Many of us federal lands forest types haven’t followed how the transfer of lands from timber industry to TIMO’s and REIT’s developed. It was discussed a bit in the recent Oregonian article on the timber industry in SW Oregon.
My intention here was to find an accessible explanation and to provide the space in the comments for others to provide their own favorite papers, memories and thoughts. So that if someone wants to know about the topic, this post will ultimately end up being a good place to start.
This is the terrain of forest economists- the folks who analyze legions of (not particularly exciting) numbers so the rest of us don’t have to. And the Forest Service has had some excellent forest economists, including Cliff Hickman, a former colleague of mine in the Policy Analysis shop. Cliff’s work is clearly written, and goes to the heart of the questions I had Thanks, Cliff!
Here’s a link.
Reasons for Changing Ownership Pattern:
The reasons for the changes in private forestland ownership that have occurred in the US may be viewed from at least three different perspectives: 1) that of the former VIFPCs that elected to sell-off all or part of their forestland holdings,6 2) that of the TIMOs and the institutional investors they represent, and 3) that of the former VIFPCs that elected to restructure and create timber REITs.
Key motives and factors influencing the VIFPCs that elected to sell-off some or all of their forestlands included the following:7
Relatively weak financial performance and the need to improve returns to stockholders. – Stockholder returns over the 10-year period 1995 to 2005 averaged +6.2% for the “Forestry and Paper Group” as compared to +12.1% for the S&P 500, and +13.1% for the Dow Jones Industrial. (04) To ensure continued flow of investment capital into the industry, it was essential that stockholder returns be increased – and the sale of timber holdings was seen as a way to achieve this end.
Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP): – Related to the preceding factor, GAAP for “Sub-Chapter C Corporations” precludes such entities, when it comes to computing their return on investment, from recognizing any appreciation in the value of the timberland assets they hold – only profit realized from the harvesting and processing of trees may be considered. This treatment contrasts with the conventions that apply to “Sub-Chapter S” and “Limited Liability” corporations, to TIMOs, and to REITs. (01, 12)
Rising Forestland Values: – Related to both of the preceding factors, throughout much of the US forestland values have been rising in response to what has been characterized as “the grand tidal wave of sprawl now sweeping over the nation.” (09) As forestland values rose, so did the value of what was arguably the primary asset held by the VIFPCs. Although GAAP prevented these companies from recognizing this appreciation in value in their formal accounting, it didn’t stop them from “cashing in” through the sale of some of their lands – especially tracts with good access, proximity to urban areas, water frontage, scenic value, or outdoor recreation potential.
Consolidations made to enhance international competitiveness also increased debt burdens. – Over the last 10 to 15 years, the VIFPCs in the US have faced increasing competitive pressure from low cost timber suppliers and forest products manufacturers in other parts of the world. In response, the domestic industry went through a period of substantial consolidation. Oftentimes significant debt was incurred to finance these consolidations. The sale of timber holdings was seen as a way to get this debt off corporate balance sheets. (01)
Rethinking of the long held belief that ownership of timberlands was essential to ensure future availability of an essential raw material at reasonable cost. – Historically, as previously noted, a major rationale for the acquisition of timberlands by the VIFPCs was to gain some degree of control over the conditions of availability of an essential raw material. During the last 10 to 15 years, however, many firms came to believe they could confidently rely on open market sources of timber – both domestic and international.8 (01, 04)
Federal income tax policies. – While no doubt unintentional, federal income tax policies also appear to have encouraged many US forest products companies to divest themselves of their timber holdings. Of greatest importance is the fact that the traditional VIFPCs are classified as “Sub-Chapter C Corporations” for income tax purposes. For this type of entity, any profits obtained from the sale of timber are taxed twice – once at the corporate level (35%), and once at the stockholder level when dividends are disbursed (15%). The practical effect of this tax policy is that investors who own both manufacturing plants and forestland often recoup as little as 50 cents out of every dollar of profit made from cutting trees whereas investors who own just forestland can normally pocket at least 85 cents out of every dollar.9 (01, 04, 07, 14)