Mainland firms buy 9.9% stake in A&B

Two mainland investment firms have combined to purchase a 9.9 percent stake in Honolulu-based Alexander & Baldwin Co., according to a regulatory filing today.

New York-based Pershing Square Capital Management LP, led by activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, bought an 8.6 percent stake and San Francisco-based Marcato Capital Management LLC, led by Richard McGuire, acquired a 1.3 percent stake.

Mainland firms buy 9.9% stake in A&B – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Alexander & Baldwin profits rise

Alexander & Baldwin Inc. earnings were about flat in the last three months of 2010, but bigger gains earlier in the year enabled the diversified Honolulu-based company to more than double its full-year profit.

A&B reported 2010 net income of $92.1 million, up from $44.2 million the year before.

Fourth-quarter net income was $20.2 million, barely up from $20.1 million in the same quarter in 2009.

Revenue in the fourth quarter totaled $461.4 million, compared with $362.9 million in the year-ago quarter. Full-year revenue totaled $1.6 billion, up from $1.4 billion in 2009.

A&B said its profit was principally driven by ocean cargo transportation subsidiary Matson Navigation Co. operations in China, real estate sales and a turnaround in its sugar business on Maui.

Alexander & Baldwin profits rise – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Haina sawmill project is pau

A judge has ruled in favor of a lender in a foreclosure suit on a former Pacific Northwest logger who attempted to turn the former Haina sugar mill in Honokaa into a sawmill.

Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara entered judgment Dec. 8 against Haina Properties LLC and Robert J. Marr, known as “Barefoot Bob.” The ruling clears the way for a liquidation sale of the mill property.

Haina Mill Mortgage Lender LLC, a Delaware limited liability -company, filed the foreclosure suit in June 2009, claiming that Haina Properties and Marr — manager of Haina Properties and owner of the 49-acre mill property — defaulted on a $4.785 million loan taken out Sept. 27, 2007, plus an additional $379,000 borrowed May 2, 2008.

All told, Marr owes almost $6.2 million to Haina Mill Mortgage Lender, counting principal, interest, fees, taxes and expenses.

Also named as defendants in the suit were Kamehameha Schools and Hamakua Land Partnership LLP as owner and lessee, respectively, of Standard Oil Road, the access road to the mill. In addition, the county was named for property tax purposes.

Marr bought the 49-acre mill property for $3.3 million in October 2007. He told area residents that the mill — which closed as a sugar mill in 1994 — would provide 110 jobs paying $12 to $25 an hour, and would run in an environmentally-responsible manner.

Sweet Smell of Success

The rain came down. The price went up, and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. finished the year with a much improved crop.

The final raw sugar shipment was loaded at Kahului Harbor’s Pier One on Wednesday and Thursday.

The harvest was just shy of 172,000 tons, much better than the 127,000 tons in 2009, but well short of the 200,000 tons the plantation can make in a good year.

In a telephone interview from New York on Thursday, HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin said that although there is still “a ways to go,” the improved crop and better world prices take the immediate pressure off the plantation.

A year ago, after experiencing heavy losses attributed to a long drought, the directors of Alexander & Baldwin took a hard look at HC&S. The 37,000-acre plantation was the origin of the A&B conglomerate, but today it accounts for only about 7 percent of revenues.

The board approved continuation of the business only until the end of this year, pending improved results.

Financial results won’t be published until next year, but Benjamin said he believes that the board is already satisfied that the operation is on the right track.

At this week’s price of nearly 40 cents per pound of raw sugar (in New York), the crop would be worth more than $130 million, not counting molasses and electricity byproduct revenue, plus the premium for the part of the crop sold as specialty sugars.

Sweet Future Expected for Sugar ETN — Seeking Alpha

Sugar for March delivery closed at 28.45 cents per pound on Monday — a little off its above-30-cent peak struck last month, but still double its May 2010 low.

And it looks like sugar may have higher to climb.

Global supplies of sugar are projected to lag worldwide demand this year for the third year running. According to a new report by Czarnikow Group, a London-based sugar and biofuel broker, the supply/demand deficit could run as high as 2.8 million metric tons from September 2010 to September 2011.

Of course, when you consider that total supply for 2010/11 is expected to rise to 168.4 million tons from last year’s 157.4 million, that deficit doesn’t seem like a huge gap. And generally, if sugar becomes too expensive to use, end-consumers can just switch to cheaper sweeteners, like corn-based syrups.

Still, one can make the argument that sugar should be higher, especially considering that growing consumption is expected in emerging markets like China, where we’ve yet to hit the limit of their commodity appetite. Plus, over the past few years, we’ve seen drawdowns in world inventories of the sweet stuff, a fact that helped boost prices up to ever-higher highs in 2007/08 and 2008/09.

The supply shortfall springs from poor growing weather we saw earlier this year. Remember that Brazilian bumper crop we talked about back in August? Yeah, not so much. Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugar, saw sugar cane production declines from a hotter summer than usual, while similar drought conditions stunted Russian beet production and South African cane yields. Meanwhile, in Indonesia and Australia, the sugar cane harvest withered under a deluge of super-wet weather.

Spraying Pa’ia with 2,4-D – Is it safe?

Early on Saturday, October 23 a blue helicopter with large spray wings attached sprayed the edges of the canefields in Pa‘ia. There were strong and variable winds and the spray blew directly into many nearby residences. Pa‘ia houses emptied as families stepped outside to gawk in awe as the flying sprayer made pass after pass along the canefields at the edge of town.

Moon Over Haleakala inquired of HC&S as to what was being sprayed so close to homes, children and old people – and why?

A&B spokesperson Meredith Ching was kind enough to find out what was going on and to send the Moon a detailed account of the spraying that day. Her full account and a sample of scientific controversy surrounding 2,4-D is on page 14. Our photo gallery of the spraying, and the links to internet sites describing the ongoing controversy surrounding health risks and the approvals for such wide use of 2,4-D are available at our website, mauimoonnews.com.

Below is Moon Over Haleakala staffer Madeline Ziecker’s personal account of events that Saturday morning.

HC&S explains the Pa‘ia spraying incident

By A&B spokesperson Meredith Ching

This is my understanding of the situation you have inquired about. On October 23, HC&S conducted an aerial application of an herbicide, Clean Amine, on its Field 212, located along Hana Highway, just west of Paia town. We were attempting to eliminate a noxious weed, castor bean, from the field, as it shades out the crop and depresses sugar yields. Aerial herbicide application was required because the 16-month old cane is too dense to allow access for ground spraying, and the weed height exceeded the canopy of the cane.

The active ingredient in Clean Amine is 2,4-D, which is among the most widely used weed control chemicals in the world and is present in a number of substances labeled for residential use. For more information about 2,4-D, refer to http://www.24d.org. This product is labeled for aerial application, and applications were made in compliance with the pesticide label. The mix used on Field 212 was a very diluted formulation, consisting of about 2% of 2, 4-D by weight.

We fully appreciate that the helicopter’s presence was likely startling for the residents. By design, they fly very low when applying the agricultural substances, for the very reason of minimizing drift and applying the substances most directly on the plants. Further, with this type of application of Clean Amine, the substance is only released when directly over the targeted weeds (which are very visible above the cane).

Further, when HC&S undertakes aerial applications on its fields, we generally do so in the morning when wind speeds are lower and more predictable; gusts and variable winds typically occur later in the day. Wind characteristics are an important factor for aerial applications, and one that HC&S carefully considers prior to any application. A spotter goes along on all aerial applications, monitors and records wind speeds and directions, and watches for any visual signs of drift so that prompt action can be taken to address it.

Zip into the future

Mike Atherton’s employees call him “Coach” for good reason. Since he bought Maui Tropical Plantation in 2006, the affable entrepreneur has been overseeing a comprehensive game plan to re-energize the 26-year-old attraction.

“We’ve painted the buildings, pruned the trees, spruced up the landscaping, basically given the grounds a complete makeover,” Atherton said. “I’m an outdoors, hands-on guy; I get as dirty as my gardeners do, and I love it!”

A native of Stockton, Calif., Atherton comes from a distinguished family. His maternal great-grandfather was Benjamin Holt, founder of the Caterpillar equipment company. His paternal great-grandfather, the Rev. Isaac Warren Atherton, was a missionary in the Hawi-North Kohala area of the Big Island from 1878 to 1880. His paternal grandfather, Warren Atherton, was an attorney, judge and politician who’s best known for authoring the G.I. Bill.

Atherton and two partners have owned and operated Jesus Mountain Coffee Co. in Nicaragua for 30 years. They acquired the Coffees of Hawaii plantation on Molokai in 2002, and Atherton came to Maui three years later, seeking land to start a similar venture there.

“At the time, C. Brewer & Co. was shutting down and selling all its assets, including Maui Tropical Plantation,” Atherton recalled. “The plantation was an agri-tourism attraction that had been open since 1984, so it had a lot of established growth. It also had a big parking lot, a store, a restaurant, dedicated employees and a good reputation. It was perfect; it just needed some tender loving care.”

Armed with enthusiasm and fresh ideas, Atherton and his hui bought the 60-acre plantation and the surrounding 1,940 acres.

Safety costs criticized – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Many Hawaii farmers and ranchers say the cost of complying with proposed safety rules regulating dams and reservoirs will be more than they can afford and that they’ll be turning to the state Legislature for financial aid.

“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Alan Gottlieb, a past president of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.

The proposed administrative rules were approved by the state land board Monday and forwarded to Gov. Linda Lingle. The governor’s approval is required before they take effect.

The rules would regulate 138 reservoirs in Hawaii that have the capacity to hold 5 million gallons or more.

State officials said the increases in fees would pay for costs of enforcing the new safety rules.

Critics say that besides the high cost, the regulations would discourage the operation of existing reservoirs, many of which operate on narrow profit margins.

One of the largest regulated reservoirs is at the city’s Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe.

The reservoir, built as a flood-control project, usually stores 84.7 million gallons but has a capacity of 1.4 billion gallons, according to the state.

Farmers and ranchers say that while they support safety regulations in light of the 2006 Koloko Reservoir dam break on Kauai that killed seven people, the proposed rules place an unreasonable burden on businesses.