Some investors still think Fonterra gives them exposure to raw milk - "the opposite may in fact be true": Harbour Asset Management

Some investors still think Fonterra gives them exposure to raw milk - "the opposite may in fact be true": Harbour Asset Management

By Andrew Bascand and Oyvinn Rimer*

The Fonterra Shareholders Fund (FSF) lists this Friday.

Clearly investor interest in Fonterra has been unprecedented.

Retail, farmer and global demand was very strong.

That is why it is relevant to remember the key short term drivers of this investment and valuation is not the milk price, but instead centres on Asian growth and Fonterra’s ability to maintain a fast growth rate in the Foodservices segment.

Investors must also keep an eye on governance.

The IPO was placed at the top end of the proposed pricing range at $5.50. At that price the FSF is expected to yield about 5.5%.

In the lead-up to this listing, Harbour has had the opportunity to learn about Fonterra and to provide constructive comments on the proposed security. It has been a long time coming and now that the listing of the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund is finally here, we thought it could be constructive to discuss what the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund is, how Fonterra operates and how it generates earnings.

Trading Amongst Farmers is the term for the overall “structure”. This includes a Fonterra Shareholders Market (colloquially known as the Farmers market) and the FSF (where “Units” provide external investors access to the same underlying cash-flows as the shareholders).

A Registered Volume Provider facilitates trading in the Famers market but can also exchange Shares for Units, effectively arbitraging pricing differences1.

Fonterra – the world’s largest processor and exporter of milk

No other New Zealand company has a global reach on quite the same scale as Fonterra. Its large size and integrated business model gives it a unique positioning in the global dairy market.

At a very high level, it can be useful to think of Fonterra in two silos:

1) The New Zealand Milk business, which includes the collection of raw milk, processing of the milk, logistics related to the sale of the milk and end sales. Most Kiwis have seen the milk tankers on the roads, transporting raw milk from the farm gate to the processing plants, where most of the milk is processed into milk powder and then sold to end users across the world. This business earns a steady cash-flow albeit at low margins, but provides Fonterra with a secure supply of milk (matched by no other global competitor) for its own higher margin consumer-focused business; and

2) Consumer (or Brands) business, which includes Fonterra’s global consumer brands and foodservices businesses, as well as a range of joint ventures and equity investments in dairy-focused companies. Fonterra has the ability to leverage its strong milk supply to grow this business, targeting higher margin products in growing regions to sustain the company’s growth strategies.

Fonterra is NOT an investment in raw milk

As obvious as it may be, there are still investors who think that an investment in Fonterra gives them exposure to milk prices, when the opposite may in fact be true.

Milk is an input cost.

Significant controversy has in the past been associated with how Fonterra sets the Farm Gate Milk Price.

Much of the uncertainty associated with this key input-cost has been eliminated by publishing the Farmgate Milk Price Manual and the transparent Global Dairy Trade auctions. Moreover, investors have “fought” hard to improve governance, of both the Milk Price Panel and the Fonterra Shareholders Fund.

At the end of the day, we are starting this new “model” for New Zealand’s capital markets with a lot of trust and transparency and experienced global investors are now a large part of the new capital base.

This is important as there are several global examples of similar structures where valuation “discounts” are placed on the inability of investors to vote as ordinary shareholders.

These discounts fluctuate markedly and it seems as perceptions of governance vary.

This is a risk and an uncertainty for FSF as the structure “beds” down.

The exciting prospect is the growth in Asia and Foodservices globally

Whilst we can all “talk-up” the fast growing infant formula market, this is now a highly competitive segment and is not without risks.

Fonterra has a much broader array of Asian growth opportunities and is focussed on adding value through better supply chain management.

Perhaps the segment that is more exciting is the Foodservices industry, where margins are high and the direct access to customers, together with innovation in product, may continue to see fast growth in both revenue and earnings.


1. The Units traded in the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund (FSF) are entitled to all Economic Rights of Shares in Fonterra. The key differences from a Share are that a Unitholder does not hold legal title to the Share (i.e. does not become registered as the holder of the Share) and a Unitholder does not have any voting rights on Fonterra resolutions.


Andrew Bascand  is the managing director of Harbour Asset Management and Oyvinn Rimer is their analyst for Fonterra. You can contact them here »

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This bits going to be trouble
At the end of the day, we are starting this new “model” for New Zealand’s capital markets with a lot of trust and transparency and experienced global investors are now a large part of the new capital base.
What the asset backing per share?  

Morningstar courtesy of Scoop had this to say:
We don’t believe Fonterra possess an economic moat. While the company is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products, its business is driven by commodity products like whole milk powder and skim milk powder which make up 60–65% of its operating earnings. Consequently the vast majority of the firm’s business has no pricing power and generates mid-single digit operating margins. This pales in comparison to mid to high teens generated by some of the other multinational food companies. Fonterra aspires to sell more branded products to move up the value chain and boost returns. However we think it will face significant competition from companies like Nestle and Danone given their well entrenched positions in several key markets and geographies. A good example of this is ANZ where margins and earnings on branded products have taken a knock because of significant competitive pressures.

I thinks its fair to say that Fonterra is laregely an exposure to raw milk and its derivative product being whole or skim milk powder.  The company has been trying to grow its branded goods business for a decade now and while it has been successful here from a low base the majority of the business is still based around WMP and SMP.
Also, its important to remember that this is a derivative investment in a fund that owns some shares in Fonterra, with the key aim being to provide a dividend flow to holders of units in that fund.  It does nothing for Fonterra's capital structure over all apart from signialling the 'market' value of the company's equity (although not directly due to the derivative nature of the structure).
My view is that Fonterra's capital structure is still flawed and that the company will continue to suffer becuase of this.
Morningstar has this grand model idea of 'economic moats'...  its an OK concept but its can cloud thinking about companies - it imples that companies are about defending posiitons when real value for shareholders (and investors in derivative products) is created by seeking out new market oppourtuniites - I prefer the concept of a competitive advantage period of CAP....  

Back in June, I read this from the Chicago Tribune,
A most informative link A.J. and others interested, here's an extract hope you'll use the link.
Fonterra also lacks the capital, consumer brand recognition
and profit margins of rivals Danone and Nestle

"It's way too small," Jeff Stent, an analyst at Exane BNP
Paribas in London who looks at the European dairy sector, said
of the fund.

"Effectively you're asking people to have interest in an
illiquid investment, which is largely based on commodity trends.
It's a very different business (from Danone or Nestle).
Fonterra's really just on the supply chain."

Eager to secure a less volatile capital base, Fonterra has
designed the fund to provide liquidity for a new share trading
scheme among its farmers. Currently the co-op itself must redeem
shares when farmers cut milk production or leave the co-op, or
issue shares when milk production is increased or farmers join.

With the new fund and farmer share-trading scheme, it hopes
to avoid a repeat of a situation four years ago when its balance
sheet took a NZ$600 million hit after drought hit production,
leading to a mass redemption of shares.

It also wants to keep the fund, which will be launched in
November, small enough to reassure some members who have been
worried the fund could mark the start of farmers losing control
of the co-operative.
 a good read...

Thanks Christov
 Here is alink to farm debt, look at the inflation in costs and that must be happening at Fonterra too. Its fromm  2009 I think.

Cheers for that A.J. ....I think it a must to view for any non farming person who may think it's one long holiday for those at the coal face.
 A real bloody eye opener...! I see the Bankers have postioned themselves risk averse.
 God help the Farmers when the power goes Corporate......that'll be ugly ...