Many moons ago I held an investment role with Mobil Land Development Corp. It was at a time of diversification for Mobil, which had acquired retailer Montgomery Ward. Mobil also tried to tie up the entire supply chain and in so doing, acquired Container Corp., a rust belt company that made cardboard to ship all of the stuff you bought at Wards and was delivered via snail mail. Alas, Montgomery Ward was a victim to changing demographics and was shuttered along with Container Corp.
Back in those days one viewed paper mills that made cardboard like we now view fax machines, useful but not a growth story. Fast forward to today. Paper mills are making a strong comeback in the heartland thanks to Amazon and China. A couple of weeks ago the New York Times featured a front page story about “The Great American Cardboard Comeback”. As the story goes, old paper mills are being reopened and repurposed to produce cardboard for the billions of packages that are humming through the new supply chain.
So where does China come into this story? Well, China has stopped importing used cardboard which has created a glut stateside, and as a result, provides paper mills with a vital raw material at 70% less than it used to cost. Now, many paper mills are healthy, producing brown paper for all of that cardboard that you love to get each and every day, thanks to Jeff Bezos and our friends in China.