The folks who run independent lumberyards typically like to describe themselves as self-sufficient, self-made men and women who succeed based on hard work and a firm handshake. But two recent events suggest that having Uncle Sam on your side can also be a big help.

Event No. 1 was 84 Lumber's announcement in mid-February that it had closed on a refinancing deal that paid off the last $40 million of a $195 million, 18% interest loan that had hobbled the dealer since it was forced to get the money in April 2008. Of that, $20 million will come in the form of federal loans from 84's home governments in Pennsylvania under the federal government's Section 108 loan guarantee program. These loans require only interest payments during the first two years of their 17-year life.

Other dealers have complained to ProSales about the deal, suggesting 84 got the loans because officials in the LBM giant's home county and related jurisdictions concluded 84 was too big to fail. Indeed, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the granting of the loans, it said the funding should help 84 create and retain at least 422 jobs.

Event No. 2 happened a few days later, when Builders FirstSource (BFS) reported it had swung to a net loss of $24.6 million in 2010's fourth quarter from a $6.6 million profit in the year-earlier quarter. What was the difference? Taxes. In 2009, BFS was able to claim $33.2 million worth of tax benefits because the federal government had extended its net operating loss carry-back provision to five years rather than the usual two. That enabled BFS to apply 2009 losses against profits from as far back as 2004, and gave BFS a huge boost going into 2010.

Because it is the only major lumberyard operation that is also a public company and thus has to report its profit and loss figures, BFS' results give an indication of how important that carryback provision has been. It's believed the income-tax provision gave a huge boost to several other big dealers' 2009 financial statements.