Cascades Inc. announces plans to proceed with the strategic Bear Island mill conversion project located in Virginia. Subject to obtaining final permits, the currently idled newsprint machine will be converted to a 1st quartile containerboard machine capable of producing high-quality, lightweight, 100% recycled linerboard and medium for the North American market.
To finance the equity portion of the Bear Island mill conversion, Cascades is also pleased to announce today that it has entered into an agreement with CIBC Capital Markets, RBC Capital Markets and BMO Capital Markets on behalf of a syndicate of underwriters (the “Underwriters”), pursuant to which Cascades will issue from treasury, and the Underwriters will purchase on a “bought deal basis”, 7,441,000 common shares (“Common Shares”) at a price of $16.80 per Common Share for gross proceeds of approximately $125 million (the “Offering”).
The total cost of the Bear Island mill project will be US$380 million, which includes the initial US$35 million acquisition cost paid to White Birch Papers in 2018. Following completion of the Offering, the equity requirements of the Bear Island mill project will be fully financed. The plant will have an annual production capacity of 465,000 short tons and is scheduled to start up in the fourth quarter of 2022. It will operate at approximately 80% of capacity by the end of 2023, reaching 100% by the end of 2025.
"This investment, one of the largest in our Company’s history, is a decisive and very important strategic move in the modernization of our packaging assets," explains Mario Plourde, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cascades. "By adding the Bear Island mill to our platform, more than 60% of our containerboard manufacturing capacity will be in the top quartile of the industry. In addition to offering a unique development platform, this plant will strengthen our geographic positioning and presence in the U.S. and will enhance the competitiveness of our asset base and our product offering regardless of economic conditions."
"From an operational standpoint, Bear Island will also optimize the flexibility of our manufacturing platform by providing a product offering that will be complementary to its sister plant Greenpac, located in Niagara Falls (NY)" adds Mr. Plourde. "Bear Island will also offer 100% recycled products with light basis weights. Greatly valued by our current and future customers, these eco-responsible products are particularly well suited for e-commerce."
As the Company continues to execute its strategic plan to increase its down-stream integration, it will initially convert volume in its existing converting facilities in addition to entering into long term agreements with customers. The remaining tonnage that will initially be sold on the open market is expected to decrease, reducing market exposure. "The significant expertise that was developed within Cascades from the Greenpac build, and the ongoing success of this mill give us full confidence that we will increase our market share and expand our geographic footprint in the United States. Bear Island will be equipped with the latest technology and will be able to offer one of the lightest high-end 100% recycled containerboard products on the market" affirms Charles Malo, President and COO of Cascades Containerboard Packaging.
Cascades will finance the entire project with the Offering, cash flows generated by its operations and available bank facilities.
"We are confident that we will be able to reach our targeted leverage ratio of 2.5x by the end of 2023 while simultaneously completing this important project," highlights Allan Hogg, Vice-President and CFO.
During the project development period, the Company expects to limit its capital investment envelope to approximately $200 million annually, excluding the Bear Island project. This project will add approximately US$190 million to this envelope in 2021 and US$120 million in 2022.