Publicly traded wood products and distribution companies reported $1.54 billion less in revenues from those categories in the first quarter of 2009 than they did in the year-earlier period and $580 million less than in the fourth quarter of 2009, the research group RISI reported today.

The 14 companies reporting financial statements in U.S. dollars said they took in $2.62 billion in wood products and distribution revenue, down 37% from a year earlier. Of those, five saw declines topping 40% and none posted a sales increase. Companies reporting in Canadian dollars reported a 22.7% drop in revenues to $1.18 billion.

Lumber and panel prices were a major factor, RISI said. Its Crow's Lumber Composite Price Index averaged $190 in the first quarter, or 18.5% lower than January through March 2008, while Crow's Structural Panel Index fell 5.6% to an average of $236.

Lumber shipments also played a role; RISI citied Western Wood Products Association reports that shipments of U.S. lumber through February were down 28.7% from the year earlier to 3.57 billion board-feet. Shipments of Canadian lumber sank 22.8% in the same period, RISI said.

"Despite the drop in sales dollars, North American companies were able to reduce their operating losses through various means such as mill shutdowns, wage freezes, layoffs and suspending company contributions to 401Ks," RISI noted.

RISI drew its data by excluding pulp and paper, real estate and other unrelated business segments from the corporate reports of relevant companies, focusing instead on wood products sales and distribution.