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North American newsprint capacity being cut as demand continues to slip

January 23, 2015 - 12:58 PM

MONTREAL - North American newsprint manufacturers will continue to pare production and jobs in 2015, mainly as they complete cuts announced last year, according to industry officials and observers.

After this year's reduction of about 350,000 tonnes, capacity will have been cut by almost 700,000 tonnes in Canada over the past 13 months and by about 550,000 tonnes in the United States.

An analyst with forest products trade publication RISI said he doesn't foresee large additional capacity cuts in 2015 beyond what has been announced.

"Unless demand really underperforms expectations and shows no sign of improving and exports are even worse than the 15 per cent decline that we're showing, there might not actually be a need for capacity closures through most of 2015," said Derek Mahlburg.

Faced with slipping newsprint prices, Kruger and Resolute Forest Products (TSX:RFP) have been the most aggressive at chopping capacity in Canada, reducing output at several mills in Quebec and Ontario late last year.

Resolute will also stop two machines at Clermont, Que., later this month with about 255,000 tonnes of output. Overall, that will mean the loss of 300 jobs at Resolute mills in Iroquois Falls, Ont., and Baie-Comeau and Clermont, Que.

Meanwhile, Kruger cut 100 jobs and 100,000 tonnes of capacity late last year after closing a paper machine at its Brompton plant in Sherbrooke, Que.

Paul Quinn of RBC Capital Markets said he expects falling demand will prompt more conversions of newsprint machines to other paper grades, although the lower Canadian dollar may have bought them some time.

North American newsprint demand fell nine per cent to 6.5 million tonnes in 2014, marking the 15th consecutive year it has decreased, said the Pulp and Paper Products Council (PPPC), which represents North American newsprint producers.

The decrease accelerated late last year, falling by 11.9 per cent in December. Demand in Canada decreased 4.5 per cent last year, while it was down 10 per cent in the U.S.

Demand is expected to drop to about 6.1 million tonnes this year as readers continue to shift to digital media from newspapers.

North American producers have tried to offset domestic weakness by increasing exports, which now account for about one-third of shipments.

After rising 32 per cent in 2013, offshore shipments dropped nearly seven per cent last year and are forecast to decline another 15 per cent in 2015.

Exports were affected by lower demand in the two largest markets — a 23 per cent reduction in Asia excluding Japan and a 4.1 per cent drop in Latin America.

Weak global currencies outside the U.S. are compounding the problem, allowing foreign producers, especially Russia, to increase sales in these important markets, officials say. Prices are more than US$70 per tonne lower than in mid-2013.

Meanwhile, producers in North America, Europe, Korea and China are fighting for market share in India, where demand is rising because of the publication of new newspapers, especially non-English publications, and additional products outside traditional markets, said PPPC vice-president Martine Hamel.

"Basically everybody's looking at India so it's a very competitive market," she said.

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