Bearden's Anthony Timberlands Ramps Up Shifts as Housing Improves

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, May. 20, 2013 12:00 am  

Interior of Anthony Timberlands 1.75 million board foot hardwood predryer at Beirne. The predryer accelerates the drying process of high -grade hardwoods and provides a consistent environment. 

Leading a 106-year-old family company carries heavy responsibilities that have only begun to lift six years after the start of the Great Recession.

Steve Anthony, president of Anthony Timberlands Co. since 2004, says business is better (the glass is half full), but the housing market is still nowhere near what he considers “sustainable” levels for his wood products company (the glass is half empty).

Open and intense, Anthony talked like a man who sees the economy improving but has been burned so badly he’s not quite ready to believe it.

“We tend to be a leading economic indicator, and if that’s the case, maybe we can look for good news going forward. I’m not sure. A lot of things that we used to be able to hang our hats on are not true anymore,” Anthony said during a visit to ATI’s flagship lumber mill in Bearden, the company’s base.

He held to his careful predictions despite revenue growth of 12.7 percent in 2012 compared with 2011 and steady improvements in the housing and construction markets, upon which his business depends.

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In April, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that housing starts for March had risen to an annual rate of 1.04 million units, the best showing since June 2008.

But Anthony seeks to keep the indicators in perspective. “For many years, 1.2 million, 1.4 million was sustainable,” he said. “That’s what we always saw. When it peaked at 2 million, of course the industry geared up to that level. When it crashed, it crashed down to 400,000 or 500,000.”

On Thursday, seeming to justify Anthony’s cautious course, the Commerce Department reported that construction of new homes fell in April to an annual rate of 853,000 units, though building permits rose to their highest level since June 2008. And single-family home construction dropped to an annual rate of 610,000 units.

“So we’re still far below the previously sustainable level that was needed to replace the units that were going out. We’re 50 percent higher than we were but we’re still half of what we used to be,” he said. “So it’s hard … to really project much of what’s going to happen. If you went back to 1.2 million, I don’t know who would be manufacturing the lumber. There’s been so many mills go out of business. You’d have to build new mills.”

Anthony Timberlands, however, has stuck it out. And because it has, the 49th largest private company in Arkansas has pulled its annual revenue up from $141 million in 2010, the low point during the late unpleasantness, to $162.5 million in 2012. That’s still far below its $185.5 million showing in 2008, before the worst of the housing crash had reached companies like Anthony.

The wood products and timber management company retrenched, of course, cutting shifts at its mills, instituting wage and salary freezes, pulling back on advertising, “anything that we could cut,” Anthony said.



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