Kraftliner exports may hit record

North American linerboard producers appear to be pushing a high volume of tonnage into export markets despite some softness in export prices, soaring freight rates, and shipping delays that make it difficult to move board off the dock.

The strong export demand helped keep the US domestic market in balance through the current economic slowdown and reduction in US box shipments.

For the first quarter 2008, US unbleached kraftliner exports rose 8.9% to nearly 1.1 million tons (994,000 tonnes) from a year ago, according to US Dept of Commerce (DOC) statistics.

With further weakening in the dollar, RISI projects US kraft linerboard exports will exceed 4.9 million tons in 2008, up from 4.4 million tons in 2007 and nearly 400,000 tons higher than the 1997 historical peak, according to RISI packaging vice president Ken Waghorne.

“The current Containerboard export market barkens back to the late 1990s” when global demand for US kraftliner was last strong following an earlier period of dollar weakness, he noted.

The European market for kraftliner remains competitive due to slowing economic growth in the region, weakness in recycled Containerboard prices, and the influx of imported kraftliner from the USA and other offshore exporters.

For the first quarter, US kraftliner exports to Western Europe were up 6.9% to 144,000 tonnes compared with a year ago.

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