By Allan Barber
Alliance posted its annual result on Friday which was every bit as bad as predicted, a net after tax loss of $50.8 million for the 12 months ended September.
The result included restructuring costs of $13.5 million associated with the closure of the company’s Mataura sheep and lamb processing operations which followed similar costs of $19.4 million the previous year from the closure of its Sockburn plant.
The 2012 performance saw a $77.8 million deterioration at the operating level compared with 2011 which, despite the $9 million net after tax loss, produced an operating profit of over $20 million.
Chairman Owen Poole expressed his disappointment at Alliance’s first operating loss for 20 years which he attributed to the decline in the sheepmeat market exacerbated by the high New Zealand dollar and the unsustainable level of procurement costs earlier in the season.
In the 2012 financial year Alliance was hit by a triple whammy of lower sales and product prices, ridiculously high livestock procurement prices driven by short supply pre-Christmas, and the high dollar.
The strength of the dollar was in no way reflected in a realistic procurement market.
There is a question whether other processors were equally affected or saved to some extent by a higher proportion of beef processing in their operations. This will be at least partially answered when Silver Fern Farms releases its result later this month.
One factor which Poole omitted to cover in detail was the significant impact of the last two years on the balance sheet which he said was “still robust”.
Unfortunately the equity ratio has declined from 81.5% in 2010 to 51% two years later.
Clearly it cannot keep declining at this rate for much longer, so the company’s board will be hoping fervently that markets will recover and livestock supply at least stabilise in the immediate future.
Poole referred in his statement to the operational upgrades to Mataura’s beef processing, venison processing at Smithfield and rendering at Lorneville which, when combined with the savings from closures, will lead to much improved efficiencies and a significantly better result for the current year.
Growth of lamb sales to China, sales to Brazil, the contract with Marks & Spencer and better market outlook encourage some optimism for this year.
Longer term the sheep population is unlikely to increase to any great extent, although productivity can be expected to improve with genetics, technology and lambing percentage increases. Whether this will be enough to maintain the industry in its present configuration is doubtful, because individual processors will continue to look for efficiency gains.
Silver Fern Farms is already thought to be planning a nightshift at its Gore plant to take advantage of the closure of Mataura.
Meat industry capacity adjustments and potentially company ownerships can be expected to change in response to market conditions. No different from normal!