Jamie Gray

Jamie Gray is a business reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ wire agency

Fonterra: Muted response from members for shareholder fund

Morningstar researchers have suggested investors steer clear of new Fonterra units at least until they start trading. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Morningstar researchers have suggested investors steer clear of new Fonterra units at least until they start trading. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Fonterra will put in the bulk of shares required for the Fonterra Shareholders' Fund following a muted response from its farmer members.

The dairy co-operative said farmers had taken a "wait and see'' approach in the supply phase of the fund, which will list on the NZX next week.

Fonterra said about 260 farmer shareholders had offered to sell economic rights of around 5.5 million Fonterra shares into the fund.

"It is clear that we have seen limited interest from farmers at this time,'' Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said in a statement.

"We're hearing from our farmer shareholders that a number of them are likely to wait and see how the units trade before deciding to sell economic rights of some of their shares into the fund, but many are showing confidence in Fonterra by applying to buy units,'' he said.

Chief financial officer Jonathan Mason said the muted response could be a reflection of the current interest rate environment.

"We know interest rates are low at the moment and this may mean that not all farmers are looking for alternative sources of cash,'' he said.

As also indicated in the fund's prospectus, Fonterra will issue enough shares to achieve the $500m minimum fund size required.

The number of shares to be issued will depend on the final price of fund units, which will be determined following the bookbuild process taking place next week.

Mason said the issue of shares by Fonterra would, at the most, affect the co-operative's earnings per share by about one cent.

Fonterra has said that it does not intend to permanently retain the resulting equity.

Spierings said there had been strong interest from farmers and staff in buying units in the fund.

More than 2500 people had applied to buy units under its "Friends of Fonterra'' offer, which covers sharemilkers, retired farmers and Fonterra staff.

The final phase of the Fonterra offer - the institutional book-build - where institutions put in their bids for units in the fund - will take place early next week.

Final pricing is expected to take place on Tuesday

The institutional phase is expected to attract intense investor interest before the fund debuts on the NZX on Friday.

Fonterra's issue has been highly sought during the book-building stage, and the investors were unlikely to get as many units as they applied for due to scaling.

The share scheme is aimed at offsetting redemption risk - when Fonterra has to pay out farmers when they choose to leave the sector - and at giving farmers increased financial flexibility. The units do not carry voting rights.

- APNZ

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