Buying Land

Know What Matters When Investing

Know What Matters When Investing

When I was growing up, my Mom taught me that she would be the most important woman in my life, until I married, at which point my wife would become the most important woman in my life. This guidance, beyond reinforcing Mom’s all-star status and her support as a mother-in-law, reminds us that some things are more important than others. And these can change over time.

This thinking also applies to investing, especially as asset classes mature and cycle. While my research and advisory work centers on timberland markets and the forest industry, the investment lessons apply generally.

Specify the Thesis

Why invest in this asset? Why accumulate shares of stock in this company? Why is this a good investment for you or your client? In my experience, robust justifications are one or two sentences in length and well-supported by available data. Recently, I had two phone calls with clients related to capital investments, one in timberland and another in forest products manufacturing. In both cases, they had clear, specific theses that aligned with our knowledge of the local markets and physical facts on the ground.

Long stories and justifications, like a long chain, erode confidence and magnify risks. In forestry, few investors flock to timberlands to secure outsized absolute returns. Rather, mature forestry and timberland investments support portfolio diversification and preserve wealth and generate consistent cash flow.

Understand Value Drivers

While all firms have financial statements, the importance of individual line items varies. Sensitivity analysis helps clarify the two or three things that drive investment performance, and the inability to point these out indicates lack of preparation, knowledge or transparency. To me, one of the most impressive and energizing aspects of spending time with people who really understand their fields or businesses is their ability to clarify what matters in their operation.

For example, returns on investment in forestry are highly sensitive to discount rates, realized sawtimber volumes, and sawtimber prices (versus management costs or pulpwood prices). And for timberland investments, the “cost of the dirt,” the dollars allocated to the land influence returns for shorter holding periods. This type of analysis highlights the dependence of timberland returns on the local markets for wood, assumptions related to future prices, and the ability to implement site-appropriate forest management plans.

Manage Costs

While a short list drives value creation, we erode the compounding benefits of these returns if we fail to manage costs. For timberland, returns depend largely on three things. One, what you pay for the forestland. Two, how long you stay invested. And three, how much you pay in fees to manage the forest. The need to understand fees motivates our research into forest management and silviculture costs in the South and Pacific Northwest for timberland owners.

As with any asset, the actual investing in and managing of timberland requires discipline, patience and a sharp pencil. A framework or checklist can offer a working set of priorities for minimizing errors, mitigating risks and maximizing potential returns. In the end, while priorities can change over time, know what matters today.

This content may not be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in part or in whole, without written permission of LANDTHINK. Use of this content without permission is a violation of federal copyright law. The articles, posts, comments, opinions and information provided by LANDTHINK are for informational and research purposes only and DOES NOT substitute or coincide with the advice of an attorney, accountant, real estate broker or any other licensed real estate professional. LANDTHINK strongly advises visitors and readers to seek their own professional guidance and advice related to buying, investing in or selling real estate.

About the author

Brooks Mendell, Ph.D.

Brooks Mendell, Ph.D. is President and Founder of Forisk Consulting, a forest industry, timber REIT, bioenergy and timber market research firm. Dr. Mendell has over fifteen years of operating, research, and consulting experience in forest business and finance. Mendell has published over sixty articles and two books on topics related to timber and timberland REITs and markets, forest business management and operations, and communication skills.

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