Fonterra getting worse to get better?

Just a few days ago Andrea Fox asked: Fonterra what is going on?

Yesterday we found out. Fonterra’s email to shareholders and media release made grim reading:

Chief Executive Officer Miles Hurrell said that as a result of the full review of the business which has taken place across the year, as well as the work done so far to prepare its financial statements for FY19, it has become clear that Fonterra needs to reduce the carrying value of several of its assets and take account of other one-off accounting adjustments, which total approximately $820-860 million.

“Since September 2018 we’ve been re-evaluating all investments, major assets and partnerships to ensure they still meet the Co-operative’s needs. We are leaving no stone unturned in the work to turn our performance around. We have taken a hard look at our end-to-end business, including selling and reviewing the future of a number of assets that are no longer core to our strategy. The review process has also identified a small number of assets that we believe are overvalued, based on the outlook for their expected future returns.

“While the Co-op’s FY19 underlying earnings range is within the current guidance of 10-15 cents per share, when you take into consideration these likely write-downs, we expect to make a reported loss of $590-675 million this year, which is a 37 to 42 cent loss per share. . . 

The company is making several one-off financial adjustments:

  • Our accounting valuation for DPA Brazil will be impaired by approximately $200 million. This change is mainly due to the economic conditions in Brazil. While they are improving, consumer confidence and employment rates are not at the level required to support the sales volumes and price points our forecast cashflows were based on. 
  • “As a result of the previously announced sale of our Venezuelan consumer business, and the closing of our small Venezuelan Ingredients business, due to the country’s economic and political instability, we have made an accounting adjustment of approximately $135 million relating primarily to the release of the adverse accumulated foreign currency translation reserve.  
  • “Our carrying value for China Farms will be impaired by approximately $200 million due to the slower than expected operating performance. While the extent in which we participate is under strategic review, the fresh milk category in China continues to look promising and is growing. 
  • “In our New Zealand consumer business, the compounding effect of operational challenges, along with a slower than planned recovery in our market share has resulted in us reassessing its future earnings. We are now rebuilding this business and, as part of this, have sold Tip Top which allows the team to focus on its core business. The combined impact is a write-down of approximately $200 million. 
  • “Our Australian Ingredients business is adapting to the new norm of continued drought, reduced domestic milk supply and aggressive competition in the Australian dairy industry. This includes closing our Dennington factory, which combined with writing off the goodwill in Australia Ingredients, results in a one-off impact of approximately $70 million (this includes the $50 million previously announced as part of the Dennington announcement).

“These are tough but necessary decisions we need to make to reflect today’s realities. . . 

Chairman John Monaghan said that in-light of the significant write-downs that reflect important accounting adjustments Fonterra needed to make, the Board had brought forward its decision on the full year dividend for FY19.

“We have made the call not to pay a dividend for FY19. Our owners’ livelihoods were front of mind when making this decision and we are well aware of the challenging environment farmers are operating in at the moment.

“Ultimately, we are charged with acting in the best long-term interests of the Co-op. The underlying performance of the business is in-line with the latest earnings guidance, but we cannot ignore the reported loss of $590 – $675 million once you look at the overall picture.

Board’s must act in the best interests of the company which is not always in the best short-term interest of shareholders.

“Not paying a dividend for the FY19 financial year is part of our stated intention to reduce the Co-op’s debt, which is in everybody’s long-term interests. . . 

The action that is being taken is a result of bad investments in the past.

Quitting them is both necessary and sensible, but where to from here, what have the board and management learned and what changes must still be made?

Sometimes when a company is in a mess it has to get worse before it gets better.

Suppliers and shareholders will accept the getting worse for a short time  but will run out of patience if the company can’t show it is on the way to getting better soon.

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