Gripe long enough, and you just might see a company respond. Many professional investors had called upon International Paper
Assuming things go as planned, International Paper will shed all but its uncoated-paper and consumer-packaging businesses. These units accounted for about 70% of 2004 sales and 60% of profits. The company plans to sell or spin off businesses such as beverage packaging, chemicals, kraft paper, wood products, and coated papers. International Paper is also considering selling forest lands that aren't directly germane to its surviving businesses.
International Paper estimates that the plan could produce between $8 billion and $10 billion in proceeds once complete. While as much as half of the money might go toward reducing debt, up to 30% might be given back to shareholders. The company would not specify whether this return of capital would come as a dividend, a special dividend, a share buyback, or a tender offer.
International Paper will also seek to enhance the profitability of its remaining businesses. It plans to reduce headcount, focus on more profitable product mixes, and conduct further mill realignments, including some conversions and closures. The company estimates that these additional adjustments could save up to $400 million annually.
International Paper certainly isn't the first major paper maker to realign its operations. Georgia Pacific
Prospective buyers for International Paper's divested divisions are anyone's guess at present. Selling the forest lands should be easy; private investors continue to pile into forestland investments. The individual paper businesses might find foreign buyers from Europe, Latin America, and Asia, along with private equity groups or other U.S. paper companies.
With the stock up nearly 10% yesterday, investors have already voiced their enthusiasm for the idea. I'm sure the reorganized International Paper will be leaner and more focused, but I don't have a burning desire to buy shares and take a front-row seat today. Paper is a brutally tough business, and it seems that today's stock action already assumes a largely successful transformation.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).