Jobs have been lost at Fonterra but New Zealand's biggest company won't say how many as its major internal business review and debt reduction drive rolls on.

Responding to Herald questions about the effects so far of its "back to basics" programme on jobs and organisation structure, a spokesman said there were "some redundancies" as part of recently confirmed organisational changes.

Asked how many, the written response was: "No, this is not about numbers. It's about teams working more efficiently together, which is why some new roles have also been created."

The website of the milk processor and global dairy exporter says it employs 22,000 people worldwide.


The company, which last year posted a historic first annual net loss of $196 million and debt of $6.2 billion, said if there had been significant or material changes as part of the review it would have announced them to the market.

Fonterra, owned by 10,000-or so dairy farmers, has non-voting, dividend-carrying units in farmer shares listed on the sharemarket.

New chief executive Miles Hurrell recently said the company was making good progress on its review and asset divestments to fulfil a pledge to reduce debt by $800m this financial year.

All eyes will be on the company on Wednesday when it announces its interim financial results. It is also expected to announce some firm asset sale plans.

Market watchers aren't optimistic the half year news will be positive given last month's announcement no interim dividend will be paid and a decision on any full-year dividend could only be made at the end of the financial year and would depend on the cooperative's full-year earnings and balance sheet position.

However new chairman John Monaghan at the same time announced a lift in the milk price forecast to be paid to farmers this dairy season, again highlighting the tension Fonterra's current structure creates between the share price and the milk price.

As a farmer-owned cooperative its reason-for-being is to pay its farmer-owners the maximum possible through the annual milk price. But it is also trying to function as a corporate commercial enterprise and pay dividends. It has had no formal earnings retention policy to shore up the balance sheet when big-ticket outlays and overseas investment losses happen as they have been in recent years.

Fonterra's share price has fallen more than 20 per cent since its stretched balance sheet became public last year.


An immediate imperative for Monaghan and Hurrell is to retain Fonterra's credit ratings to avoid higher interest costs on its borrowings, which at the end of the July 2018 financial year were $6.2b.

Fitch Ratings earlier this month put Fonterra on a "negative" outlook while retaining, for now, its "A" long-term credit rating.