West Fraser buying Norbord in $4B all-stock deal
Canadian billionaire businessman Jimmy Pattison says he supports West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd.’s friendly all-stock deal to buy rival Norbord Inc. for $4 billion.
“I think it’s a very good move,” Pattison, chairman and chief executive officer of Jim Pattison Group, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “It’s an exciting development. We definitely support the deal.”
Pattison currently holds more than 13 per cent of West Fraser’s shares — the single largest individual ownership stake in the company.
“West Fraser has very good leadership. Management knows what they’re doing,” he said, adding that he first learned of the transaction when it was announced.
The deal comes at a 13.6-per-cent premium to the $43.46 closing price of Norbord’s common shares on Wednesday.
“The opportunity to acquire a world-class leader in production of low-cost, high-margin [oriented strand board] is a perfect complement to our product portfolio,” West Fraser President and Chief Executive Officer Raymond Ferris said in a television interview on Thursday.
“It really lays the groundwork for us to be just a complete supplier to our customers,” Ferris added.
Once the transaction closes, West Fraser shareholders will own about 56 per cent of the combined company, while current Norbord shareholders will own approximately 44 per cent.
The agreement also has the backing of Brookfield Asset Management Inc., which holds 43 per cent of Norbord’s shares.
“The Brookfield people are first class,” Pattison said. “To me, this makes a lot of sense.”
The billionaire has long been an investor in Canada’s forestry sector and also holds a 51-per-cent stake in Canfor Corporation. A bid to acquire the rest of that business was abandoned last year, after too few investors agreed to his bid for their shares.
“We have been very happy with our investment in Canfor,” he said. “We’re very much committed to that.”
Pattison increased his stake in West Fraser earlier this year, prompting speculation he might push for a deal to combine the company with Canfor.
Thursday’s announcement sparked a rally in lumber stocks and fueled speculation more deals could be coming.
Pattison had little to say on the subject of consolidation.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “It depends on the balance sheet of each company. Every situation is a bit different.”
The West Fraser-Norbord deal comes amid a homebuilding boom in North America. Record low interest rates and the renovation projects of housebound workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted demand for lumber.
“We see it in our own businesses, with people saying at home,” Pattison said. “People are fixing up their roofs and fences and the lumber stores are busy.”
The Jim Pattison Group, which last year generated more than $10 billion in annual sales, includes a wide range of businesses, including car dealerships and grocery stores. He says both areas have benefitted from an uptick in consumer spending since the onset of COVID-19.
“People are not eating out like they were before the pandemic, and people are buying new and used cars because they don’t want to carpool or take the bus.”
While some of his businesses are exceeding expectations this year, Pattison’s live entertainment operations are struggling.
“Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls has been shut down for months and we have no idea when that will change,” he said. “We’ve also got the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. Those kinds of entertainment assets have seen a significant fall-off.”
Pattison, who recently turned 92, is taking those business restrictions in stride.
“Every province has handled it differently,” Pattison said. “And we totally support each government’s efforts to contain the virus.”
Like everyone else, the notorious road warrior is keeping tabs on his many businesses from afar.
“We are not flying around the country like we normally do,” he said. “We’re staying put in Vancouver, but we’re going to work every day. We spend our time in the boardroom and we’re on Zoom meetings.”