It pays to know how to box. Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) -- the fifth largest in the US -- produces 2-plus million tons of containerboard annually, most of which is converted into corrugated boxes. PCA mills also churn out some 1.5 million tons of kraft linerboard and nearly a million tons of semi-chemical corrugating medium. Its corrugated packaging includes shipping containers for manufactured goods, retail boxes and displays, and wax-coated boxes and meat boxes for agricultural use. The company operates four containerboard mills and about five dozen corrugated products plants in the US. PCA sells to a diverse group of industries; about two-thirds of its customers serve regional and local markets.
The US recession, which crushed demand for corrugated packaging and containerboard in 2009, is slowly recovering. PCA's corrugated products shipments and containerboard production in 2010 exceed industry-wide year-over-year gains. The box maker's sales climbed to a record high in 2010, increasing 13% over 2009, slightly more than 2008 (its former peak). Stronger pricing coupled with a rebound in demand fueled the increase.
Although reported earnings in 2010 tumbled more than 20% from 2009, impacted by the costs of fiber, transportation, and labor, they remained well above prior five-year results. However, as a producer of black liquor, PCA earnings in 2009 and 2010 benefited from an alternative fuel tax credit and a cellulosic biofuel producer credit. Excluding the tax credits and other charges, net income was in fact more than 70% higher in 2010 than 2009.
Its mills, which in 2009 were forced to run at about 85% capacity, operated at almost 100% of capacity in 2010 and approached a previous year's production record. The mills use both wood and recycled fiber (the primary raw material), offering PCA a competitive flexibility for mitigating the ups and downs of fiber prices. With an eye on cost containment, PCA completed construction of its own biogas refinery to power a Michigan plant. PCA has improved the energy efficiency of its linerboard mills in Tennessee and Georgia by installing and/or upgrading their recovery boilers and turbine generators. The proximity of PCA's 9,600-plus US customers helps, as well, to minimize freight costs. Each plant serves approximately a 150-mile market radius.
The company's substantial manufacturing footprint is enhanced by a technical and development hub, a half a dozen regional graphic design centers, and several printing and distribution sites. PCA also leases cutting rights on 88,000 acres of timberland and has supply agreements on an additional 281,000 acres -- most neighbor its Counce, Tennessee, and Valdosta, Georgia, mills.
A shift in management is part of PCA's strategic recovery, too. Shareholders, who advocate that a company is better served by splitting the responsibilities of running board meetings from overseeing the company's regular operations, were heard. Paul Stecko, CEO since the company's start in 1999, stepped down from his post in mid-2010. He continues to serve as chairman. Mark Kowlzan, SVP of PCA's containerboard mill business for the last decade, took over the CEO post.
PCA was formed by Madison Dearborn in order to acquire the containerboard and corrugated product operations of Pactiv. PCA blossomed five years later when it purchased the assets of Acorn Corrugated Box Company, a maker of graphics packaging and displays. – less