted in good movement of beaver for several years. In fact, makers from other countries are shipping beaver to China for dressing, something unheard of just 10 years ago. It is doubtful that China will be as active in the market this season; particularly early. Russia and Turkey have been active in the long hair market — those used natural — for several years. Again, that market, should it develop, will be late in the season; very late.

MUSKRAT: Probably salable at low prices. Again, it will be late in the season before any true interest is shown. The fur world will be watching the early ranch mink offerings for some clue as to the direction. This item is viewed as a low-cost alternative; that will help. Most of the trading at this juncture as been on late-caught spring goods or early fall collections. Not surprisingly, prices have been low, in the neighborhood of $1.50 to $2.

WILD MINK: The annual harvest numbers are so low when compared with 20 or 30 years ago, that those users still interested in wild mink — Italy comes to mind — can set a price limit and with no competition buy only at that level. Mink are expected to be cheap.

RACCOON: Early trading, what there is, has been all over the board. Buyers are clueless as to price, demand, movement and what the future will hold. Any buying activity, and there has been very little, is based purely on speculation. This has resulted in extremely low offers for these early goods. A few reports of highs of $16 to $18 for wet skins from the northern regions, but averages are running in the neighborhood of $6 to $7 with a very tight grade. Smalls are not seeing any offers. Most seasons will be over before any actual market trends will be established based on this season’s retail activity. Russian and Chinese consumer information will be slow in coming.

OTTER: Very limited early trading. Look for prices to decline slightly on the darks and significantly on the pales, singed and early southern goods. The size of otter alone makes it an attractive buy for short hair trim items and hats. Harvest size is expected to be low. Most will be taken in conjunction of beaver trapping activity. This item would appear a good candidate for the freezer until the market becomes stable.

RED FOX: Fewer ranch fox coming to market this season might help prop-up those cherry reds a little bit. Still, the world is awash with trim goods and a lot of it is very cheap and much larger than wild caught reds. Thin early fur, frosty rumps and pales are expected to be cheap.

GRAY FOX: Some trappers and buyers are still holding unsold goods from last season. This carryover coupled with the current economic situation will serve to dampen prices. Look for offers of half or less than last season. I would not get in a hurry to sell as this could turnaround rather quickly. By mid- to late-January, if the carryovers are sold during the early auctions, buyers could begin to look more favorably toward this unique article. The harvest size has been low and will continue to be far smaller than historic highs of 25 years ago.

COYOTE: Just how well this trim item will perform this season is uncertain. The Scandinavian ranch fox crop will be considerably smaller this season. Reports indicated about 25 percent fewer skins will be headed to auction. This is viewed as a clear signal that the world is awash with long hair trim goods. By cutting production, fox ranchers are hoping to boost prices, which have been low in recent years. This might throw a slight bit of interest toward the better coyote. Only time will tell. Presently, western fur buyers are talking about dropping prices about 30 percent to 35 percent until there is some firm information available. Commercial/ordinary types will face a much tighter grade. Early goods, those with thin bellies, weak flanks and the darker colors will be difficult to sell.

BOBCAT / LYNX-CAT / LYNX: There is little question in anyone’s mind that the luxury markets will be down this season. Just how far down is merely a guess. Marketers of high-end luxury goods and services are already seeing major retractions. Waning consumer confidence, economic uncertainty, tighter credit and the soaring cost of essentials are no doubt the cause. Yet, the rich — like the poor — will always be with us. Grades will be tighter and prices will be down. Most of the Region 9 buyers I have visited with are presently talking about a 30 percent to 40 percent decline. Considering how high prices have surged upward in recent years, those really slick, pale goods from the high country are certainly still worth pursuing. Significantly lower fuel costs will facilitate longliners, that will help. Throughout the rest of the country, expect a still tighter grade as buyers are truly “flying blind” during the early part of the season. Those Region 5 and 10 goods that traded for over $100 last year are expect to see offers more in the range of $40 to $50. Don’t start early. Without fully prime bellies and flanks, there is a good chance they won’t sell.

MARTEN: Expect buyers to be very cautious early in the season. Most are talking about a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent from last season’s highs. Used in the high fashion industry as a trim article, this article could become a victim of the waning luxury market. Grading will be tight as to size, color and weight. If you’re happy with early offers, take them as it might not get better late. But, who knows?

FISHER: This high fashion trim item has been seeing strong demand from affluent Russian consumers. How they will react to the current economic downturn is unknown. Expect early offers for 30 percent to 40 percent less than last season. Some buyers are indicating they will hold off buying until mid to late January with hopes of determining demand from the early sales in Canada.

REGIONAL REPORTS

Unless otherwise noted, the prices mentioned in this report are what can reasonably be expected for properly handled, well finished fur. Furs marketed in the round (on the carcass), green/wet (skinned but not fleshed and dried) or improperly skinned will bring considerably less. Many outside factors beyond the control of the fur harvesters and fur buyers can result in dramatic changes.

REGION 1

BEAVER: Highs of $16 to $18 for prime finished blankets; averages low.
MUSKRAT: Highs of $2, averages in the range of $1.25 for fall goods.
WILD MINK: Top males trading at $10. Overall running around $8.
RED FOX: Highs of $18 to $20 for XL heavy goods, cherry reds.
RACCOON: XXXL,XXL and XLs, Is and IIs highs in the range of $14 to $16, wet goods, tops $10. Color and size major grade factor. Averages low.
COYOTE: Heavy XLs high of $15 to $18, may not hold. Unfinished difficult to sell.
OTTER: Most collections expected to trade in the range of $30 to $35 for XL straight hair, dark, good winters.
FISHER: High of $40 is expected until firm information. All buying based on speculation
MARTIN: Top of $20. Stronger market may develop later.
GRAY FOX: Average in the range of $20 This is the preferred section of grays due to size.
BOBCAT: Tops reported $40 to $50. Market unsettled.

REGION 2
BEAVER: Blankets and larger at $16 to $189 for finished fully prime goods.
MUSKRAT: Market in the range of $2 for falls, good winters may see $3 to $3.50.
WILD MINK: Males at highs of $10 to $12, with females $6 to $8.
RED FOX: Preferred section XLs early trading at $18 to $20 tops.
GRAY FOX: Early prices hit highs of $18 to $20. Consider holding.
RACCOON: XXXL,XXL and XL, Is and IIs , highs running in the range of $14 to $16. Color and size will grading point. Most trading to date has been in wet skins averages around $7 to $8.
COYOTE: Most of XL heavy goods high a tops of $15 to $18.
OTTER: XLs traded at $30 to $35.
BOBCAT: Tops running in the range of $40 to $45, size and wide bellies a factor.
Limited information on demand
FISHER: Females at $35. Males at $30, may improve later.
MARTEN: Tops of $20 to expected on early trading

REGION 3

BEAVER: Finished blankets at highs of $10 to $12 tops. Wet goods difficult to move. Southern section much cheaper.
MUSKRAT: XLs at $1.50 tops southern section with $2 highs in the northern section of this region.
WILD MINK: Males at $6 to $8; females highs of $4.
RED FOX: The best are going for around $12 to $14.
GRAY FOX: Most sales in the range of $14 to $16.
RACCOON: XXXL, XXL, and XLs, Is and IIs northern section coat types $6 to $8 tops for finished goods. Semi-heavies from higher elevations higher, $10 to $12 for finished goods. Averages low. Smalls difficult to sell. Look for meat market.
BOBCAT: Large goods in the range of $20 tops. Tight grade.
OTTER: Most is in the range of $18 to $20 for the best. All buying based on speculation.
OPOSSUM: The Jumbos and XLs pales hit $1.

REGION 4
BEAVER: Better goods $6 to $8 tops for finished blankets, most a lot cheaper. This is primarily a hatter beaver.
MUSKRAT: Trading puts XL in range of $1.
WILD MINK: Prices in range of $6 for males and females at $3.
RED FOX: These short nap goods at $8 to $10.
GRAY FOX: Most trading presently in the range of $12 to $14.
RACCOON: The best XXXL, XXL, and XL, A/B Is and IIs. Coat types at $5.50 to $6 for finished goods. Meat market said to be $4 to $5 per carcass.
COYOTE: Limited activity.
OTTER: Trading at $25 to $30.
BOBCAT: Top offers in the range of $15 to $18; larger goods with wide spotted bellies, thin bellies hard to sell. Talk to local taxidermist.
OPOSSUM: Jumbo’s and XL at $1 for the best silvers.
NUTRIA: 26 inch and up finished at $1.50.

REGION 5
BEAVER: Finished blankets and fully prime XLs $6 to $8. Most used as hatters.
MUSKRAT: Prices, tops at $1 to $1.50. Take too small for meaningful report.
WILD MINK: Trading to be in the range of $6 to $8 for males; half for females.
RED FOX: Goods from the eastern section trading at $10 to $12; Western goods $14 for the best.
GRAY FOX: Prices in the range of $17 to $18. Silky westerns slightly higher around $20.
RACCOON: Coat types XXXL, XXL, and XLs, Is and IIs. bright (northeastern section types) $6 to $8; finished. High country and Oklahoma/Texas Panhandle semi-heavies at $10. Check out the meat market in your area — usually fish markets; carcass prices said to be around $4.
COYOTE: Eastern finished $8 to $10 for the best, Westerns at $12 to $14 for those with clear, wide, white bellies. Many will not find a market.
OTTER: Trading at $18 to $22, all based on speculation.
BOBCAT: Eastern types at a tops $20 tops, with most cheaper, while the westerns with wide clear bellies and nice spots, averages in the range of $35 to $40 expected. New Mexico lower elevations types at $40 and higher. High country (Panhandle Texas/Oklahoma types at $60 to $70, some higher. Market unsettled.
NUTRIA: 26” and up at $1.50.
RINGTAIL: Expect a top of $3 to $4.

REGION 6
BEAVER: Finished blankets and XLs in the range of $18 to $20 for northern heavy goods.
RED FOX: Tops at $16 to $18. Average running about $16 to $17.
GRAY FOX: Best around $20 to $22. Market could develop late.
KIT FOX: Tops of $8 to $10. Talk to taxidermist.
RACCOON: Trading activity puts XXXL,XXL and XLs Is and IIs in the range of $12 to $14 for finished goods.
COYOTE: High country (Rimrock) goods at $18 to $22 for the best with clear bellies; ordinary goods at $16 to $18. Thin bellies difficult to sell.
BOBCAT: High country and well marked desert goods at $100 to $125 with a high of $200 on selects. Coastal red types at $40 to $50.
RINGTAIL: Tops at $4 to $4.
SKUNK: Tops running around $4. Craft market said to be weak.

REGION 7 (7a)
BEAVER: Heavy blankets with full covering of guard hair at around $18 to $20, once fully prime.
CASTOR: $15 per pound for full, plump, well glazed.
MUSKRAT: Tops XL top goods $2.50 or slightly more.
WILD MINK: Highs $12 to $14, extra large boars higher, females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: XL heavy goods top of $18 to $20.
RACCOON: XXXL,XXL and XLs Is and IIs at $12 to $14. Averages around $7.50, with smalls and damaged out.
COYOTE: Eastern heavy goods from the high country at $18 to $20 for the best. Very tight grade, with most cheap. May be difficult to market considering carryover.
OTTER: Fully prime, unsinged, at $40 to $45; tighter grade as size matters.
MARTEN: Top price of $25 to $28. Market unsettled.
BOBCAT/LYNX-CAT: High Country, eastern XXL selects at $100 to $125 tops. Some super selects, well spotted, pale, wide bellies at over $500. The red goods from 7(a) at $35 to $40 tops, most lower, tighter grade.
SKUNK: Highs of $6 to $8 reported.

REGION 8

BEAVER: $30 to $35 tops for heavy blankets with full covering of guard hair.
WILD MINK: Tundra types trading at $18.
RED FOX: Top levels at $25.
SILVERS: Tops of $30.
CROSS FOX: Highs of $35, most around $25.
ARCTIC FOX: Tops of $16 to $18 for clear unstained goods.
COYOTE: Top offers in the $25 range, some heavy pales at $35.
OTTER: Expect to see a high of $40 to $50 for the best blacks.
LYNX: Expect a tops of $100 to $125 for the selects, “blue back” at $150. Leave feet intact. Market unsettled.
MARTEN: Top offers presently to be around $35 to $45; size the factor
WOLVERINE: Tops at $350, leave feet intact. Most around $200 to $250.
TIMBER WOLF: The best pale blues and whites at a tops of $400 with XL grays at $350. Top prices only if feet are left intact. Trophy market unknown.

REGION 9

BEAVER: Finished blankets and larger fully covered with guard hair at $28 to $32 some selects will see better. Pale straight hair preferred.  Select plump CASTOR at $16 to $18 a pound.
MUSKRAT: Prices of $2.50 to $3.50, for good winters, but averages will be low, around $2.
MINK: Top in the range of $12 to $14; some will see slightly more. Slightly better than half for females.
RED FOX: Highs of $20 to $22, averages expected to run in the range of $16 to$18.
GRAY FOX: Highs of $26 to $28, carryover has market unsettled.
RACCOON: Expect the best finished XXXL, XXL, and XLs, Is and IIs. At $16 to $18 for bright color and large sizes. Off colors and small size will be cheap.
COYOTE: The best high country goods are trading at $26 to $28, some selects at $30 to $32. Ordinary goods and commercial types at $16 to $18. Wide, clear fully furred bellies needed to hit highs. Expect the market to be more selective this season. The large carryover has dampened market. The shorter ranch fox crop might help…later.
BOBCAT/LYNX-CAT: Fully prime top high country types should see highs of $175 to $200. Some of the select “blue back” higher; $300 to $350.
OTTER: High of $40 to $45 expected. Size and color a factor, darks preferred

REGION 10
BEAVER: Shearable blankets and larger northern section goods at $20 to $22. Southern section $14 to $16 for finished blankets. Market unsettled.
MUSKRAT: XL at $2.50 to $3 for good winters.
WILD MINK: Males in the range of $12 to $14, females $8 to $9.
RED FOX: Top XLs, heavy goods hit $18 to $20. $16 to $18 southern section for the best. Darker reds preferred.
GRAY FOX: Expect to see most offers in the range of $24 to $26 for top end goods. Carryovers has buyers concerned.
RACCOON: The best XXXL, XXL, and XLs, Is and IIs finished goods at $16 to $18. Northern heavies have hit $20, but averages low. Poor colors and small sizes will encounter deep discounts.
COYOTE: Clean plains types eastern CO and western KS/NB at $18 to $20 if bellies wide, clear and white.
BOBCAT-LYNX-CAT: $65 to $75 for the best from the northern section; some selects pales at $80 or more. Look for a tight grade. Expect to see a wide range of prices.

REGION 11

BEAVER: Northern section blankets at tops of $18 to $22, with southern section goods at $10 to $14 if large, super clean and fully furred and well finished. Most will be hatters.
MUSKRAT: Prices for good winters are expected to top at $2.50 to $3; some well handled XL collections of Good Winters slightly higher.
WILD MINK: XL males at a tops of $10 to $12, females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: XLs in the range of $14 to $16 for most.
GRAY FOX: Top prices in the range of $18 to $20 for southern sections. Northern goods at $22 to $24. Buyers will speculating and cautious.
RACCOON: Lite semi-heavies XXXL, XXL, and XLs, Is and IIs from southern section expected to be trading at $8 to $10 tops. Northern section semi-heavies at $12 to $14 tops for finished pelts. Discount $3 to $4 for wet goods. Off colors and small sizes will see deep discounts. Buying selective.
COYOTE: The best trading at $10 and $15; and then only if bellies are clear white and fully furred. A few northern section may see $18, but they will rare. Very tight grade, market flooded with low grade carryovers.
OTTER: OK/AR/MO type pales at highs of $20 to $25. Expect a tough grade. Some darks may see $30.
BOBCAT: Tops at $20 to $30 depending on bellies. Some selects at $45 northern sections wide clear, well spotted bellies add dollars. Don’t expect market to be established until late January of February.

REGION 12

BEAVER: Blankets, once fully prime, select goods at $24 to $28.
CASTOR $14 to $15 per pound for properly handled, plump. Shells cheap.
MUSKRAT: Presently top XLs trading at $3 to $3.50. XLs.
WILD MINK: Expect to see top offers of $12 to $14. Females slightly better than half.
RED FOX: Heavy fully prime XL goods are trading at $18 to $20. Dark, cherry reds preferred. Frosty rumps and pales discounted.
GRAY FOX: Highs of $20 to $22 expected.
RACCOON: XXXL, and XXLs Is and IIs at $20 to $22; finished goods. This is most sought after region, but expect a tight grade as to color and size.
COYOTE: A tops of $18 to $22 if bellies wide and clear; most cheap.
FISHER: Highs of $35 to $45. Females preferred.
OTTER: Tops believed to be around $40 for straight hair, darks.

Discuss your fur selling and local experiences in our Fur Market Forum.

Please FAX regional fur auction results to Parker at (501) 262-1582. Or, e-mail results to HeTraps@aol.com.

 


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