The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Stock Takes: US delays weigh on BurgerFuel

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It's been a long road getting set up in the US for BurgerFuel. Pictured: Chief executive Josef Roberts.
It's been a long road getting set up in the US for BurgerFuel. Pictured: Chief executive Josef Roberts.

Are investors getting cold feet over the prospects for BurgerFuel's much-anticipated debut in the United States?

The NZAX-listed restaurant operator's shares more than doubled in value in January 2014 after the company announced a partnership with Franchise Brands, an investment firm linked to the Subway chain.

BurgerFuel is aiming to utilise the tie-up to open stores in the US.

Chief executive Josef Roberts told the Herald in February 2014 that the company could open its first US outlet within 12 months.

But entering the US has turned out to be more difficult, time-consuming and costly than expected as a result of regulatory and legal requirements.

More than two years on, the company has commenced a push into Australia but is yet to open a single restaurant in America.

The delay appears to be weighing on the share price, which had fallen 52 per cent from $3.75 in June last year to $1.80 as of market open yesterday.

Brooke Bone, a portfolio manager with Milford Asset Management, which holds shares in BurgerFuel, said he had expected to see the company announce its first US site "well before now".

"They've gone very quiet and there hasn't been very much said about progress in the US market," Bone said. "I can only make the assertion that [investors] are concerned that there is some delay in the US store roll-out plan."

Beyond control

A BurgerFuel spokeswoman said the US entry had been complex for reasons outside the firm's control.

"The regulatory aspects of operating both a franchised, retail food business, and a business of foreign origin in the USA are considerable and vary from state to state," she said. "It's important that we understand this market as much as possible before we make any moves."

She pointed out that the relative illiquidity of the shares meant the price could move up and down rapidly on thin trading.

"It is important to remember that 80 per cent of [BurgerFuel] stock is held by three main investors who do not trade this stock," she said.

In December, the company reported a 21 per cent increase in half-year total system sales to a record $46.7 million.

BurgerFuel, which is investing heavily for growth, reported a net loss of $488,000 for the six months to September 30, in line with guidance.

The company's shares closed down 2c yesterday at $1.78.

Hard line

Fonterra doesn't have any plans to backtrack on its controversial extension of supplier payment terms.

But if the dairy giant did, it wouldn't be a unprecedented move.

Last year, European liquor giant Diageo was forced to U-turn on plans to extend the time it takes to pay suppliers from 60 days to 90 days after the London-listed firm copped heavy criticism from politicians and the business community.

But Fonterra isn't buckling.

At its half-yearly press conference yesterday the company apologised for how it had communicated the changes, but said the extension facing some vendors -- to 61 days after the month in which an invoice is dated -- would remain in place.

Shares in Fonterra Shareholders' Fund closed down 5c yesterday at $5.88 after the co-operative reported a 123 per cent lift in interim profit to $409 million.

- NZ Herald

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The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

A business journalist for more than four years, he also writes the weekly Stock Takes column.Christopher’s main focus is the local sharemarket and issues facing Kiwi investors. He covered manufacturing and retail in his previous Herald role and maintains a special interest in New Zealand’s growing trade relationship with China.

Read more by Christopher Adams

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