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Assessing Mill Risk when Analyzing Timber Markets and Wood Baskets

In evaluating timber markets and wood baskets for forest industry and bioenergy investments, a key concern is the “riskiness”, health and competitiveness of wood-using manufacturing facilities in and near the market.  Timberland investors want to confirm that the mills will remain open for years to come to buy their trees and logs.  Existing wood-using mills have interest in the health of their competitors for wood raw materials.  And new wood-using plants – such as bioenergy projects – want a sense for the potential that existing wood-users may have outlived their usefulness and may slow down or shutter, thereby alleviating competition for desired raw materials.

When analyzing mill risk, consider three categories of analysis:

  1. End markets.  Are the end markets – such as newsprint versus fluff pulp versus linerboard – served by the mill strong or weak?  The answer to this question is observable and can be answered with readily available data.  It provides a powerful, first-cut at the situation for mills in the market.
  2. Firm commitment.  Ultimately, are the corporate parent and owners demonstrating high or low commitment to the continued operations of the mill?  We maintain a checklist of items that, for the most part, are answerable with publicly-available information.  Questions on this list include, for example, employment levels and hiring activity, signs of community involvement, and capital allocation as disclosed in press releases or public filings.
  3. Facility health.  Is this facility, in its structure and equipment, old or new?  Does it employ cutting edge technology?  What is the “ability to pay” for raw material?  How efficient is the plant relative to others in its industry and market?  While this is the most difficult of the three categories to assess, strong conclusions on “end markets” and “firm commitment” usually correspond with conclusions associated with facility health.  In this way, each of the categories serves, at some level, as a proxy for the others.

Forisk will discuss risk analysis of wood-using mills  during “Timber Market Analysis” on August 12th in Atlanta, a one-day course for anyone who wants a step-by-step process to understand, track, and analyze the price, demand, supply, and competitive dynamics of timber markets and wood baskets. For more information, click here

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