Not only is Fisher & Paykel Healthcare now the biggest company on New Zealand stock market but it is one of the few that is hiring.

Since January, F&P Healthcare has hired some 600 additional direct manufacturing staff locally, and at least 518 in Mexico.

And there's more to come.

"We first started ramping up our manufacturing in February and our current plan is to keep ramping up until the end of the year. There will be steady hiring right through to the end of the year on that plan. Both here and in Mexico," managing director Lewis Gradon told BusinessDesk.


The company had 5,081 employees worldwide as at March 31.

"We do constantly grow, just not at that kind of rate in manufacturing," he said. Without Covid-19, however, "I don't think it would have more than 50 or so," he said, referring to new hires.

Easy to hire

Gradon said there have been no issues finding staff. "There's been a heck of a lot more than that who have lost their jobs," he said.

That's included picking up people who lost their jobs at Air New Zealand, a company that has now cut more than 4,000 workers from its payroll.

"We do have a few people that have come from Air New Zealand, but we didn't actually go out and say 'let's hire people from Air New Zealand, let's hire people from this pool.' We just hired people."

Gradon doesn't expect to see any capacity constraints in hiring anytime soon.

"If Covid keeps going, we'll want more people and if Covid keeps going we'll be in a recession and people are going to lose their jobs."

In Mexico, more than a million people have lost their taxpaying jobs - and even more in the larger cash labour market - due to the pandemic. In NZ more than 43,000 have applied for the Jobseeker benefit since the lockdown began. Mexico has a total population of 126 million people.


Still spending

The company's capital expenditure is expected to be approximately $160 million in the 12 months ending March 31, as it brings forward manufacturing capacity and new product tooling, said Gradon. It was $171m in March 2020 year, up from $133.3m the prior year.

F&P Healthcare saw massive demand for its products due to Covid-19 and has doubled, and in some instances tripled, output for some of its hospital hardware products over the past few months.

Gradon expects that demand to continue even as Covid-19 abates.

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"One of the therapies that's driving that growth is a new therapy, well new in medical terms," he said.

Gradon was referring to a nasal high-flow therapy called Optiflow, which has been successful in keeping some Covid-19 patients off ventilators. The therapy is delivered through the company's Airvo system or MR850 humidifer.

Prior to Covid, F&P Healthcare estimated it was used to treat less than 10 per cent of the world's patients who could benefit from that therapy.


With Covid, "we've been putting a lot more of that equipment in hospitals. Now they are used to it from Covid, they will start using it on other respiratory patients," he said.

Analysts agree.

Ongoing demand

Covid-19 has seen the Airvo nasal high-flow therapy "placed in the hands of clinicians who are now realising the benefits and the potential application of other patients with similar symptoms," said Macquarie Securities analyst Tom Deacon.

"We see a medium tailwind emerging for F&P Healthcare here."

He now has a 12-month target price of $37.59, up 21 per cent from his previous target.

The stock last traded down 3.4 per cent at $34.40. It is up 55 per cent year-to-date.


Jarden analyst Jack Crowley said Covid-19 has been a key factor for the company with a "step change in demand and entrenching F&P Healthcare's first-mover advantage in hospitals."

He lifted his 12-month target price 74 per cent to $25.08 but retained an underperform rating as "we like the quality and growth outlook of F&P Healthcare but continue to believe this is well priced in."