- 2014 - February - 6th -

Plan to split Patriot Transportation back on again

By Mark Basch, Contributing Writer

After putting the proposal on hold to consider an acquisition opportunity, Patriot Transportation Holding Inc. is again moving forward with plans to split into two companies, President and CEO Tom Baker said Wednesday.

The board of directors could vote on the proposal in May, Baker said after Patriot’s annual shareholders meeting at the Downtown River Club.

Jacksonville-based Patriot operates two distinct businesses: A trucking company that hauls petroleum products and other commodities throughout the Southeast and a commercial real estate division that develops properties mainly in the Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia market.

The real estate group also owns properties that are leased under mining royalty agreements.

The company has considered splitting the transportation and real estate businesses into separate companies several times over the last 15 years. Last June, Patriot retained investment banker Raymond James & Associates to explore the possibility again.

Patriot has said very little about it since then.

“We’re proceeding with the due diligence required to let our board make an informed decision,” Baker said during Wednesday’s meeting, but he did not say anything more about it.

After the meeting, Baker said the split-up plan was put on hold to consider a possible acquisition and for financing reasons, it would have made more sense to keep the two businesses together if it made that deal.

However, that potential deal, which he did not detail, is now dead, so Patriot is again moving forward with the split-up plan.

“We decided to ramp the process back up,” Baker said.

Baker expressed optimism about both businesses during the meeting.

“We had a very good year financially. We start 2014 in very good shape,” he said.

Patriot on Monday reported earnings for the first quarter ended Dec. 31 fell 25 percent to $2.3 million, or 24 cents a share.

The decrease was due in part to a gain from a land sale that increased earnings in the first quarter last year. Also, the transportation division was affected by increased costs to temporarily move drivers to new markets, which offset increased revenue in the division, the company said.

Baker said Patriot is looking to hire more drivers for the trucking business after adding 45 in fiscal 2013, bringing the total to 619.

“Our ability to successfully add drivers is the key to our future growth,” he said.

Patriot Executive Chairman John Baker (Tom’s uncle) said during the meeting that the commercial real estate business is also growing. Occupancy of Patriot’s developed properties has increased from the 70 percent range during the recession to almost 90 percent today, he said.

“Clearly these are great times in the cycle for us,” John Baker said.

However, he said the mining royalty segment of the company, which leases properties to companies that mine for construction materials, is lagging.

“The construction economy, while better, is nowhere near the peak it was in 2006,” he said.


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