Fonterra pressed to provide more details on Beingmate investment

Fonterra has confirmed there will be an update on Beingmate in the co-operative's September 25 earnings announcements.

Fonterra Cooperative Group owes holders in its Fonterra Shareholders Fund units a fuller update on Beingmate, the struggling Chinese infant formula producer and distributor that Fonterra uses to push its leading Anmum formula into the Chinese market, according to an analyst.

In a note to investors dated September 7, FNZC's head of institutional research, Arie Dekker, identified the lack of transparency about Fonterra's 18.8% shareholding in Beingmate as a confidence as well as a performance issue for investors.

"We view the investment as a material one from both a financial and confidence perspective." Mr Dekker said the time is right for FSF to provide a more detailed disclosure on what has happened with Beingmate and the reasons it remains confident about the long-term future.

A Fonterra spokesman confirmed there would be an update on Beingmate in the co-operative's September 25 earnings announcements.

FNZC values the Fonterra stake in Beingmate at approximately $420 million, down 45 percent on its March 15 purchase price of nearly $756 million, reflecting a range of problems at Beingmate, which included the firm declaring a $78 million loss for the most recent half-year, having previously given guidance for a $10 million profit for the period.

Beingmate shares, which are listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, fell 10 percent earlier this month after the result and immediately following their release from a trading halt triggered by the company negotiating to sell two assets to its controlling shareholder for about $40 million.

In particular, FNZC wants details on Chinese market distribution of Anmum products, which Fonterra passed over entirely to Beingmate.

"Forecast annual sales growth was expected to exceed $100 million per annum by 2018," Mr Dekker said. "FSF has not reported directly on progress with Anmum in China but we understand sales growth has been positive off a low base and more specific visibility on what has been achieved for Anmum in China has not been provided to date."

Mr Dekker's latest critique follows a wider analysis in July of Fonterra's global strategy, in which he questioned whether capital currently applied to gaining access to 'milk pools' in other countries, including China and Australia, was delivering returns superior to investing in higher-value dairy products from its New Zealand production base.

"Beingmate has been struggling financially over the last few years and it is not inconceivable that this has had a negative impact on distribution of Anmum against expectations on the volumes" being produced at the jointly owned Darnum milk processing plant in Victoria, Australia.

"In short, Beingmate has lost sales, missed FSF targets and likely lost reasonable market share in the last three years and FSF has been largely silent on it with investors," FNZC says.

"We do view Beingmate as a reasonably material investment for FSF (including for sentiment) and there are reasonable questions on its value in FSF's books and how the market should look at the investment.

FNZC is maintaining a neutral rating on FSF units and a target price of $6.09. The units closed at $6.14 yesterday and have risen 9.6 percent over the last year.

FNZC risks to that view are the pending outcome of the Danone litigation, relating to the 2013 whey protein concentrate contamination scare, which was one of the catalysts for the Beingmate play in 2014 after Danone stopped using Fonterra's Darnum facility. Beingmate picked up a 50 percent interest in the Darnum plant in a joint venture with Fonterra.

(BusinessDesk)

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