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Weyerhaeuser Shifts Housing Focus in $2.45B Cascades Timber Deal

Updated from 10:37 a.m. ET to correct Doyle Simon career history and afternoon share prices.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. timber giant Weyerhaeuser (WY - Get Report) is snapping up more than 645,000 acres of land from Canada's Brookfield Asset Management (BAM - Get Report) in a $2.45 billion stock deal that will bolster the company's timber holdings by about a third in the Pacific Northwest.

In a flurry of financial moves, Weyerhaeuser also reshaped the company's strategy amid expectations of a durable housing rebound in the U.S. The company said it will seek to spin off its homebuilding unit, Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. or Wreco, and increase its dividend to 22 cents a share from 20 cents.

A divestiture of Wreco in an improving housing market could benefit shareholders and help the company focus on its expertise in timberland operations, Weyerhaeuser said on Sunday.

As Weyerhaeuser seeks to streamline its timber operations and expand its asset base, the company also provided clarity on its management.

Federal Way, Wash.-based Weyerhaeuser said on Sunday Doyle Simon has been named its new CEO, effective Aug. 1, to replace Dan Fulton, who is retiring.

Simon has been a Weyerhaeuser director and has deep experience in the lumber industry, having headed Temple-Inland prior to its merger with International Paper (IP - Get Report). Retiring CEO Fulton will remain with Weyerhaeuser as executive vice chairman of the company's board until October.

Weyerhaeuser said on Sunday the company's timber acquisition from Brookfield Asset Management's Longview Timber unit will increase its overall timberland holdings to about 6.6 million acres, and that the deal will be financed with a mix of cash and debt.

Less clear is how Weyerhaeuser will execute its planned divestiture of the company's homebuilding unit, Wreco, which is among the 20 largest homebuilders in the U.S. According to a press release, Weyerhaeuser's board will consider a merger of the unit with a strategic acquirer, an outright sale or a spinoff. The company also left open the prospect it continues to hold and operate Wreco.

Wreco could be wortk $4.5 billion to $5 billion as a standalone, or $8-to-$9 a share for Weyerhaeuser, according to Citigroup analyst William Mitchell.

Outgoing CEO Fulton indicated Weyerhaeuser's timberland acquisition and its proposition of a homebuilding divestiture realigns the company amid signs of a durable rebound in housing nationally.

"Given the improving fundamentals of the housing market, we believe now is a prudent time to explore strategic alternatives for this business," Fulton said in a statement. Fulton characterized the homebuilding unit sale as an attempt to drive its "full potential," an indication the company was struggling with a diversified business model.

"Investors have often pushed back on the complexity of WY's "hybrid" model and we expect slimming the portfolio from 4 businesses to 3 would be wellreceived and could unlock the value of WRECO's long land position," Mitchell, the Citigroup analyst, wrote in a June 16 note to clients.

Weyerhaeuser shares gained over 2% to $29.00 in early Monday morning trading. Brookfield Asset Management shares gained over 2.5% to $36.30.
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