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Will We Stay the Course?
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The last time I wrote in this editorial space, a month ago, I did something I do not often do, and that is make my own or relay the predictions of others. I predicted that timberland prices in the United States were peaking and that gasoline, according to others, would be down by 1/3 by the end of the year, more or less.

Astoundingly, I have already bought gasoline as low as USD 2.16/U.S. gal (in Cleveland, Ohio, 15 September 2006) and seen a gas war at USD 1.86/U.S. gal (in La Grange, Georgia, 22 September 2006). One could say this is down by 1/3 from the nominal peak of USD 3.00.

On the timberland side, Deutsche Bank (Mark Wilde) reported on timberland conditions on 22 September 2006 with a report titled, "Is sentiment toward timberland cooling?"

Sounds like time for your humble writer to declare a great victory regarding prediction prowess and retire.

Seriously, though, "Will we stay the course?" is a profound question for this time, and indeed, for all times. First, we have to define "we" and in this context I mean the entire forest products industry and the investment community that follows it.

But "staying the course" refers to comments I made in the editorial a month ago. I am definitely, then and now, suggesting that investments often blow with the wind, and we see little stickiness in investment markets when the wind changes. Sources of optimism and popularity today can be the investment in the trash can tomorrow with the slightest hint of a change in conditions.

Yet, when it comes to the best and highest use for timberland, or the question of whence comes our energy 20, 30, or 50 years hence, we know that a long-term outlook is important. History shows us, however, that these long-term gambles, at least in the past, were made by powerful and charismatic individuals in control of vast enough assets to make a change without the pesky bother of short-term investors. Examples that come to mind are Henry Ford, who was determined, against all conventional wisdom, to make an inexpensive automobile for the masses, and Teddy Roosevelt, who pushed through the Antiquities Act on 08 June 1906, setting aside chunks of undisturbed nature to start the National Park System in the United States. He managed to set aside 230 million acres before he left office in 1909.

However, I say all that to say this. It is right and good that we have public forums, in academic settings, financial settings, and political settings, discussing the uses of timberland and the sources of fuel for the future. Expect, however, for real answers and real solutions to come from individuals in personal control of enough assets, providing them with the means and the will to take a long-term view. I don't see any way any other entity can stay the course.

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