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Plum Creek posts improved results

BY Ken Clark

With lumber, plywood and OSB suppliers anticipating continued demand growth in 2013, Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co. said that now is a pretty good time to be in the timber business. 

Plum Creek ended 2012 on a high note with fourth-quarter earnings of $79 million, up 29.5% from the same quarter last year. 

Sales for the fourth quarter were $354 million, up 12.4% from the fourth quarter of 2011. 

"We exceeded our initial expectations for the fourth quarter, benefitting from continued strong demand for well-managed timberlands," said Rick Holley, president and CEO. "In 2012 we grew adjusted EBITDA to $530 million, or an increase of 19%, exceeding our goal for the year." 

The full year also showed gains. Earnings were $203 million, compared with $193 million in the prior year. Revenues of $1.34 billion were up from $1.17 billion. 

"During the year, we continued to position ourselves to benefit from the emerging recovery in residential construction," said Holley. "We’ve worked closely with logging contractors over the past several years to ensure we are in preferred positions to serve the growing demand from our traditional customers, as well as emerging bioenergy customers." 

The company expects demand to increase in 2013, along with pricing.

"We’re excited about the prospects for continued recovery and growth in 2013 and expect that the opportunities beyond are even more compelling," Holley said. "Over the past year, housing has moved from being a drag on the economy to being a bright spot. We are seeing improving demand for lumber and wood panels that is expected to translate into higher demand and pricing for logs in 2013.”

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NRF: Retail sales to grow 3.4% in 2013

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) will increase 3.4%, down slightly from 4.2% in 2012 and 5.8% in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2013 economic forecast.

The lukewarm forecast, released Monday, comes on the heels of a holiday season that went head-to-head with Washington’s political wrangling over fiscal concerns, shifting consumers’ spending plans downward. In the end, holiday sales in 2012 grew 3.0%.

In its Monday press briefing, NRF attributed the lukewarm forecast to political wrangling in Washington over fiscal concerns, and NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said that while it’s too early to precisely predict how recent tax hikes will impact spending, “We can safely predict that consumers will be shopping for price more often [in 2013] and there will be more ‘trading down’ occurring.” 

Shop.org, NRF’s digital division, expects online sales in 2013 to grow between 9.0% and 12.0%. Online sales in 2012 during the months of November and December last year grew 11.1%. 

“What we witnessed during the holiday season is an indication of what we are likely to see in 2013,” said Shay. “Pushing fiscal policy decisions down the road will lead to even greater uncertainty, and will continue to impact consumers’ desire and ability to spend on discretionary items. The administration and congress need to pursue and enact policies that lead to growth and economic expansion, or it could be another challenging year for retailers and consumers alike.”

A number of factors contributed to NRF’s 2013 economic forecast, including:

Employment: The labor market continues its modest recovery but 2013 is not expected to result in meaningful acceleration in growth. As of December 2012, the unemployment rate has held steady for the last two months at 7.9%. Retailers on average employed 150,000 more workers in 2012, and the industry remains one of the biggest employers in the world.

Income growth: Consumers are constrained by modest growth in income, and recent legislation passed in January increased payroll taxes for millions of workers, further limiting Americans’ spending decisions.

Housing: NRF expects the housing sector to continue to improve and the fundamentals for growth to see continued gains in 2013.

Inflation: Price pressures continue to be contained. NRF expects the Consumer Price Index to increase 1.9% in 2013, below the 2.1% increase in 2012.

Consumer confidence: Current consumer attitudes are likely weighed down because of the handling of the fiscal cliff and the increase in payroll taxes. NRF said it expects confidence to improve as the pace of the recovery accelerates in the second half of 2013. 

“While it’s too early to know the full effect of higher payroll taxes, there’s no question that many consumers will feel some kind of impact from the change in their paychecks,” said NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz. “But consumers have been a key driver of the economy and I expect their spending to grow modestly in 2013.”

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N.Y. store accused of CFL coupon fraud

BY Ken Clark

The owner of a Farmingdale hardware store has been charged with stealing more than $40,000 from the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) by submitting hundreds of rebates for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that didn’t exist and over-reporting advertising costs.

Thomas Schuman, 44, of St. James, was arrested las week by District Attorney Investigators and charged with two counts of grand larceny in the third degree and seven counts offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. 

According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, from 2009 to 2011, Schuman, the owner of Four Star True Value Variety Store on Main Street in Farmingdale, participated in LIPA’s Compact Fluorescent Light coupon rebate program. The program allows stores to offer discounts on CFLs ranging from 50 cents to $3 per bulb. Buyers would fill out a rebate coupon for the stores to submit to LIPA, and LIPA would then reimburse the store. 

In December 2011, LIPA conducted an audit and discovered that Four Star had submitted 923 fraudulent rebate coupons and was reimbursed $22,240. An investigation by the DA’s Office revealed that Schuman instructed his employees to fill out the vouchers by instructing cashiers to use the phone book to find people who lived in the area and fill out a voucher in his or her name, even though they didn’t purchase a CFL and may never have been a customer of his store. Schuman gave the cashiers a daily quota of vouchers to fill out. 

In the first quarter of 2011, the investigation revealed that Four Star was submitting approximately five coupons on behalf of each purported customer, and that it submitted 66% more rebate coupons than all Long Island Lowe’s stores combined. 

The DA also accused Schuman of stealing an additional $19,200 from the utility as a participant in a LIPA-sponsored advertising program that reimbursed merchants that advertised the sale of CFLs. Schuman would advertise in the Long Island Pennysaver or Clipper magazine and then submit invoices that inflated advertising costs in order to be eligible for a higher rebate, according to the charges.

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