Higher prices and stronger wood product, paper packaging and market pulp demand offsetting rising input costs and lower paper demand will keep the outlook for the global paper and forest products industry stable, says Moody’s Investors Service in a newly published global outlook for the sector. Consistent with the stable outlook, the rating agency expects consolidated operating income increases of 2-4% for its 46 globally-rated forest product companies over the next 12-18 months.
Moody’s expects that the consolidated operating income of the 29 North American companies it rates will remain essentially flat, with 2-4% growth over the outlook period. Such growth is consistent with analysts’ expectations of modest operating income growth from North American paper packaging, wood products and timberland producers being partially offset by lower operating earnings from pulp and paper companies. Significantly, these same companies account for about 60% of the global rated industry’s operating income.
By Anna Ringstrom
Nordic forestry firms racing to replace paper business lost to the internet are trying to transform their pulp mill by-products into glue, biofuel and carbon fiber for aircraft and wind turbines.
A new generation of energy-efficient pulp mills are allowing the likes of Stora Enso, UPM-Kymmene, Metsa Group, SCA and Holmen to look for more profitable uses for by-products they have traditionally mostly burned to help power the mills.
Growing global demand for fossil-free materials is also helping to spur the innovation.
Much of the research is at an early stage, and many companies have not even decided which markets to target.
But after years of painful restructuring, some investors are starting to hope the industry could get a new lease of life.
“If they can develop new materials to replace fossil based materials, the market is endless for them,” said Sasja Beslik, head of sustainable finance at Nordea, one of the Nordic region’s biggest asset managers and Stora Enso’s seventh largest shareholder.
One early success story has been Stora Enso’s work with kraft lignin – a refined version of lignin, a substance which accounts for at least a quarter of wood and binds tree fibers together.
The Finnish company opened a kraft lignin plant in 2015, the first of its kind in the region, using a new technology developed in Sweden and marketed by Finland’s Valmet, and decided to focus on using the material as a replacement for petroleum-derived phenols in glue.