Global timber investments and trends, 2005-2011.
Background: Prior research in 2005 and 2008 estimated planted forest investment returns for a set of countries and included some natural forest species in a few countries. This research has extended those analyses to a larger set of countries and focused on plantation species, for seven years. This research serves as a "benchmarking" exercise that helps identify comparative advantages among countries for timber investment returns, as well as other institutional, forestry, and policy factors that affect investments. Furthermore, it extends the analyses to examine the effects of land prices, environmental regulations, and increased productivity on timber investment returns, as well as comparing timber returns with traditional stock market returns. Methods: We estimated financial returns in 2005, 2008, and 2011 for a range of global timber plantation species and countries, using net present value (NPV), internal rate of return (IRR), and Land Expectation Value (LEV) - or the Faustmann Formula - as criteria. Per the Faustmann approach, we excluded land costs initially, using a common real discount rate of 8% for all species in all countries to make equivalent comparisons. Results: Returns for exotic plantations in almost all of South America - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, and Paraguay - were substantial, as well as in China. In 2011, returns for Eucalyptus species were generally greater than those for Pinus species in each country, with most having IRRs of 14% per year or more. The IRRs for Pinus species in South America were slightly less, ranging from 8% to 12%, except for Brazil, where they were 19% to 23%. Internal rates of return ranged from 5% to 12% for plantations of coniferous or deciduous species in China, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and the United States. Although lower than returns from South America, these would still be attractive to forest investors. Land costs and environmental regulations reduced plantation investment returns for all the countries studied, but the largest reductions were observed in South America. However, net returns these remained greater than for plantations in temperate forests. Conclusions: Trend analyses indicated that Brazil had the greatest increase in timber investment returns during the period examined; returns in other southern hemisphere countries remained fairly stable; and the US South had substantial decreases in returns. New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Chile, and Mexico had the best rankings regarding risk from political, commercial, or government actions and for the ease of doing business. Conversely, Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina had high risk ratings, and Brazil and Venezuela were ranked as more difficult countries for ease of business. Recent government actions in several countries in South America, except Colombia, have discouraged foreign investments in agricultural land, which has adversely affected forestry as well. Timber-land investments fared well in comparison to USA equity or debt annual returns from 2000 to 2011. Past timber-land investors appear to making excellent returns now based on cheap land costs decades ago; new investments in most countries and plantation species will have smaller rates of return, but still compare favourably with traditional asset classes.