How to Invest in Land (Without Living on It)

How to Invest in Land (Without Living on It)

Published On: August 1, 20076.9 min read
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Investing in America
Stephen O’Keefe, CFA

Whether you own a quarter-acre urban lot or a 40,000-acre ranch, your love of the land comes from the moment you pick up a handful of ground and watch the dirt fall through your fingers, knowing that it’s yours–all yours. But while there’s that intangible, visceral satisfaction of ownership, let’s not ignore the other benefit–profit. From energy stocks to timber REITs and ski resorts to cattle ranches, a diverse group of equities is tied to the enormous natural resources of land.

Not all of us are ready yet to retire from urban life and spend all our time at our ranches, our beach homes, our hunting lodges, and our lake houses, but there’s no reason for our fields to lie fallow, so to speak. One way or another, there’s money to be made.
By buying stock in a wide range of businesses, you can participate in and profit from the land game without ever stepping foot on a piece of property. There’s the obvious, of course: timber, mining, petroleum, agriculture. But that just scratches the surface. Peek inside for an introduction to the myriad ways you can increase your land portfolio without once getting your hands dirty. As investments go, raw land can be rock solid.
But how can you profit from the increasing demand for ethanol if you don’t already own in the Corn Belt? What’s the best way to catch some upside when millions of acres of timberland are sold off? Simple. Diversify your portfolio. From the nation’s largest private landowner to Colorado’s biggest ski mountain and California’s biggest ranch, these publicly traded securities are all about land.
Tejon Ranch Company
LEBEC, CA. With more than 270,000 acres, TRC owns the largest expanse of private land in California. The ranch is located approximately 60 miles north of Los Angeles. TRC generates about half of its revenue from real estate operations and the other half from farming. Revenues have grown 10 percent per year since 2003.
Potlatch Corporation (REIT)
SPPOKANE, WA. PCH owns and manages 1.5 million acres of timberland in Arkansas, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon. This stock converted to a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) structure in 2006 and may be best suited to income-oriented investors. PCH reviews its land holdings to see which parcels have high non-tim-berland values and are candidates for sale using the Section 1031 exchange program to minimize capital gains taxes.
Plum Creek Timber
SEATTLE, WA. Plum Creek has more than 8 million acres in major timber-producing regions of the United States, making it the largest and most geographically diverse private landowner in the nation. Management has acquired hundreds of thousands of acres in the last 15 years and is identifying where sales or development can be made. PCL has an attractive 4 percent yield.
TACOMA, WA. An international forest products giant with sales of $21.9 billion in 2006, WY is under pressure to unlock shareholder value by restructuring its timber-lands into a REIT for more favorable tax treatment.
Vail Resorts
BROOMFIELD, CO. Skier visits were up this year, and so were lift ticket prices. MTN operates numerous ski resorts, including Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek-and has a majority interest in RockResorts. A growing segment for MTN is real estate operations, which contributed less than 10 percent of 2006 earnings but look like a good source of future earnings growth.
Stillwater Mining Co.
BILLINGS, MT. The recent spike in platinum prices has been a boon to this Montana mining company, which refines and markets palladium, platinum, and associated metals. Both of the company’s mines (Stillwater Mine, near Nye, Montana, and the East Boulder Mine near Big Timber, Montana) are located on the geological formation known as the J-M Reef. Norilsk Nickel owns about 55 percent of shares.
Chesapeake Energy Corporation
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK. As natural gas goes, so does CHK. The prospects for a rebound in prices have propelled shares of the country’s third largest independent producer. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the company focuses on exploratory and developmental drilling as well as acquisitions in the Mid-Continent, Permian Basin, South Texas, Texas Gulf Coast, Barnett Shale, Ark-La-Tex, and Appalachian Basin.
Clayton Williams Energy
MIDLAND, TX. Want to throw in with one of the country’s most successful wildcatters? Clayton Williams Jr. is not your typical oil man. He owns an interest in more than 6,000 oil and gas wells, primarily in Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. He’s also made a name for himself as a cattleman and ranks No. 59 on this year’s Land Report 100.
Temple-Inland Inc.
AUSTIN, TX. The company owns or leases 1.8 million acres of timberland in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama. Pressure from financier Carllcahn is triggering a restructuring plan with TIN retaining its lumber mills and manufacturing and spinning off its Forestar Real Estate Group and its Guaranty Federal division, which has substantial presence in the highly desirable Texas and California markets.
Gander Mountain
SAINT PAUL, MN. Like gear? Gander Mountain likes you. The company’s 105 outdoor lifestyle stores in 22 states specialize in hunting, fishing, camping, marine, and outdoor lifestyle products and services. It is poised to open 9 more stores this fall.
Archer Daniels Midland Company
DECATUR, IL. Eager to cash in on ethanol? Then take a look at this Illinois giant, which was founded in 1902. ADM processes foodstuffs: soybeans, wheat, cocoa, and that new yellow gold-corn. It has good exposure to the growing use of ethanol as a fuel (biodiesel too), but with more than 5 billion gallons of capacity in North America, the additional 4.5 billion gallons of planned construction may put a lid on ethanol’s rising price.
Deere & Company
MOLINE, IL. Here’s another way to ride the ethanol boom. DE has grown from a one-man blacksmith shop in 1837 into a global corporation that now employs approximately 47,000 people. Soaring ethanol prices have spiked demand for equipment from this industry leader.
Peabody Energy Corporation
ST. LOUIS, MO. Peabody owns a majority interest in mines located throughout most major U.S. coal-producing regions. Transportation bottlenecks have dampened earnings, but rail carriers are increasing capacity, particularly in the western U.S. PS. Thanks to their Australian mines, BTU also has good exposure to the burgeoning China and Pacific Rim markets. Earnings prospects are good.
Deltic Timber Corp.
EL DORADO, AR. DEL sells its lumber products to truss manufacturers and wholesalers and is a good way to participate in the eventual rebound in homebuilding. The company owns almost 440,000 acres of timberland, primarily in Arkansas and Louisiana, and it also develops real estate in Arkansas.
International Coal Group
SCOTT DEPOT, WV. ICO has more than 1 billion tons of coal (metallurgical quality and steam) in its reserves and has idled about 1.7 million tons of high-cost production, shifting production focus to lower-cost mines. If oil prices stay high, then coal and ICO should remain attractive.
The St. Joe Company
JACKSONVILLE, FL. Ever heard of the term snowbird? JOE has. Florida’s largest owner of private land (approximately 800,000 acres) is also one of the state’s largest real estate development companies. Northwest Florida remains an attractive location for retirees, and JOE’s 3-5 year prospects are equally attractive.
Rayonier (REIT)
JACKSONVILLE, FL. Rayonier is a forest products company that converted to a REIT in 2004. It owns or manages 2.7 million acres of timberland in the United States and New Zealand. Its specialty fibers group products are used in pharmaceuticals, LCD screens, and industrial processes. And thanks to long-term contracts for 80 percent of production, RYN is poised to weather a weak housing market.
Aqua America Inc.
BRYN MAWR, PA. WTR is the holding company for regulated utilities that provide water and wastewater services to customers in 13 states. The company received rate increases in 2006 and is expected to receive more in 2007, adding to revenues and earnings.
Rock of Ages Corporation
GRANITEVILLE, VT. A vertically integrated granite quarrier, manufacturer, and retailer, ROAC has built its business on granite memorials. The company owns and operates 10 active quarry properties and 5 manufacturing and sawing facilities, predominantly in Vermont and Quebec. It also has 81 company-owned stores in 14 states.

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