Nothing has changed, and everything’s changed. That’s the story of the fur market heading into the 2019-2020 fur selling season. The demand for raw fur remains where it’s been for years – quite low. The Chinese and Russian economies continue to struggle along, meaning our biggest fur buying countries just aren’t consuming much fur. On the supply side, however, the entire market has been shifted upside down.
The NAFA Debacle
North American Fur Auctions, the largest seller of wild fur in North America, is going bankrupt. After years of struggling with finances amidst rock bottom fur prices, the company dug itself a hole it couldn’t get out of. The vast majority of NAFA’s business is in ranch mink, and their strategy of financially backing struggling mink ranchers backfired. It appears that NAFA is going to be acquired, or merged, with Saga Furs, a Finnish auction company that only deals in ranched fur. Saga has no interest in wild fur, and thus NAFA won’t be accepting wild fur in 2019-2020.
Fur Selling Options
Fur Harvesters Auction, Inc., a wild fur company first and foremost, is still in business and plans to offer a huge collection of wild fur in the coming season. FHA is gearing up to have the capacity to take a lot of the fur that NAFA used to receive, and I’d encourage folks who haven’t shipped before to give FHA a shot. Groenewold Fur and Wool Company is also gearing up to take more fur, and is expanding routes into new states beyond its normal buying area. You can also ship your fur to GFWCO. They’ll grade it and offer a price. If you don’t like the price, they’ll ship it back on their dime. A number of small fur buyers will still be operating and remain a good option for selling your fur. Keep in mind that many country fur buyers bought your fur and shipped it off to NAFA. With this option gone, the country buyers that remain won’t be willing to take on added risk, and may not pay much for fur until some market certainty returns. That said, a savvy buyer with an appetite for risk could do quite well over the next year or two.
Broad Fur Price Outlook
We’ve struggled with low fur prices for a long time, but over the past few years I’ve predicted the low prices would bottom and start to rebound around 2020. That prediction is based on the production cycle for ranch fur and the clearing of the overproduction of fur in the market. That is happening right now. After several years of rock bottom prices, mink ranchers around the world have pelted out and gone out of business over the past 2-3 years. Their excess production continues to work through the supply chain, and there won’t be nearly as many ranch mink entering the market until a couple of years after fur prices recover.
As a general rule, most wild fur follows ranch fur prices. That’s because if given a choice, buyers prefer the ranch product due to its large quantities of uniform goods. It just makes large scale production of most items much easier. When ranch fur gets expensive, it is often substituted with wild fur, and wild fur prices go up. So as the availability of ranch mink and fox dries up, and demand returns, we should begin to see increasing prices of wild mink, muskrat, beaver, otter, raccoon and fox. That’s a big ‘if’, but I think we’re headed in that direction.
The fur market also depends on demand from the major fur consuming countries, mainly Russia and China. Both countries’ economies are struggling, and the strength of the U.S. Dollar makes fur even more expensive for them to purchase. The lack of a solid trade deal with China has been a challenge as well. Most folks would look at these factors and think we’re in a worst case scenario for fur across the board. I look at them and see a bottom that the market should begin crawling out of over the next couple of years.
With so many uncertainties around how wild fur will be sold this year, it will be challenging to track the market and prices. Without NAFA to go to, buyers will be looking to FHA, as well as a number of medium and large regional fur buyers like Groenewold, Zander, Petska, etc. Trappers may have a tough time deciding where to sell. State association fur sales should see an uptick in attendance, and a lot of fur may remain in freezers until some certainty arises in the market. That said, I do not expect fur prices to go any lower this year than they’ve been the past couple of years. We’ve hit the bottom, and the only question is how long it’ll be until we see recovery. I look forward to watching this new fur market unfold.
Fashion vs. Utility
The fur market is driven by two types of consumer demand: fashion and utility. Fashion trends often drive the high end market for select high quality pelts, and can help support high fur prices for specific items. For instance, the beautiful white black-spotted furs worn by affluent women in Russia is supporting the market for top end Western bobcats. The fur-trimmed hoods on Canada Goose parkas is driving the incredible demand for coyotes. Other furs like muskrat and otter have benefitted from fashion trends in the past. This can be great for fur prices, but can be devastating when the fashion trends go away.
Fur is consumed as a utility in many places due to its incredible warmth, durability and functionality. Populations in cold climates wear lots of fur, and consume most of what’s not used in the fashion market. This is great for items not supported by fashion trends, like raccoon and muskrat, but utility demand can challenge fur prices because consumers aren’t paying a great deal for these items, and price doesn’t react as well to shorter supply, since demand tops out at a certain price point, above which consumers just can’t afford.
2019-2020 Fur Price Forecast
The coyote market has been the one exception to the low fur market the past several years. The success of Canada Goose and their high end parkas trimmed with coyote fur has been the sole driver of coyote prices, and this should continue into the upcoming fur season. The best quality Western coyotes should average $70-100, with semi heavy Westerns and top quality Easterns averaging $40-50. If demand continues to be strong, it can bring up demand for coyotes from the South and Midwest, but these prices could be volatile, likely ranging from $15-30.
Outside of the hatter market, where beaver pelts are ground up and used to make felt hats, the demand for beaver has been almost nonexistent lately, and the spread between low end and high end beaver has all but disappeared. Most beaver will continue to average $10-14 regardless of where they are produced. There is a possibility, however, to see some upside in this market if some of the traditional uses for beaver start to come back in style with fewer ranch mink pelts on the market. If that occurs, we could see $15-20 averages for beaver from the better sections.
Expect $3-4 averages for rats this year, with potential for some upside. With fewer ranch mink on the horizon, we could see higher prices as the season unfolds.
Wild mink have been low for a long time, and with furriers often substituting ranch mink with muskrats, it may take more movement in the overall market for mink prices to recover. Expect around $5 for females and possibly $8-10 for males.
Just like they have the past few seasons, otter should average around $20-30 this year.
Some demand is beginning to develop for the higher quality raccoon pelts that come from the upper Midwest. Much of this is likely driven by lower priced substitutes for the popular coyote-trimmed parkas. The better coons could average $10-15. There is a great deal of variability in coon pelt, both in size and fur thickness. Lower end coon may average $5 or less, and some may not be sellable until the market develops further.
The market hasn’t had much use for red fox in recent years, but the price should maintain a bottom of $10-15. Ranch fox are going through the same overproduction and financial troubles as the mink industry is, and lower quantities of ranch goods may help wild fox a bit.
The cat market has recently been characterized by a huge price difference between the high and low ends of pelt quality. The top Western cats with wide white, spotted bellies are still in demand for the high end fashion market and should continue to average $300-400, but this market is highly specialized and doesn’t have much use for the rest of the cats. Bobcats from most other parts of the country should average $30-60, with some falling in between the two extremes.
Lynx, Marten and Fisher
Demand for these three items is specialized and not very strong as of late. Lynx have moved along at $60-70 averages for years, and should continue at this level until something changes. Marten experienced weakness late last season, which points to potentially lower prices this season, at least until the unsold goods work their way through the market. Most lower 48 marten should average $20-40, while the big and dark Alaskan and Canadian marten may bring $50-60, with some upward movement potential later in the season. Fisher prices can fluctuate widely, and may bounce around between $20-40 this year, with potential for upside.