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Silver Fern Farms claims progress in 2012 despite a $62 million deterioration in profit - "poor financially, strategically progressive"

Posted in Rural News

By Allan Barber

Hard on the heels of Alliance’s announcement, Silver Fern Farms has also come out with a big loss, reinforcing the belief that all meat companies have had a bad year.

SFF’s result was a loss of $31.1 million compared with a profit of $30.8 million before extraordinary items the previous year.

CEO Keith Cooper confirmed the effect of lamb on the season’s losses, saying SFF had been comfortable with what it was paying for lambs price before Christmas.

Market demand had suddenly stopped dead in February because of the market price and companies had all been hit by exposure to expensive stock, unable to reduce the price quickly enough.

The net result was too much product going into overvalued inventory which resulted in a writedown of $25.6 million at balance date.

The company’s media release highlighted the same reasons as Alliance for the loss – unjustifiably high procurement cost, high dollar, sudden drop in market demand, inventory writedown – but made very positive reference to the future outlook.

It has made significant new investments, including the Te Aroha rebuild, $8 million of new marketing initiatives and $4 million commitment to FarmIQ.

In the current year SFF intends to invest a further $22.6 million in brand development, marketing initiatives and FarmIQ.

According to chairman Eoin Garden, this “clearly demonstrates our confidence in, and commitment to, the growth path we have charted for our company” notwithstanding the poor performance during the year ended September.

High inventories are already being substantially sold down to a point where the company’s inventory level is already much closer to normal for this time of the year, lonely six weeks after balance date. As will be the case with Alliance the equity ratio will have already benefited from this.

The suspicion that SFF’s loss would not be a large as that posted by Alliance because of a greater proportion of beef in its kill proved to be correct. Nor did SFF have to take any plant closures on the chin. Cooper said the company’s footprint was consistent with livestock numbers and no further closures were under review.

In answer to a question about further industry rationalisation Cooper said SFF had already taken over two small companies, Frasertown and Wallace, and he was always in favour of aggregation. This invariably involved smaller companies being acquired by one of the big four.

However it was ultimately up to farmers to decide on the industry’s structure, because industry rationalisation only lasted so long before a new processor emerged, which farmers would then typically support.

The general mood in the meat industry, confirmed by SFF, is positive for the new season.

Procurement prices are aligned with the market, livestock volumes are stable, even recovering slightly, and capacity is fairly well balanced with throughput.

In conclusion Keith Cooper said while 2011/12 was a poor year financially, strategically it was a progressive one.

“2012 marked a continuation of our unwavering commitment to executing our Plate-to-Pasture strategy. This is a progressive and long term plan, which demands perseverance and determination, to ultimately generate sustainable value for our farmer-partners, by meeting the modern consumer’s requirements.”

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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country where he runs a boutique B&B with his wife. You can contact him by email at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz or read his blog here »

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