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NORCROSS, GA-Wells Real Estate Funds Inc., based here, is launching a timberland real estate investment trust. “The goal is to provide an investment vehicle for individual investors to invest in timberland that they have never had before,” says Jess Jarratt, chief timberland officer and president of Wells Timberland Investment Management Organization. Wells plans “to produce a total return over a seven- to 10-year period in the 10% to 12% range,” Jarratt tells GlobeSt.com.

Wells will initially fund the REIT with $750 million. “We will use some debt but we will be very conservative,” he says. Jarratt estimates “somewhere in the neighborhood of one million acres” will be purchased with the initial funding. Wells plans for the REIT to have a diverse portfolio with timberland from diverse geographical locations and different age and timber types. There is approximately 500 million acres of commercial timberland in the country with approximately an additional 250 million acres of wild land and other forestland that is not of a commercial nature. Of the commercial timberland, roughly half is owned by “private non-industrial individuals,” “a large chunk” is owned by the federal government and “industry and institutional investors own the rest,” Jarratt says. The REIT has not purchased any timberland yet but “We are actively in the market as we speak,” Jarratt says.The REIT should be attractive to investors because “Timberland’s income is typically tax advantaged in that it is capital gain,” he says. Wells plans for the REIT to generate revenue through the sale of timber harvesting rights, leasing land-use rights and selling some of the land at a later date. In Southern forests, pulpwood can be sold when timber reaches 15 years, which sells for about $7 per ton. At about age 22, the timber can be sold for about $22 per ton for small logs and, at about 29 years, the timber can be sold for larger logs from more than $40 per ton, Jarratt says. “The value proposition for timberland is very simple in that trees grow regardless of what goes on in the marketplace, regardless of interest rates or world events,” he says. After the final harvest, Wells plans to replant, making it an ecologically sound, renewable resource, he says.

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