China Evergrande Says Construction Has | Stock Market News Today


Troubled property developer

China Evergrande Group


EGRNF -10.55%

said construction work has resumed at more than 90% of its stalled residential projects, adding that it has picked up the pace of delivering apartments promised to home buyers across the country.

Evergrande,


EGRNF -10.55%

in a statement Sunday night, said more than 80% of its suppliers of materials and decorative services have “resumed cooperation,” and that it has signed thousands of new contracts with various suppliers. At the end of August, the developer disclosed that construction had been suspended at some projects after it fell behind on payments. And by October, hundreds of Evergrande’s unfinished developments were affected by work stoppages.

With just a few days to go before the end of 2021, Evergrande said it intends to deliver 39,000 homes in 115 projects to buyers across China in December. It compared that to its completion of fewer than 10,000 units in each of the preceding three months.

The world’s most indebted real-estate firm Evergrande has embarked on a social media campaign to show construction has resumed and says it’s doing whatever it takes to deliver homes. WSJ compares these posts with ones from upset buyers. Photo Composite: Emily Siu

In a post on social media Monday, Evergrande said apartment projects have been handed over in batches in 18 provinces and it released photos of completed buildings adorned with bright red decorations and people signing papers to take ownership of their homes.

Despite this, Evergrande still has many more commitments to fulfill and its debt crisis remains unresolved. The 25-year-old developer used to be one of the country’s largest by contracted sales and is on the hook to deliver units to more than one million people. Many buyers made large down payments on unfinished flats, expecting to take ownership of them in a few years.

Hui Ka Yan,

Evergrande’s founder and chairman, said that “under the care and guidance of governments at all levels,” as well as support from partners, financial institutions and other constituents, the developer has made progress in its commitments to homeowners.

He added that Evergrande would do whatever it takes to resume work and deliver homes and predicted that the firm will eventually be able to “resume sales, resume operations, and pay off debts.”

Hui Ka Yan, China Evergrande’s chairman, in Hong Kong in 2019.



Photo:

Paul Yeung/Bloomberg News

The company’s statement followed comments over the weekend from two Chinese regulators which said they would safeguard the rights of homeowners and keep the property sector stable. Beijing has been trying to prevent Evergrande’s debt crisis from hurting the many small businesses and ordinary citizens that the developer owes money and apartments to.

Wang Menghui,

head of China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said in an interview with the state-run Xinhua News Agency that the regulator will address the risks of some leading developers that fail to deliver projects on time, with the goal of “guaranteeing home deliveries, protecting people’s livelihoods and maintaining social stability.”

The People’s Bank of China separately said—as part of a wide-ranging statement on the economy—that it would protect the rights and interests of homeowners and promote the healthy development of the country’s real-estate market.

Evergrande, the world’s most indebted developer, has been struggling under the weight of roughly $300 billion in liabilities, including around $20 billion in international bonds. The developer has missed payment deadlines on some of its dollar bonds, setting the stage for a massive and complex restructuring. Major credit raters have declared it to be in default.

Earlier this month, the conglomerate sought help from the government of its home province, Guangdong. It has since set up a risk-management committee that includes representatives from several state-backed entities.

Evergrande recently said the committee is working to help contain its risks and will engage with its creditors. Some international bondholders, however, have said there has been little communication from the company so far, the Journal reported last week.

The company’s Hong Kong-listed shares have plunged in value this year to historic lows and its dollar bonds are trading at deeply distressed levels. Markets in Hong Kong were closed Monday for a public holiday.

Write to Anniek Bao at [email protected]

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The Bonds That Cried Major Default Risk | Sidnaz Blog


The villagers in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” bored of their shepherd boy’s constant false alarms, refuse to come to his aid when a wolf finally does appear. There may be a lesson in the fable for investors in Chinese property giant Evergrande and the country’s real-estate market more broadly.

Heavily leveraged Evergrande is in the midst of yet another financial squeeze. The company announced Sunday and Monday that it has recently sold almost $1 billion of holdings in two companies—internet services firm HengTen Networks and smaller real-estate developer China Calxon. Fitch Ratings cut Evergrande’s credit rating Tuesday from B+ to B, noting the company’s seemingly limited access to capital markets and growing dependence on less stable shadow-banking loans.

The current wobble has been unfolding for three weeks: It began when regulators started examining the relationship between Evergrande and Shengjing Bank, a regional lender in which the property developer has built a large stake.

Evergrande’s March 2022 bond currently yields a little over 20%, up from as low as 8.6% in late May. And the company’s share price is down almost 30% year-to-date, making it one of the few companies anywhere trading at the depressed levels of March 2020.

An Evergrande building in Huai’an, Jiangsu province.



Photo:

SIPA Asia via ZUMA Press

Close watchers of Evergrande can rightly say that it is not the company’s first financial tremor. Nor is it its second or third. Spikes in the company’s bond yields are relatively common. Optimists note that after a $1.5 billion bond maturing on June 28, it has no offshore bonds due for the rest of the year.

But there are many risks for Evergrande outside of what is technically recognized as debt. This month the company said it would repay a small amount of overdue commercial acceptance bills, a form of short-term IOUs on which the firm is heavily reliant. The company’s accounts payable, the balance sheet category that covers those liabilities, ran to about $95 billion at the end of 2020. That has more than tripled in five years.

The company’s 2020 results also make clear that the amount it owes to home buyers who’ve paid large deposits for unbuilt apartments rose rapidly in 2020. Fitch notes that while contracted sales have been rising, average selling prices have fallen, dropping 13% in 2020 and 7% in 2021 so far. That boosts cash inflows in the short term, but means even greater obligations and less money to pay for them in the long term.

And unlike the company’s September 2020 squeeze, when bond yields surged over concerns regarding its relationship with a handful of strategic investors, debts owed to thousands of small businesses and households can’t be so easily extended.

The bond market has told many tall tales of imminent defaults for Evergrande, and none have materialized. Perhaps these latest rumblings will come to nothing—but that doesn’t mean the wolf won’t eventually get his dinner.

Write to Mike Bird at [email protected]

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Whatever Their CEOs Say, Banks Are Wary About the Office | Sidnaz Blog


Some bank chiefs, like JPMorgan’s

Jamie Dimon,

talk as if the office will soon look more or less as it did before. Their real estate lending teams seem less sure.

Banks on both sides of the Atlantic are becoming more selective about which offices they will lend against. Pockets of the market have been resilient during the pandemic: The rate banks charge for mortgages on the best central London offices was 1.65% in the first quarter of 2021, more or less where it was before the crisis, data from real-estate company CBRE shows. But U.K. lending margins for older, less central offices are close to historic highs, based on the Cass Business School’s commercial real estate lending report.

In the U.S., the value of new office loans issued by banks in the first quarter of this year was just 35% of levels in the same period of 2019, according to Trepp data—a sharper pullback than for unloved retail assets such as malls. The spread between office mortgage rates and 10-year Treasurys also has widened from precrisis levels.

The value of new office loans issued by banks in the first quarter was just 35% of levels in the same period of 2019.



Photo:

Amir Hamja/Bloomberg News

The rise in debt costs is notable because default rates on existing office loans are currently below 1%. Corporate tenants locked into leases are continuing to pay the rent, so landlords have met their mortgage payments. But that could change once existing contracts roll off and white-collar employees spend more time at home. Companies ranging from tech giant

Facebook

to global bank

HSBC

plan to let some staff work remotely on a permanent basis.

Oversupply is already an issue in San Francisco, leading to big falls in rent and high vacancy rates. Lenders are also watching New York closely. In the mid-Atlantic region, which includes the troubled Manhattan market, almost one-third of banks’ outstanding office loans now fall into the riskier “criticized” category, up from 6% before the pandemic, survey data gathered by Trepp shows.

The pandemic also has accelerated the pre-Covid trend toward more energy-efficient offices with strong communal areas, good ventilation and natural light. Expensive improvements are needed both to entice workers back and to meet growing expectations for businesses to disclose and reduce their carbon footprints. Unfortunately for landlords, green credentials seem set to become a requirement to let rather than the basis for charging tenants a premium.

All of these factors make it tough to predict where office valuations are headed and therefore to underwrite loans. In central London, the best offices are still changing hands at high valuations that give rental yields of just 4%, buoyed by rock-bottom interest rates and strong demand from overseas buyers. Shareholders are more bearish. The discount to book value at which U.K. and U.S. office real-estate investment trusts now trade imply 15% and 10% falls in the value of the properties they own, respectively, according to real-estate research firm Green Street.

For now, mortgage writers too are erring on the side of caution. Seen through the lens of their lending activity, banks’ efforts to big up the office to staff appear halfhearted.

Plexiglass dividers and floor decals might not be permanent, but the pandemic will bring lasting change to offices. Experts from the architecture and real-estate industries share how they are getting back to work and what offices will look like in the future. Photo: Cesare Salerno for The Wall Street Journal

Write to Carol Ryan at [email protected] and Rochelle Toplensky at [email protected]

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J.P. Morgan Asset Management Acquires Timberland Investment Firm | Sidnaz Blog


One of the biggest names on Wall Street is getting into the timber business, and a big part of its plan to make money involves less logging.

J.P. Morgan Asset Management said Monday that it has acquired Campbell Global LLC, a Portland, Ore., firm that manages $5.3 billion worth of timberland on behalf of institutional investors, such as pensions and insurance companies.

The deal gives the $2.5 trillion asset manager a position in the booming market for forest-carbon offsets, tradable assets that are created by paying landowners to not cut down trees and leave them standing to sponge carbon from the atmosphere. Offsets are used by companies to scrub emissions from their internal carbon ledgers, which track progress toward pollution-reduction goals.

Terms of the deal with Campbell’s seller,

BrightSphere Investment Group Inc.,

weren’t disclosed.

Many of the world’s largest companies, including

Apple Inc.,

Microsoft Corp.

and

Royal Dutch Shell

PLC, have promised investors they will reduce their carbon footprints. Many emissions are unavoidable for global businesses, which has made standing timber a hot commodity.

J.P. Morgan


JPM 1.51%

is betting that carbon markets will add value to timberlands beyond the income they generate as a source for building products, said

Anton Pil,

the firm’s head of alternatives.

“We wanted to play an active role in carbon-offset markets as they’re developed,” Mr. Pil said. “We want to be viewed as a global leader in the carbon-sequestration market.”

Other big names are angling for similar status.

BP

PLC last year bought a controlling stake in Finite Carbon, the country’s largest forest-offset producer.

Salesforce.com Inc.

Chief Executive

Marc Benioff,

Microsoft and others recently invested in NCX, a firm that matches offset buyers with timberland owners willing to defer harvests for a fee.

Campbell Global oversees about 1.7 million acres of forestland in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Chile. About two-thirds of its 150 employees are involved in managing the forests, while the others are investment professionals, said

John Gilleland,

the firm’s chief executive.

Campbell Global for more than three decades has managed timberland to produce logs for lumber and pulp mills, but has moved into carbon markets in recent years.



Photo:

Campbell Global

Campbell for more than three decades has managed timberland to produce logs for lumber and pulp mills. In recent years, it has moved into carbon markets, selling offsets in California’s regulated cap-and-trade market as well as in the unregulated voluntary markets that have boomed with the rise of green investing.

“We do believe this is the future for this asset,” Mr. Gilleland said.

Timberland investing became popular in the 1980s after the tax code was made more favorable to owners of income-producing real estate, Congress allowed pensions to diversify beyond stocks and bonds and Wall Street analysts convinced forest-products companies to sell off their timberlands.

Investors reasoned that trees would grow, and thus gain value, no matter what the stock market did. Timberland was viewed as a good hedge against inflation.

Demand for lumber has skyrocketed during the pandemic, sending prices to all-time highs. This video explains what’s driving the lumber boom, who’s profiting, and why those growing the trees aren’t reaping the benefits. Illustration: Liz Ornitz/WSJ

But it hasn’t always been a good investment: At the same time timberland investing was gaining momentum, the federal government was paying landowners in the South to plant pine trees on worn-out farmland to boost crop prices. Decades later, the resulting surfeit of pine has pushed log prices to their lowest levels in decades even as the resurgent housing market has lifted prices for lumber and other wood products to records.

Investors such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System have suffered big losses on southern timberland in recent years. Though log prices in the West still move in unison with those of lumber, timberland there is threatened by fires and wood-boring beetles. In the North, mills have closed and rendered many wood lots uneconomical to log and worth more leased to companies as carbon sinks.

Write to Ryan Dezember at [email protected]

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PE-Backed Hospital Chain Got Help From Major Landlord as Losses | Sidnaz Blog


Medical Properties Trust Inc.


MPW -1.44%

is a little-known real-estate investor that helps private-equity firms cash in on their hospital investments. Recent financial documents provide fresh details on the close relationship and deal-making between the firm and its biggest tenant.

The documents show Medical Properties Trust’s exposure to Dallas-based Steward Health Care, a hospital chain until last year controlled by Cerberus Capital Management LP. When Steward ran into financial trouble, Medical Properties Trust provided it more than $700 million through a series of complex deals, the documents show. It provided $200 million to buy Steward assets valued at $27 million. Then it refinanced debts Steward owed Cerberus.

The documents give a window into the finances of a company at the heart of private equity’s push into healthcare in recent years. They show how the financial turbulence at these firms can have ripple effects elsewhere in the financial system.

Steward accounted for 30% of Medical Properties Trust’s revenue last year. Steward lost more than $400 million in 2020 and reported nearly $1 billion of unpaid supplier expenses and other bills, the documents show. The company also faces audits by the Internal Revenue Service and state authorities.

Medical Properties Trust says it is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental hospital owners, with more than 400 properties world-wide and assets of nearly $19 billion. Steward is a large for-profit operator, with 34 hospitals nationally and more than $5 billion of revenue last year.

The property of this hospital in Riverton, Wyo., was sold to Medical Properties Trust.



Photo:

Cayla Nimmo for The Wall Street Journal

Steward said in response to questions that it was “on solid financial footing.” It attributed a rise in accounts payable to a surge of Covid-19 cases late last year and information-technology investments the company had made. It declined to comment on the audits, as did the IRS.

Medical Properties Trust has publicly described some of the recent deal-making as an effort to align itself with Steward’s strategy and take advantage of its potential growth. Cerberus declined to comment for this article.

The hospital landlord has previously received written inquiries from the Securities and Exchange Commission, including about its relationship with Steward. As a private company, Steward doesn’t have to publish its financial results. Medical Properties Trust filed Steward’s financials with the SEC last week because it said the information might be relevant to investors.

The SEC declined to comment.

The close relationship between Steward and Medical Properties Trust is partly a result of deal making by Cerberus. Under the private-equity firm’s control, Steward sold significant hospital real estate to Medical Properties Trust, which in turn leased the real estate back to Steward. Medical Properties Trust also has a roughly 10% stake in Steward, documents show.

Steward, like many hospital operators, struggled in the pandemic and says it received more than $400 million in government relief last year. The company says it lost more than $400 million last year, compared with an $82 million net profit in 2019.

While company financial statements show it had around $400 million of cash and equivalents at the end of last year, its short-term liabilities significantly exceeded its current assets.

Medical Properties Trust operates in a niche of real-estate investing. It buys hospital real estate—the physical buildings and land—and then leases it back to the companies that run the hospitals. Many of its deals have been with private-equity firms, which can use the cash from the sales to lock in profits or pay down debt incurred in the takeover of hospital operators. The playbook turns hospitals into renters of property they previously owned.

Rhode Island officials recently restricted the owners of two hospitals from doing sale-leaseback transactions to raise funds. The ruling stemmed from a state probe of hospital chain Prospect Medical Holdings Inc., which until recently was backed by Leonard Green & Partners LP.

Prospect had earlier used proceeds from real-estate sales to Medical Properties Trust to pay down debt, including money borrowed to fund hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends.

Rhode Island officials, including Attorney General Peter Neronha, recently restricted the owners of two hospitals from doing sale-leaseback transactions.



Photo:

David DelPoio/Providence Journal/Reuters

“We’d all rather own our home than rent it or lease it. Why? Because there’s value in it. There’s value in it I can use on a rainy day to raise capital,” said

Peter Neronha,

Rhode Island’s attorney general.

Prospect declined to comment.

In Wyoming, hospital operator LifePoint Health Inc. sold the property of a small city’s only hospital to Medical Properties Trust. The community is trying to build a new nonprofit hospital to displace LifePoint. The hospital operator, owned by

Apollo Global Management Inc.,

has said a new hospital would duplicate services it is already offering. Apollo has declined to comment.

Michael Carroll, who covers Medical Properties Trust for RBC Capital Markets, said the firm has achieved strong returns in recent years, in part by doing debt and equity deals to support its tenants.

“They do have a flexibility to solve their operators’ problems,” he said.

Steward sought government cash as the pandemic hit, threatening to close a hospital in Easton, Pa., unless it received $40 million in cash to keep its doors open.

The Easton Hospital was ultimately saved after a nonprofit operator agreed to buy it from Steward. Cerberus has said it is happy the Easton community’s needs were met.

As losses mounted, Medical Properties Trust proved to be a key source of cash for Steward, financial filings show. In 2017, Steward acquired two hospitals in Utah as part of a broader transaction involving Medical Properties Trust. Under the deal, Medical Properties Trust issued Steward roughly $700 million of mortgages for the properties.

Steward Health Care ended up selling Easton Hospital in Pennsylvania.



Photo:

Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Then, in July 2020, Medical Properties Trust agreed to acquire the Utah properties from Steward. Under the deal, Medical Properties Trust erased Steward’s mortgages and paid Steward an extra $200 million for what Medical Properties Trust said was the real estate’s “relative fair value.” Steward leased the properties back from Medical Properties Trust in exchange.

“All of our sale-leaseback transactions are subject to independent valuation and analysis,” Steward said.

Cerberus sold its 90% stake in Steward last year to a management group led by Chief Executive Officer

Ralph de la Torre

in exchange for a note from Cerberus, Steward said at the time.

In January, Medical Properties Trust stepped in to provide Steward a new $335 million loan that it said would extinguish the debt Steward owed Cerberus. Medical Properties Trust’s chief financial officer told analysts that the loan would be “nominally profitable.”

“The goal of the investment is not necessarily to earn a high-profit interest rate,” he said, but the deal would help better align Medical Properties Trust with Steward’s growth.

Steward declined to disclose loan terms but said the deal allowed it to sever ties to Cerberus.

The most complex deal involved Steward’s international business, which had been running hospitals on the island nation of Malta. Under the deal, Medical Properties Trust formed a new joint venture with Dr. de la Torre and other executives that is separate from Steward.

Medical Properties Trust then agreed to provide financing. It lent the joint venture $205 million so it could acquire the international assets from Steward. The hospital company’s financial statements said the assets sold were worth $27 million.

Asked about the price tag on an analyst call, Medical Properties Trust CEO

Edward K. Aldag Jr.

said it reflected work done by Dr. de la Torre’s team to secure opportunities for a venture in Colombia. “They put an awful lot of time and effort and infrastructure in place,” he said.

Steward said the price for the assets was fair and determined by arm’s length negotiations.

Despite the losses and government financial support, Steward said it returned cash to owners of the business this year. Steward said the payment wasn’t a dividend but a return of shareholder capital. The total payout likely totaled more than $100 million.

Write to Brian Spegele at [email protected] and Laura Cooper at [email protected]

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End of Keystone XL Shows Hard Road for New Pipelines | Sidnaz Blog


The failure of the Keystone XL project demonstrated the challenges of building new pipelines in the U.S. and Canada amid galvanized environmental groups and delivered a blow to oil-and-gas companies that now must rely on aging infrastructure.

Protesters targeted Keystone XL, which Canada’s

TC Energy Corp.


TRP -0.26%

abandoned Wednesday, and other pipelines for more than a decade, hoping to choke off fossil-fuel usage by making it harder to transport. The success with Keystone XL already has emboldened environmentalists, who in recent weeks have turned their attention to other pipelines in the U.S. and Canada.

But the U.S. and Canada still rely on pipelines to transport fossil fuels that underpin commerce, transportation and heating and cooling. As pipelines become increasingly difficult to build, the countries will become more dependent on older infrastructure that is vulnerable to disruptions. The shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline last month after it was attacked by hackers highlights the potential impact caused by unexpected disruptions to the current network.

“Clearly, we’re relying on the infrastructure we currently have. The question becomes, as we think about filling future demand, and we need to repair or replace old infrastructure, how are we going to handle it?” said

Amy Myers Jaffe,

a research professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

Global oil demand is projected to peak in coming years, which could mean projects like Keystone could eventually outlive their utility, Ms. Jaffe said. “We’re not building for the 1950s, we’re building for the 2030s.”

In the past two years, at least four multibillion-dollar pipeline projects that drew protests have been canceled or delayed after encountering regulatory and political roadblocks, and environmental groups are looking to capitalize on the momentum. Some producers also have resorted to transporting oil by rail, a more expensive and potentially more dangerous alternative.

On Monday, Calgary-based

Enbridge Inc.

evacuated 44 workers in Minnesota, working on replacing a crude-oil pipeline there, after a group of protesters descended on a pump station in the middle of the state. Native American tribes and environmental groups continue to challenge the Dakota Access Pipeline in a long-running effort that has entangled the company in court for years.

The death of Keystone XL is the latest setback for the oil-and-gas industry. In May, a Dutch court found that

Royal Shell

PLC is partially responsible for climate change and ordered the company to sharply reduce its carbon emissions in an unprecedented ruling. Meanwhile, an activist investor won three seats on

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s

board, a historic defeat for the oil giant that may force it to alter its fossil-fuel-focused strategy.

Activists in Washington, D.C., in April called for the shutdown of pipelines in the northern U.S.



Photo:

daniel slim/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The trio of defeats demonstrates how dramatically the landscape is shifting for oil-and-gas companies as campaigns directed by environmentalists have spread to investors, lenders, politicians and regulators who are increasingly calling for a transition to cleaner forms of energy.

Last year,

Dominion Energy Inc.

and

Duke Energy Corp.

abandoned the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, meant to move West Virginia natural gas to East Coast markets, and

Williams

Cos. dropped its Constitution natural gas pipeline after failing to gain a water permit from New York state.

President

Biden,

who made canceling Keystone XL a central plank of his election campaign, has remained mostly mum about other pipeline projects under construction.

Environmental and indigenous groups have sued to stop construction on Enbridge’s project to replace its Line 3 crude-oil pipeline with a larger conduit that will carry oil from Alberta’s oil sands to Superior, Wis., arguing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the environmental impacts of the pipeline when it granted a water-quality permit.

The company already has replaced sections in other states but has encountered obstacles in Minnesota, where it hopes to complete construction by the end of the year. After Enbridge evacuated workers Monday, the Hubbard County Sheriff’s department arrested 179 people for damaging equipment and dumping garbage on the site.

“The project is already providing significant economic benefits for counties, small businesses, Native American communities, and union members—including creating 5,200 family-sustaining construction jobs, and millions of dollars in local spending and tax revenues,” said the company in a statement on Thursday.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to make a ruling on a case that challenged the state’s Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the project.

Michigan state officials in November revoked a permit that allowed another Enbridge pipeline to run along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, citing the risk of damage to the region’s ecosystem. Gov.

Gretchen Whitmer

gave Enbridge a May 12 deadline to shut down the pipeline, but the company hasn’t complied, claiming the governor lacks the authority to do so.

The 645-mile conduit carries more than half a million barrels of oil and natural-gas liquids each day from Superior to refineries in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Quebec.

“Does the Keystone XL cancellation embolden fights against other pipelines? That’s a resounding yes,” said

Mike Shriberg,

Great Lakes region executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, which opposes the operation of Enbridge’s pipeline through Michigan.

“We’re very pleased,” said

Michael Brune,

executive director of the Sierra Club, which opposes both Enbridge pipelines in Minnesota and Michigan. He said the successful Keystone XL effort has taught them important lessons on how to oppose other projects. “It has taught us to never give up,” he said.

Enbridge pointed to the dramatic impact of the Colonial Pipeline’s six-day closure last month as an example of the consequences of scuttling energy infrastructure. The shutdown of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, caused by a May 7 ransomware attack, spurred a run on gasoline across the Southeast, leaving thousands of gas stations without fuel for days.

During a Senate committee testimony Tuesday, Colonial Chief Executive

Joseph Blount

emphasized the scale of the pipeline, noting 50 million Americans rely on it to carry fuel to gas stations, as it provides almost half of the fuel consumed on the East Coast.

“Not only do everyday Americans rely on our pipeline operations to get fuel at the pump, but so do cities and local governments, to whom we supply fuel for critical operations, such as airports, ambulances and first responders,” Mr. Blount said in written testimony.

Write to Vipal Monga at [email protected] and Collin Eaton at [email protected]

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Hedge Fund Behind Amazon-MGM Deal Amasses Big Bet on Uranium | Sidnaz Blog


The hedge fund behind the

Amazon.com Inc.

-MGM Holdings Inc. deal has another trade up its sleeve: going big on uranium.

New York hedge fund Anchorage Capital Group LLC has amassed a holding of a few million pounds of uranium, people familiar with the matter say, in a bet that prices of the nuclear fuel will recover after a decade in the doldrums. It is buying and selling uranium alongside mining companies, specialist traders and utility firms with nuclear-power plants, turning the fund into a significant player in the market.

Venturing into the uranium market, which is much smaller than oil or gold markets, is unusual for a firm that typically invests in corporate debt. It is another example of money managers straying into esoteric markets in search of returns after a yearslong run-up in stocks and slide in a bond yields.

Anchorage was recently in the spotlight after scoring about $2 billion in paper profits from Amazon’s deal to buy MGM in May. The hedge fund became MGM’s biggest shareholder after the Hollywood studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010.

Anchorage’s physical uranium holdings are also a rarity because Wall Street firms don’t typically own physical uranium. Most investors bet on uranium prices by buying shares of mining firms, or through companies like

Yellow Cake

PLC., which acts as an exchange-traded fund.

In the 2000s, investors piled into uranium trades, helping to power a run-up in prices that peaked in 2007. Most funds exited either during the 2008-09 financial crisis or after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster sapped demand.

Goldman Sachs Group

has pared back its uranium trading book and

Deutsche Bank AG

has quit the market, leaving

Macquarie Group Ltd.

as the financial institution with the biggest presence.

The uranium that is usually traded takes the form of U3O8, a lightly processed ore. Prices for U3O8 have sagged since Fukushima knocked demand, leading to a glut that traders say has yet to be whittled down.

The material this week traded at $32.05 a pound, according to UxC LLC, a nuclear-fuel data and research company. Prices reached an all-time high of $136 a pound in 2007, according to records going back to 1987.

Anchorage is wagering on a reversal. Spearheaded by trader Jason Siegel, the fund began acquiring uranium a few years ago, because its analysis showed most miners were booking losses at prevailing prices, a person familiar with the fund’s thinking said. The fund bet that uranium prices would rise to encourage miners to produce enough material.

Mr. Siegel didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.

The entry of a financial firm has caused a stir in the uranium market. Anchorage buys and sells infrequently, but in large quantities that put it in the same league as big uranium merchants such as Traxys Group, participants say.

A Honeywell Specialty Materials plant in Metropolis, Ill.



Photo:

Steve Jahnke/Associated Press

Anchorage hasn’t publicly disclosed its interest in the uranium market, the size of its holdings or the terms of any specific transactions. The exact size of Anchorage’s position—a topic of speculation in the market—couldn’t be learned. The person familiar with the fund’s thinking said it owned fewer than five million pounds of uranium. The overall spot market for the nuclear fuel turns over 60 million to 80 million pounds each year, according to UxC.

Due to strict rules about where uranium can be held, trading typically doesn’t involve moving the fuel around the world. Firms instead take ownership of U3O8 stored in drums at three processing facilities in France, Canada and the U.S. When they sell, buyers take ownership on the spot. The transactions aren’t reported publicly.

Anchorage’s wager relies on buying uranium and selling it to utility companies and others at a higher price for delivery several years in the future, in what is known as a carry trade. Doing so could generate annualized returns of roughly 5% for Anchorage, according to people familiar with the matter.

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How do you see the uranium market developing? Join the conversation below.

The hedge fund embeds options into sale agreements with utilities and other firms, people familiar with the matter say. This can involve selling fuel to a utility company at a discount in return for the right to deliver more uranium at a set price at a later date.

Anchorage isn’t alone in betting that prices are primed to rebound.

Investment firms including Segra Capital Management LLC, Sachem Cove Partners LLC and Azarias Capital Management LP expect that efforts to wean the world off fossil fuels will require new nuclear-power stations, according to executives at the funds. They are seeking to profit by buying shares of uranium miners or firms like Yellow Cake, which is up 31% in London trading over the past year.

Some investors hesitate to own uranium outright because of the perception that it can cause dangerous accidents, according to Joe Kelly, chief executive of brokerage Uranium Markets LLC.

“There’s a deterrent that does not exist in other commodities,” said Mr. Kelly.

Write to Joe Wallace at [email protected]

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Blackstone to Buy Data-Center Operator QTS Realty Trust for $6.7 | Sidnaz Blog


Blackstone’s thematic investing approach has led it to plow more money into fast-growing areas of the economy.



Photo:

Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The Wall Street Journal

Blackstone Group Inc.


BX 0.98%

has struck a roughly $6.7 billion deal to buy

QTS Realty Trust Inc.


QTS 21.12%

and take the data-center operator private.

The investment giant’s infrastructure unit, Blackstone Infrastructure Partners, together with its nontraded real-estate investment trust, known as BREIT, have agreed to pay $78 a share for QTS, the companies plan to announce Monday. The price represents a 21% premium to QTS’s closing share price Friday and a 24% premium to the volume-weighted average over the last 90 days.

Including the assumption of QTS’s existing debt, the transaction is valued at about $10 billion.

Based in Overland Park, Kansas, QTS is a real-estate investment trust that owns more than 7 million square feet of data-center space in 28 locations across North America and Europe. Its customers include big software and social-media companies as well as government entities that use the centers to securely store and process data.

Blackstone’s thematic approach to investing under President

Jonathan Gray

has led it to plow more money into fast-growing areas of the economy including technology companies and warehouses used in e-commerce. Buying QTS will give it exposure to another hot sector as data use continues to grow rapidly. The firm plans to own the QTS platform for longer than the typical private-equity investment and to continue to expand its capabilities and reach, according to people familiar with the matter.

The infrastructure business and BREIT, a vehicle targeted at moderately wealthy individuals, are what Blackstone calls “perpetual” capital. That means they can hold assets indefinitely and don’t have to return capital to investors within a set period like the typical private-equity or real-estate fund.

Write to Miriam Gottfried at [email protected]

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Private-Equity Group Nears Deal to Buy Medline for Over $30 | Sidnaz Blog


Medline is a little-known but major player in the field of medical equipment, with some $17.5 billion in annual sales.



Photo:

Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA/Associated Press

A group of private-equity firms including

Blackstone Group Inc.


BX 0.95%

is nearing a deal to acquire Medline Industries Inc. that would value the medical-supply giant at more than $30 billion, in one of the largest leveraged buyouts since the financial crisis, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal could come together as soon as this weekend assuming the talks don’t fall apart, the people said. The Blackstone consortium includes

Carlyle Group Inc.


CG 0.63%

and Hellman & Friedman LLC. They beat out a rival bid from the private-equity arm of Canadian investing giant

Brookfield Asset Management Inc.,


BAM 0.12%

the people said.

Including debt, the transaction would be valued at about $34 billion, and north of $30 billion excluding borrowings, the people said. That could potentially make it the largest healthcare LBO ever.

Based in Northfield, Ill., family-owned Medline is a little-known but major player in the field of medical equipment. It manufactures and distributes equipment and supplies used in hospitals, surgery centers, acute-care and other medical facilities in over 125 countries. It has some $17.5 billion in annual sales, according to its website.

Brothers James and Jon Mills founded the company in 1966, taking it public in 1972. The brothers bought back the shares five years later. James’s son Charlie has been Medline’s CEO since 1997.

The family will remain the single largest shareholder in the company after the buyout and the management team will remain in place, some of the people said.

Write to Cara Lombardo at [email protected] and Miriam Gottfried at [email protected]

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Despite Lumber Boom, Few New Sawmills Coming | Sidnaz Blog


North America’s sawmills can’t keep up with demand, which has sent wood prices on a meteoric rise. Don’t expect new mills to start popping up though.

Executives in the cyclical business of sawing logs into lumber said they are content to rake in cash while lumber prices are sky-high and aren’t racing out to build new mills, which can cost hundreds of millions dollars and take two years to build from the ground up.

In doing so they are breaking with conventional wisdom in the commodities business, which states that the cure for high prices is high prices. Usually when prices for raw materials rise, refineries and smelters ramp up, farmers plant larger crops, wells are drilled, mines dug. New supplies flood into the market and prices retreat.

Home buyers and do-it-yourself-ers, who are paying more than four times the normal price for lumber, would like for that to happen. But they are flush thanks to historically low borrowing costs, rising home values and government stimulus. Demand has been unbowed by escalating prices.

Though lumber futures eased off last week’s all-time highs, they remain more than twice the pre-pandemic record. Meanwhile, cash prices for framing lumber and structural panels reached new highs, according to pricing service Random Lengths.

Mill companies including

Weyerhaeuser Co.

and

West Fraser Timber Co.

have set nine-figure budgets to boost efficiency and output at their existing mills, particularly in the South where there is a glut of cheap pine timber. Some forest-products executives said they are considering acquisitions with their fast-accumulating cash. But there aren’t many new mills on the drawing board for North America.

“We are going to be ultra cautious on what we do in those regards,”

Canfor Corp.

Chief Executive

Don Kayne

told investors last month when the company reported record quarterly profits. “We don’t mind at all having a little extra cash around for sure, considering what this industry goes through.”

U.S. lumber-making capacity has risen about 11% over the past five years, according to Forest Economic Advisors LLC. New mills in the pine belt between Georgia and east Texas have helped offset closures that have shrunk Canada’s capacity, but there isn’t much coming behind them. Idled facilities are restarting in Florida and Mississippi. A couple small mills are under construction out West. Four bigger mills have been announced but not begun in the South, the firm said.

Chad Hesters,

who advises forest-product executives and investors as managing partner in the Houston office of consulting firm

Korn Ferry,

said the lumber boom has prompted clients to ask about building mills. He said he tells them they are too late.

Besides the time and money it takes to build a modern mill, equipment, from microprocessors to heavy machinery, is in short supply. So are the sort of workers needed to operate a computerized mill, especially in the rural places where timber is abundant, Mr. Hesters said.

“Trying to build capacity and make investments that have a lot of lead time at the top of a cycle is historically a good way to lose money,” Mr. Hesters said.

U.S. wood-product manufacturing peaked in January 2006, according to the Federal Reserve. A sharp decline that year foreshadowed the housing market’s collapse. The least efficient mills shut down while others were consolidated. Big Canadian sawyers West Fraser, Canfor and

Interfor Corp.

have spent billions of dollars modernizing mills in the Southern pinelands ever since.

Companies that buy wood from mills have been limiting orders for fear of getting stuck with inventory. A truss manufacturer in Spanish Fork, Utah, last week.



Photo:

George Frey/Getty Images

An example is in Summerville, S.C., where Interfor is boosting output at a lumber mill that it bought in March from a cardboard maker. The lumber boom has pushed up asking prices for mills, though, which may impede deals like that, forest-product executives said.

Meanwhile, stock analysts are advocating for mill companies to return cash to shareholders. BMO Capital Markets analyst

Mark Wilde

said it is hard to see how mill companies can spend their windfalls without destroying value, given the frothy market.

“It’s a lot of sailors hitting the town with a lot of money in their pocket, so silly things can happen,” he said on Canfor’s earnings call. He applauded Interfor’s move Wednesday to pay a special dividend of $1.65 a share.

Added shifts and new equipment should increase output on the margins, but mill executives expect supplies to remain tight and for prices to remain high into next year.

“Even if there was an opportunity to build inventories, distribution channels would be reluctant at current market prices,” said

Bart Bender,

Interfor’s head of sales and marketing.

Demand for lumber has skyrocketed during the pandemic, sending prices to all-time highs. This video explains what’s driving the lumber boom, who’s profiting, and why those growing the trees aren’t reaping the benefits. Illustration: Liz Ornitz/WSJ

Companies that buy wood from mills to distribute to builders, manufacturers and retailers have been limiting orders to exactly what customers need for fear of getting stuck with high-price inventory and falling prices, said

Michael Goodman,

whose family owns and operates Sherwood Lumber Corp.

The Melville, N.Y., company annually sells about a billion board feet of framing lumber to truss manufacturers, building-supply companies and shipping-crate makers. The firm doesn’t expect additional supplies before late next year or even 2023 and has been trying to manage its risk in the white-knuckle market by taking positions in the futures market.

“This is our job,” Mr. Goodman said. “We’re a middleman. We can’t not have stuff on the shelf.”

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What impact has the availability and price of lumber had on your home construction or renovation project? Join the conversation below.

Write to Ryan Dezember at [email protected]

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