One of China's four national asset management companies has signed a strategic cooperation with Fonterra's troubled partner Beingmate and is poised to become an investor via the company's controlling shareholder.
Beingmate announced the deal in a notice to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, while also saying that it plans to offload its 51 per cent stake in the Darnum milk powder plant in Australia, which it bought from Fonterra under a joint venture arrangement.
The news comes as Fonterra reviews its offshore assets, including its heavily impaired Beingmate stake. The co-operative has hired Goldman Sachs to review its shareholding in the Chinese infant formula company.
Great Wall was founded by the Chinese Government to help cushion the impact of the Asian financial crisis by taking bad loans off the books of China's largest banks.
Since 1999, it has acquired, managed and disposed of more than RMB 1 trillion of non-performing assets of financial institutions such as Agricultural Bank of China, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and other commercial banks, as well as non-financial institutions.
Beingmate said Great Wall would provide a full suite of services to help improve the company's core competitiveness including asset restructuring, equity investment and debt restructuring.
It also said its controlling shareholder, Beingmate Group, intends to transfer some of its listed company shares to Great Wall, which could see it end up with more than 5 per cent of Beingmate.
However, no formal agreement has been signed between the parties.
Whether that fits in with any exit strategy that Fonterra may be looking at is unclear, although dairy analysts in China have speculated that the Kiwi Co-operative could find a way to sell its stake to Chinese government investors.
Beingmate is 34 per cent owned by Beingmate Group and 18.8 per cent owned by Fonterra.
In 2015 Fonterra invested $755 million for an 18.8 per cent stake in Beingmate, which it said would give access to the lucrative Chinese market for its infant formula and other products.
Beingmate originally had sole rights to distribute Fonterra's popular Anmum brand in China but that is no longer the case, Fonterra chairman John Monaghan recently conceded.
Fonterra Australia has used the Darnum plant to manufacture nutritional base powders for Beingmate and ship the product to China. According to its announcement, Beingmate plans to sell its 51 per cent stake in Darnum back to Fonterra or another entity.
Fonterra has since written down the carrying value of its Beingmate investment to $204m after a string of heavy losses decimated Beingmate's market value.