Case: Dividend Policy
GEORGIA ATLANTIC COMPANY
During the depression of the 1930s, Ben Jenkins, Sr., a wealthy, expansion-oriented lumberman whose family had been in the lumber business in the southeastern United States for several generations, began to acquire small, depressed sawmills and wholesale lumber companies. These businesses prospered during World War II. After the war, Jenkins anticipated that the demand for lumber would surge, so he aggressively sought new timberlands to supply his sawmills. In 1954, all of Jenkins’s companies were consolidated, along with some other independent lumber and milling companies, into a single corporation, the Georgia Atlantic Company.
By the end of 1992, Georgia Atlantic was a major force in the lumber industry, though not one of the giants. Still, it possessed more timber and timberlands in relation to its use of timber than any other lumber company. Worldwide demand for lumber was strong in spite of a soft world economy, and its timber supply should have put Georgia Atlantic in a good position. With its assured supply of pulpwood, the company could run its mills at a steady rate and, thus, at a low per-unit production cost. However, the company does not have sufficient manufacturing capacity to fully utilize its timber supplies; so it has been forced to sell raw timber to other lumber companies to generate cash flow, losing potential profits in the process.
Georgia Atlantic has enjoyed rapid growth in both sales and assets. This rapid growth has, however, caused some financial problems as indicated in Table 1. The condensed balance sheets shown in the table reveal that Georgia Atlantic’s financial leverage has increased substantially in the last 10 years, while the firm’s liquidity position markedly deteriorated over the same period. Remember, though, that the balance sheet figures reflect historical costs, and that the market values of the assets could be much higher than the values shown on the balance sheet. For example, Georgia Atlantic purchased 10,000 acres of cut timberland in southern Georgia in 1961 for $10 per acre, then planted trees which are now mature. The value of this acreage and its timber is estimated at $2,750 per acre, even though it is shown on the firm’s balance sheet at $230 per acre, the original $10 plus capitalized planting costs. Note also that this particular asset and others like it have produced zero accounting income; indeed, expenses associated with this acreage have produced accounting losses. TABLE 1
Georgia Atlantic Company
Condensed Balance Sheets for the Years Ended December 31
(In Millions of Dollars)
$ 18.0 $55.9 Notes payable 6.7 98.3 Other current liabilities 18.6
23.6 Total current liabilities $ 43.3 $ 177.8
Total liabilities and net worth
When Georgia Atlantic was originally organized, most of the outstanding stock was owned by the senior Jenkins and members of his family. Over time, however, the family’s ownership position has gradually declined due to the sale of new common stock to fund expansion. In 1987, Ben Jenkins, Sr. died; the presidency of the firm was passed to his son, Ben Jenkins, Jr., who was 61 at the time. By the end of 1992, the Jenkins...
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