Industry shipments of corrugated products increased 4.8 percent, from 32.060 bsf in November of 2019 to 33.612 bsf in November of 2020, the Fibre Box Association (FBA) reported. Average-week shipments also increased 4.8 percent, from 8.437 bsf in 2019 to 8.845 bsf in 2020, which is another record high, the first coming in October. Shipments have risen to 2.2 percent year-to-date over 2019’s rate.

Containerboard consumption increased 3.5 percent, from 2.5847 million tons in November of 2019 to 2.6756 million tons in November of 2020. Consumption is up 2.0 percent year-to-date over 2019, from 29.7345 million tons to 30.3291 million tons.

Containerboard inventory at corrugator plants decreased 1.3 percent, from 1.8156 million tons in October to 1.7912 million tons in November 2020. Weeks of supply also decreased, from 2.6 to 2.5, or 3.8 percent.

“Consumer spending for packaging intensive non-durable goods coupled with relatively small decreases in production of food and other non-durable goods, as well as strong shifts from in-store to online consumer spending, has translated into strong box demand,” noted Dick Storat in his Scoring Boxes newsletter. 

Containerboard operating rates, however, fell from 98.0 percent in October to 93.3 percent in November, according to the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA). The rate was essentially flat (-0.4 pts.) from the rate in November 2019 and is up 2.5 points year-to-date.

“The large drop in operating rates was a bit of a negative surprise,” said Mark Wilde, Ph.D. and Senior Analyst at BMO Capital Markets Limited. “We suspect some of it owes to delayed maintenance from earlier in the year.”

FBA To Change Publication Frequency

Beginning in 2021, FBA will change the publication frequency of the Monthly Statistical Bulletin and publish summary data for U.S. corrugated industry shipments (actual and average week) and containerboard (consumption and inventory) data on a quarterly rather than monthly basis. This change aligns with a similar change in the AF&PA publication of containerboard monthly reports and will take place beginning with the first quarter of 2021. The first report will include monthly data for January, February and March and will be published in mid-April 2021. There will be three additional reports published for the second, third and fourth quarters of 2021.  There will no longer be monthly reporting.

FBA will review the continuation of this change at the end of 2021.

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