Fonterra returns to profit, sheds assets

25 Mar 2019

Fonterra has returned to profitability with a Net Profit After Tax of NZ$80 million, but normalised EBIT was down 29% on the same period last year to $323 million.

Sales volumes at 10.7 billion liquid milk equivalents were up 2%; revenue was down 1% to $9.7 billion.

Fonterra returns to profit, sheds assets

Fonterra CEO Miles Hurrell said that while it is good to see the co-operative back in the black, the co-operative’s earnings performance is not where it should be and this was the reason for revising the full year earnings guidance down to 15-25 cents per share in February.

“The steady performance from New Zealand Ingredients in the first half of FY19 has been offset by challenges in Australia Ingredients and this has seen our total Ingredients EBIT decline by 17% to $461 million.”

“Our Australia Ingredients business continues to feel the impact of the drought. We can see it in the decline of Australian milk collections and aggressive price competition for milk, which is resulting in the underutilisation of manufacturing assets and tightening margins.”

“Consumer and Foodservice is tracking behind last year with an EBIT of $134 million. This part of the business has been held back by disruptive political and economic conditions as well as high input costs in Latin America. In addition, in our China Foodservice business, demand slowed due to higher prices and in-market inventory levels growing for butter at the end of FY18. In Sri Lanka, our performance was impacted by price constraints.”

Hurrell said the focus is to meet the earnings guidance, deliver the three-point plan and fundamentally reset the business so it can deliver sustainable earnings.

“We have a forecast Farmgate Milk Price of $6.30-$6.60 per kgMS but we also have to meet our earnings guidance range of 15-25 cents per share. This range builds in an expectation of a slightly softer second half for our Ingredients business, but a meaningful increase in Consumer and Foodservice earnings,” said Hurrell.

“Our forecast increase in our Consumer and Foodservice performance is based on a few key factors. It needs a strong improvement in our Foodservice business in Greater China, stronger consumer demand for Soprole in Chile and chilled dairy in Brazil, and an improvement in our Sri Lankan business.”

“Our three-point plan involves taking stock of our business and conducting a portfolio review, getting the basics right and improving our forecasting. We’ve made good progress so far and we will continue to take these steps in the second half to firm up our foundations and strengthen our balance sheet.”

“The second half will also see us continuing the work on developing a new strategy to support a much-needed change in direction. We are doing the right things but it’s clear more is needed to lift our performance. We need to simplify and improve the Co-op so we can grow value.”

As part of taking stock of the business, Fonterra has let its farmer owners and unit holders know today that the third asset it has identified in its portfolio review is DFE Pharma, a 50/50 joint venture established in 2006 between Fonterra and FrieslandCampina.

DFE Pharma is one of the largest suppliers of pharmaceutical excipients which are used as a carrier agent in medicines such as tablets and powder inhalers.

“At the same time, we have confirmed that we are committed to maintaining our lactose service and supply agreements from Fonterra’s Kapuni operation in Taranaki and supporting the ongoing operations of the DFE Pharma business.”

“Together with our partner, we have grown DFE Pharma from relatively small beginnings into a significant and successful business. While continuing to perform well, ownership of DFE is not core to our strategy.”

In addition to this sales process, the co-op said it has received strong interest in Tip Top and is actively considering its options for its shareholding in Beingmate.

“We are well on track to meet our target to reduce end of year debt by $800 million,” said Hurrell.

Hurrell also advised that Fonterra has sold its interest in its Venezuelan consumer joint venture, Corporacion Inlaca, to Mirona, an international food business.

“The decision to sell Inlaca is the result of ongoing instability in Venezuela which has led to challenging operating conditions.”
“The economic situation in Venezuela is not expected to improve in the foreseeable future, so we have made the decision to act now to minimise the impact on Fonterra,” he said.

Fonterra Chairman John Monaghan gave the co-operative’s farmer owners and unit holders a progress update on the full review of its business strategy. He said that the review isn’t mere tinkering around the edges.

“There will be fundamental change. We are taking a hard look at our end-to-end business, where we can win in the world and the products where we have a real competitive advantage.”

“Our Co-operative values of the last 148 years won’t change. Our farmers’ quality, pasture-based milk will always be collected, processed and sold for the highest possible returns. They’ll always be paid on the 20th of the month – every month.”

“Outside of that, there are no sacred cows. The business strategies designed to secure the highest possible returns will change, but some underlying principles will remain.”

Monaghan said the co-operative’s strategy will focus on sustainability and provenance throughout the value chain.

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