By Serge Lariviére
For many people in the industry, what is going to happen in May and June will be the fulfillment of many predictions. If you have been following the markets in the past two years, you have seen the prices bottom down, then sit at tough levels for a few years, and you have heard the hopeful messages starting to emerge. We were told that selling late would be advantageous, as prices may be on a slow incline to recovery, and the later you sell, the higher prices may be. It is always nerve-wrecking when we approach big auction dates, simply because there is always a bit of uncertainty that remains. Are we really in tune with our buyers? Is there a new, emerging trend that may come into play and change, for the better or for the worse, what we anticipate? Same for every commodity in the natural resources sector, the only way to be accurate is after the fact, and by the time this issues gets in your mailbox, the big sale of wild fur at North American Fur Auctions will be over, and reality will replace predictions.
Russia is Back
The economy in Russia has greatly improved and some of the Russian buyers have reappeared at large fur auctions with some money to spend. No, it is not as healthy as market as it was in 2013, but having Russia back is a good thing for all of us in the fur industry, and a great thing for us trappers and wild fur dealers. Last year, many Russian buyers attended the international wild fur sales, and rumor has it that even more Russian buyers will be present at the May and June sales.
Coyotes Still Moving Up
The demand for pale and soft coyote pelts is as strong as it has ever been. The fur-trimmed winter parkas created by Canada Goose have now been copied over and over, by countless manufacturers, and in many countries. Western coyotes provide the perfect fur for such trim, and that market is not about to go cold! In fact, many people believe that prices for coyotes will continue upwards at this sale, even though the supply has been increasing in past few years. Out west, coyotes are probably the most profitable fur right now (unless you have access to abundant western bobcats). Averages for the western coyotes should easily top $100, and the best lots may exceed $400 USD per skin! Not bad for a fawn-eating predator. Trim is key, and trim requires soft and dense fur, so early skins simply will drag behind, as will skins of the darker, coarser coyotes from the East. Still, because of the crazy prices for western goods, even Eastern coyotes will do well, probably in the $40-50 average with better goods closer to $70-80. Simply put, coyotes are selling today for about twice the value they usually sell for, so definitely it is our hottest fur right now.
Fisher and Marten on the Rise
Marten and fisher have been climbing also, and that is good news. The new prices are not even out yet and I have heard many trappers plan bigger trapping efforts for these two species next year. Marten and female fisher are used to provide a “unique touch” to high-end mink coats sold in China, and the addition of wild fur to a ranch mink garment adds a touch that separates that mink coats from thousands of almost identical garments. Wild fur adds a special touch, and marten fur, for its color and fur length, is perfect for enhancing black mink coats. Female fisher also should rise up, for the same reasons as marten.
Big Inventories Still in Stock
Huge inventories of skin still remain in storage throughout North America. With the low fur prices of the past few years, many dealers chose to hold their skins in storage waiting for prices to recover. Raccoon probably dominates the stored inventories and there is no indication at this time of any big jump in raccoon prices, which means that inventory may carry over yet another year.
Greatly Reduced Harvest
Unless we talk coyotes or marten, the number of wild fur skins offered on the market will be greatly reduced. Harvest was much lower for almost all species, and even more so for the bottom-of-the-barrel items such as raccoon and beaver. Northern trappers with registered lines have no choice to harvest beavers on their trap lines because of quota, but trappers elsewhere have greatly decrease trapping efforts for these two, hard-to-sell species. There is no big change expected for raccoon and beaver at this time, prices should hold at last year’s levels which is depressing for the amount of work involved in skinning and fleshing these skins.
There was for a while an expectation that muskrats would climb, but no one is sure now. The very low prices paid for commercial-grade ranch mink females is the prime competitor for muskrats. When ranch mink prices plummet, some of the “commercial goods,” skins that are okay but not outstanding, become cheaper per square inch than muskrats, so manufacturer who normally would use rats switch to cheap mink, and our prices stay low. But then, rats are easy to dress and use, and the Koreans love using them, so we just do not know. One thing for sure, if prices climb, they will not double. My thinking is still on a 25-40% increase which seems big until you realize that it means going from $3.50 to $5. Still, any price increase on any species will be good news. Here again, the harvest of fresh goods was reduced, so that may help the price recovery.
Fur Harvesters Auctions had great results at their March sale! At that sale, over 160 Russian buyers registered and prices advanced for all long-haired skins. Coyotes, marten, bobcat sold extremely well and even raccoons skins moved out of the building, in great part thanks to the Russians in the auction room. There is no doubt that recovery of the raccoon market will depend on the active participation of Russians at the buying table.