Bristol Bay faring well

PHOTO/Danny Daniels/AJOC
Bristol Bay Native Corp. has not been afraid to tackle big, high-profile commercial ventures. Two of them, purchasing and later selling Peter Pan Seafoods and the Hilton Anchorage Hotel, turned out well.

Luck ran out on the third deal, though. If it’s any consolation, the recently failed Alaska Marketplace grocery venture, in which BBNC was a 34 percent minority partner with $2.3 million invested, was more modest compared with the earlier seafood company and hotel acquisitions.

"It didn’t help that Alaska Marketplace announced its store closures just as we convened a shareholder meeting in Anchorage," said Tom Hawkins, BBNC’s senior vice president and senior operating officer.

In a $135 million corporation, a $2 wobble in stock values in the company’s investment portfolio would be accepted gracefully. But when the high-profile Alaska Marketplace deal went down, "it was noticed" around Alaska, Hawkins said.

Bristol Bay Native Corp. Chairman Hjalmar Olson and board member Dorothy Larson expect good earnings from their environmental cleanup subsidiary.
PHOTO/Danny Daniels/AJOC
"When it comes to something we do every day like shopping for groceries, we all become experts," Hawkins said. And so, BBNC’s shareholders had lots of advice for management at the meeting, he recalled.

The investment portfolio isn’t doing that well this year either, but it turned in a good performance last year with a 17 percent return. That helped BBNC’s net profit reach $11.5 million. Mainly because of the stock market, BBNC’s profits will be down this year, Hawkins said.

The first three quarters of the corporation’s fiscal year, ending in December, saw net income of $4.5 million, and BBNC is on track for an estimated $5.5 million profit this year, Hawkins said.

"Our ideal is for our investment portfolio to provide half of our annual profit and our businesses to provide the other half," Hawkins said. "We’re not there yet, because we’re still too dependent on our portfolio. But our businesses are making progress."

Except for Alaska Marketplace, BBNC’s other business ventures are doing well. Bristol Environmental and Engineering Services, which provides environmental, engineering services and construction management, started out with three employees in 1994 and now has 40 year-round staff members and 60 to 70 in the summer, Hawkins said.

The company has a contract with the U.S. Navy to do cleanup at the closed Adak naval air base in the Aleutian Islands, and recently landed another cleanup contract at Amchitka, near Adak, the site of underground nuclear tests. The company is expecting to earn a $2 million profit this year, up from $1.44 million last year, Hawkins said.

He said CCI, an oil and industrial services contractor, also is doing well with an upsurge of petroleum support work on the North Slope, where the company does 45 percent of its business.

PetroCard, a company operating fleet refueling services in the Seattle region, is growing fast and doing well, Hawkins said. PetroCard’s earnings from operations grew 50 percent in 2000, to $1.9 million, compared with $1.3 million in 1998 and $209,000 in 1998.

"Our gallons sold are up and prices are high, so margins are good for PetroCard," Hawkins said. "But one problem is the State of Washington business tax, which comes off gross revenues. As prices go up, that takes a bigger slice."

PetroCard is expanding further this year. Higher volumes, high prices and good margins will translate into another good year for the company, Hawkins said.

In years past, the Peter Pan Seafoods and Hilton Hotel deals were interesting challenges for BBNC. The corporation purchased the former Anchorage Westward Hotel, a landmark hotel in Anchorage, refurbished it and brought in Hilton Hotels to manage it. Eventually Hilton bought the hotel, a transaction in which BBNC made a nice profit, Hawkins said.

The corporation bought Peter Pan in its early years, when it seemed logical to be in commercial fishing, in which many Bristol Bay shareholders also were engaged. But Peter Pan turned out to be too big for BBNC to adequately finance, Hawkins said.

"The tail was wagging the dog," he said. The annual "pack," or start-up and operating, loans needed for the company were tough for the corporation to handle, particularly at then-prevailing high interest rates, Hawkins said. Peter Pan was sold at a profit and luckily just before a downtown in the fishing business.

Reflecting on BBNC’s recent investment in Northwest Retail Ventures, which operated the Alaska Marketplace stores, Hawkins felt the business plan was good, but financial difficulties prevented Associated Grocers, the majority partner, from fulfilling key parts of the business plan.

The deal also was troubled from the start because the state of Alaska, in negotiating the divestiture of grocery stores when Safeway Inc. acquired the Carrs grocery chain, allowed Safeway to divest its lower-performing stores, according to BBNC sources.

02/24/2001 - 8:00pm