The two biggest meat processors had contrasting experiences during the 2015 season to judge by their annual results and accompanying comments. There is no doubt Silver Fern Farms found life easier than Alliance, with respect to the year in question. SFF must also have heaved an enormous sigh of relief after its improvement from the previous three years. Read the rest of this entry »
A new report by agricultural consultancy Agra Europe entitled Preparing for Brexit suggests leaving the EU, to be determined by a referendum in 2017, could destroy the British farming sector. The authors have based their forecast on the Coalition government’s 2013 Fresh Start Policy document which theorised that British agriculture could imitate New Zealand and Australia’s success in surviving, even flourishing, in a post-subsidy world. Read the rest of this entry »
I have already pinned my colours to the mast by saying the JV between Silver Fern Farms and Shanghai Maling will be good for the meat industry and New Zealand as a whole, whereas some commentators don’t appear to share my enthusiasm. Some companies are also less than ecstatic about what it might mean for future competitive behaviour. Read the rest of this entry »
In spite of apparently solid support for the Shanghai Maling deal at the road show meetings, there are a number of long-term shareholders in the far south who feel let down and ripped off by the company’s determination to sell 50% of their cooperative.
Their displeasure has two main causes, one historical and the other current: the historical reason is the company’s departure from cooperative principles after the Richmond takeover; the more current reason is based on a belief there should be no need to commit to a partnership which sacrifices control of the cooperative. However one could argue control has long gone, with present controllers the banks being replaced by a Chinese meat company.
There is nothing now to be done about the Richmond takeover which was characterised by acrimony on both sides, as well as the substantial debt burden it imposed on PPCS which had been a successful business for over 50 years. These shareholders feel the company could have raised all the capital it needed, if it had insisted on new suppliers becoming shareholders; but because of the threat of a supplier exodus, PPCS decided to retain supply by accepting livestock from non shareholders.
This was an inevitable decision in the very different North Island climate and that horse has long since bolted. AFFCO’s status as a cooperative in anything but name had long disappeared before its capital restructuring in the mid 1990s.
The justification for selling half the operating business, including processing assets, brands, intellectual property and production supplied by the cooperative, can be found in the Notice of Meeting sent to shareholders and available on the SFF website. The attached Grant Samuel Independent Report contains essentially the same information as the Notice of Meeting which is logical, as much of Grant Samuel’s information came from discussions with company management and directors.
This is probably inevitable, but it raises the question whether an independent report, produced on behalf of and in consultation with a company, can ever be truly independent. The strong probability must be the conclusion will always corroborate the client’s preferred course of action, provided it makes sense.
That said, the partnership with Shanghai Maling appears to be an offer which ticks many boxes which are beneficial to SFF and, it could be said, its suppliers. Shareholders will receive a 30 cent a share dividend, having received no dividends and seen the value of their shares fall to 35% of par value; they are also virtually guaranteed to be paid a competitive price for their livestock and dividends in future. The company will be debt free and, in chairman Rob Hewett’s words, the value add ‘plate to pasture’ strategy will gain a turbo charge.
The key conclusion in the Grant Samuel report is the following excerpt which states “As a result of an improved financial performance and other strategic initiatives SFF Co-Op has achieved a degree of deleveraging over the last two years and it is arguable that given
time it will be able to achieve a more conservative capital structure without the need for new capital. Nevertheless, the Proposed Transaction achieves the recapitalisation, removes uncertainty, creates new opportunities for growth and is strongly supported by the Board of SFF Co-Op and the Banking Syndicate.”
The removal of the uncertainty that has bedeviled the company for several years and the unwillingness of at least some of the banking syndicate to extend facilities beyond the end of this month without a firm, bankable proposal are two very good reasons for accepting the deal.
In time the company will be able to transition to its intended supplier remuneration policy of rewarding suppliers for their ability to comply with market specifications. But first there must be a serious review of processing facilities and tough decisions about plant upgrades or closures, because SFF has more capacity than any of its competitors, quite a lot of it less efficient. The recapitalisation will enable this to occur without having to go cap in hand to the banks.
For suppliers who support the partnership proposal, the important points are survival of the company, certainty of payment and possibly belief in Shanghai Maling’s ability to enhance the returns from the ‘pasture to plate’ strategy without keeping all the additional profit for itself. Conversely the objectors believe SFF has departed irrevocably from its cooperative principles and should have been able to find alternative capital without selling half the business, while Shanghai Maling will take all the upstream margin.
At this stage it is impossible to predict whether, and for how long, Shanghai Maling will be content to remain in a true 50/50 partnership which is a notoriously troublesome business form. History suggests it won’t last this way for ever because, in a joint venture, one partner generally ends up screwing the other. Inevitably it will be the stronger partner that finishes on top and there are no prizes for guessing the outcome here.
Unfortunately those suppliers mourning the structural and philosophical change to their cooperative will have to face the reality of the financial position which SFF was faced with and the board has been compelled to resolve the best way it could. That’s what boards are meant to do. Equally, unhappy shareholders also have a choice and can look at the obvious alternative.
In proposing the deal with Shanghai Maling, SFF’s board has made a judgement call between the lesser of two evils: it has chosen the financial certainty of new capital in exchange for half the business, believing this to be preferable to the risk of losing supply from disaffected shareholders. The amount of time it took to come up with this solution suggests the board must believe it had no choice in the end.
No wonder the deal between Silver Fern farms and Shanghai Mailing took so long to conclude, but from all appearances it was worth waiting for. Not that you would necessarily think so, if you read about the disappointment of some shareholders and the MIE group about the board’s unwillingness to give serious consideration to an alternative farmer offer of $40 million or some of the business commentary. Read the rest of this entry »
The Shanghai Maling Aquarius offer for 50% of Silver Fern Farms may not be the restructuring catalyst that MIE and some shareholders of both cooperatives were hoping for, but it certainly presages a dramatic change in the industry’s dynamics. Read the rest of this entry »
Good company performance demands clarity of purpose which is defined and monitored by a board of directors elected or appointed by the shareholders. There are five main types of company ownership structure that are or have been represented in New Zealand’s agricultural sector and each has advantages and disadvantages. Read the rest of this entry »
The front page of Saturday’s Weekend Australian showed a disconsolate Chinese dairy investor standing on a Gippsland, Victoria, property on which his company Ningbo Dairy Group had hoped to farm 1000 dairy cows. The plan was to house the cows in barns and produce milk for bottling in a A$6 million bottling plant on another property for airfreight as fresh milk to China. Read the rest of this entry »
MIE has to be given credit for its persistence with its campaign to persuade Silver Fern Farms and Alliance to look seriously at the benefits of merging as opposed to continuing to beat their respective heads against the brick wall of competition. But the outcome depends on several planets aligning at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »
For the first time since 2004 New Zealand and Australian beef exporters look almost certain to run out of US beef quota before the end of the year. High kills in both countries have seen an excess of beef being processed, well ahead of the normal annual production trend. Read the rest of this entry »