More forests expected from a revamped ETS

16 September 2011

 Forest owners say that if the government adopts the changes to the ETS recommended by its review panel more forests are likely to be planted. New Zealand needs more forests in order to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"New Zealand has based its ETS laws on the wording of the Kyoto Protocol and this has created anomalies that discourage forest owners and farmers from planting," says Forest Owners president Peter Berg.

"The ETS review panel says New Zealand needs to take a hard-headed look at the wisdom of continuing to do this, especially since it is highly unlikely that the protocol will exist in its present form beyond 2012."

It recommends that forest owners should be allowed to replant existing forests in a new location following harvest – something that incurs huge financial penalties at present. It also asks the government to look at self-insurance and averaging schemes which have the potential to eliminate the open-ended risks now associated with carbon forestry, without incurring any costs for the taxpayer.

"Forest owners have been arguing for these changes since ETS legislation was first drawn-up under the former Labour-led Government. We also correctly predicted that rates of new planting would be modest without them."

Mr Berg says he welcomes climate change minister Nick Smith's largely positive response to the panel's recommendations. But he is concerned that the minister has distanced himself from the panel's strong call for agriculture to come into the ETS as planned in 2015.

The panel says agriculture has abatement opportunities including forestry, nitrification inhibitors, and 'good practice' farm management techniques that increase productivity. All of these options are available now and others will be available in the future as a result of the efforts going into research today, says the report.

Mr Berg says the wider environmental and economic benefits of controlling emissions should not be lost sight of just because there may be a modest cost to the industries involved. "Tree planting incentivised by the ETS will also help reverse the ongoing decline in NZ's water quality and help boost the environmental credentials that New Zealand farmers use to market their products."

A key technical issue highlighted by the review panel is the ability of New Zealand emitters to offset their liabilities by buying 'hot air units' from overseas. These Certified Emission Reduction Units (CERs), which are generated by industrial emitters when they destroy greenhouse gases, lack integrity.

"The European ETS limits the use of CERs. Australia is also proposing restrictions on them. Furthermore, the European Commission has declared that CERs from industrial gas projects will no longer be acceptable for use in the EU ETS after April 2013," says FOA chief executive David Rhodes.

Speaking at a conference in Canberra this week he said that if New Zealand does not take similar action our ETS will likely become the prime destination for tens of millions of these otherwise homeless units. They have the potential, he says, to make the NZ ETS meaningless.

"Already we have seen CERs trade down from around NZD $24 a tonne just over three months ago, to lows of around $13 a tonne now.

"Combined with the government's two-for-one concession to industry for the surrender of emission units, this means the cost of compliance for local emitters has been as low as NZD $6.50 a tonne. Foresters are not interested in participating at this level, bearing in mind that their carbon price liabilities at harvest are open-ended."

Mr Rhodes says the release of the NZETS review is very timely given that legislation for an emission reduction scheme has been before the Australian parliament. The stated intent of ministers on both sides of the Tasman is to align the two schemes and this is reflected in close co-operation between the officials involved.

In his meetings in Canberra he found industry and political leaders were very interested to find out how the NZETS works and the changes that are needed.

"Both schemes subsidise emission-intensive trade exposed industries. But the Australians don't have the New Zealand two for one subsidy that the review panel believes should be extended beyond the present 2012 cut-off," Mr Rhodes says.

Having an Australian floor price on carbon that will be priced above international levels and a move to a fixed cap on emissions, are other differences that will create headaches for officials on this side of the Tasman.

"Clearly a lot of adjustment will be needed to harmonise the two schemes by the ideal date of 2015, while bearing in mind that our dialogue is not just with the Aussies. California is also planning to implement an ETS by 2013 and both Korea and Japan have ETS schemes under consideration by their governments."

For more information, please contact Peter Berg, Tel 021 421 291 or David Rhodes 0274 955 525

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Tenon has reported a net loss of $US 2 million for its 2010/2011 fiscal year on sales of $326 million. Directors believe this was a good result considering the dire state of the North American and Australasian housing markets.


Operating earnings or EBITDA (i.e. earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisations) declined from $10 million (including restructuring charges of $2 million) in fiscal 2010 to $8 million in fiscal 2011.


Over the past five years Tenon has undergone a major business transformation the company’s 2011 annual report says has advanced the company in almost all aspects of its operations. From both an earnings and share price perspective, the significant gains realised from this transformation have, unfortunately, been ‘swamped’ by recession in the housing sector.


The following is an edited summary of the annual report:


The beginning of Tenon’s five-year transformation saw us complete a series of growth orientated acquisitions, including Southwest Mouldings (a leading millwork distributor in Texas) for $32 million, and the swap of our American Wood Mouldings joint venture holding for 100% ownership of Ornamental Mouldings ($38 million in equivalent 100% value terms).


As events transpired, these acquisitions were followed by the beginning of the deepest recession that has been seen in the US housing market since the 1930s.


So we then immediately set about significantly reducing our balance sheet debt as quickly as possible. At $52 million, our year end working capital level was in line with the levels reported at both December and June 2010, indicating that we have largely achieved the debt improvement to be gained from working capital optimisation.


We closed fiscal 2011 with net debt of $30 million, which compares with the $29 million reported in June 2010 and the $30 million level at December 2010.


Our fiscal conservativeness allowed us to pass through the global credit crisis without needing to go back to our shareholders and ask for a fresh capital injection. It also allowed us to operate within our bank ratios when others struggled to do so.


We have always consciously moved early to refinance the Group’s debt facilities when the opportunity has arisen to do so and on 24 June this year we put in place a new five-year syndicated debt facility. This provides us with far greater operational flexibility than we have previously had, particularly in that it has no fixed charges (e.g. interest) or leverage coverage ratio requirements.


The year began reasonably, but then US economic growth faltered in the second half, due to a combination of extreme weather conditions, high gasoline prices, global industrial supply chain disruptions following the earthquake in Japan, and most recently, the US federal budget debacle. These factors were reflected in lower consumer confidence, with many preferring debt reduction as a better use of discretionary income than investment in housing – whether that be house purchasing or home remodelling.


The latter part of the second half of the year saw a lower level of demand than the first, as uncertainty grew about the strength of the US economic recovery. These factors all flowed directly through to a lower demand level in the US housing sector, with operating revenues among US publicly traded wood products companies being down approximately 12% in the last quarter of the fiscal year compared with the corresponding quarter in 2010. 


Added to the difficult US operating environment was the strengthening of the NZD:USD exchange rate, which moved from an opening level of 69 cents to close the fiscal year at just under 82 cents, averaging 76 cents for the year. 

In addition, our manufacturing operations at Taupo suffered significant cost pressures

from increasing pruned log prices (a result of the strong China demand for wood fibre to meet China’s domestic growth needs).


This pressure was partially offset by the use of logs from our residual forest assets which act as a partial natural hedge to movements in log (i.e. feedstock) prices into the Taupo mill. Other hedging strategies included a three-year electricity hedge over one-third of our electricity usage at Taupo, interest rate hedges over greater than 50% of our drawn debt, and continuing active foreign exchange cover.


A number of key initiatives, including our ‘One-Company programme’ also did much to reduce operating costs and to improve relationships with customers.


The first phase of this programme saw the elimination of $5 million per annum in administrative and back-office costs. The second phase involved a fundamental restructuring of the way in which Tenon services its core customers.


Each customer now has a single interface at Tenon, no matter from where in the world, or in which Tenon manufacturing entity, their products were produced. This change resulted in a higher level of service delivery and product innovation, tighter customer relationships, and as a result the emergence of new business and product opportunities with our key customers.


Our US full service distribution businesses which now service some 40% more retail stores today than they did at the cycle peak in 2006-7.  And almost 20% of our US distribution revenues today are from new products we have introduced in the past 5-6 years.


Our 100%-owned manufacturing operations in both New Zealand and North America are an important source of innovation for us in our product offerings to our customers. They also offer certainty of supply needed when industry supply chains face serious circumstances outside their control (for example, the Chile earthquake which disrupted manufactured product supply out of that country only a year ago).


In addition, our Taupo manufacturing site is well placed to supply FSC certified wood product that meets the needs of the US market – particularly high value clear lumber, boards and mouldings from New Zealand’s high quality pruned radiata forests. This offers us a strong competitive advantage over lumber sourced from other markets.


Our logistics platform combines this internally manufactured product together with extensive third-party sourcing across three continents, to bring a total portfolio of select millwork products to our customers. In our full service distribution operations, a fleet of trucks on programmed destination ‘runs’ make daily deliveries of products that have originated not only from Tenon’s owned manufacturing sites in New Zealand, the United States and Canada, but also from third-party production facilities in other countries – for example, from China, Brazil and Chile.


This aspect of the business has become more complex as the third-party sourced volume sold through our distribution businesses has grown. To put the scale of this third-party sourcing into perspective, today Taupo (New Zealand) manufactured product represents less than 10% of our total US distribution sales.


Our unique mix of owned manufacturing facilities, a world-class logistics platform with extensive third-party global sourcing, a proprietary customer performance management programme, established relationships in the leading market channels, and a focus on innovation and the customer in everything that we do, that has allowed us to build a leading industry position. This enviable position has been built in an operating environment that the US housing sector has not seen since the 1930s depression era.


In five years new housing starts have declined quite dramatically, from a peak of 2.3 million

houses a year in 2006 down to only 600,000 a year today – a fall of almost 75%. At the same time, the inventory of homes available for sale as measured in months of supply, has risen from a long-run level of 5-6 months to 9.4 months today. There has been a similar dramatic decline in remodelling spend in the US over the same period. 


To lessen the impact on us of this recession we have been accessing opportunities outside of the North American market. By way of example, from its beginnings only a couple of years ago, the volume of manufactured product out of our Taupo site being sold into the China market already represents over 15% of all of our third-party sales from New Zealand.


With an industry-leading position firmly established, Tenon is now very well positioned to take advantage of future growth opportunities. 


In the US, consumer confidence is unlikely to be restored until house prices begin to rise – and neither of those two things can occur until credit availability for house lending is once again freed up. 


On the positive side, fundamentals that will support and drive, a recovery in the US housing sector include –


§ US housing affordability at 40-year highs;

§ US new home inventories at 40-year lows;

§ US mortgage rates at 40-year lows;

§ Robust population growth in line with long-term trends;

§ Housing starts per head of population growth at 60-year lows;

§ An aging US housing stock, with two-thirds of the total being greater than 25 years old; and

§ US housing activity at well below underlying long-term demand.


However, there are also some considerable hurdles to be overcome first. These include the high unemployment level in the US, the back-log of foreclosed properties and unsold existing housing inventories. Home prices have fallen 30%+ from their peak and have not yet stabilised, and there is restricted access to mortgage credit.


In addition, Tenon is likely to continue to be affected by a strong NZD:USD exchange rate.


Shareholders can expect to see Tenon involved in the following activities in 2012 –


§ New product innovation in high growth applications – particularly in the large outdoor segment. The intention is to announce a major new initiative this financial year

§ A restructuring of our NZ operations – to ensure they can operate profitably at a high NZD:USD exchange rate

§ Active participation in emerging supply trading opportunities – this may involve investment in wholesale markets in order to provide greater supply chain visibility; and

§ Growth into non-US markets, China, Australia and Europe in particular.