Fonterra has posted a net loss of $605 million for the July year, slightly better than expected, on asset writedowns of $826m, mainly on its offshore businesses.

This follows the previous year's loss of $196m and has sparked a billion dollars worth of asset sales and a significant change in direction for the dairy giant.

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New Zealand's biggest company is cleaning house after a disastrous financial performance and is expected to cut a swathe of staff at its Auckland head office. The co-op was forced to delay the release of its annual accounts while auditor PwC worked through significant accounting adjustments related to the write-downs.


The Financial Markets Authority has also been in discussions with Fonterra after a formal complaint from a shareholder about its financial accounts from 2015-2018.

The writedowns included a $203m impairment of its China Farms investment and $237m on its New Zealand food service business. The overall figure would have been worse if not for a $100m gain on the disposal of ice cream company Tip Top.

In its release this morning, Fonterra said its normalised earnings before interest and tax was $819 million, down 9 per cent. It confirmed no dividend would be paid for the year to July 31 as it pays down debt, and announced a final farmgate milk Price for the 2018/19 season of $6.35/kg milksolids.

But a major change to the company's dividend policy and an upbeat future earnings per share target suggest brighter days ahead for its long-suffering farmer-shareholders and listed unit holders.

The five-year plan is to deliver a target of 50c per share, and the dividend payment will from now on be 40-60 per cent of reported net profit after tax, instead of 65-75 per cent, reflecting market criticism that the company doesn't retain enough earnings.

The co-op forecast a 6.25-7.25 per kgMS milk price range for the 2019/20 year and forecast earnings per share of 15-25 cents.

Units in Fonterra Shareholders Fund rose 3.4 per cent to $3.32 following the result.

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Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said that 2019 was incredibly tough for the co-op but it was also the year Fonterra made decisions to set it up for the future.

Fonterra CFO Marc Rivers, Chairman John Monaghan and CEO Miles Hurrell. Photo/Dean Purcell
Fonterra CFO Marc Rivers, Chairman John Monaghan and CEO Miles Hurrell. Photo/Dean Purcell

"These included us reflecting changing realities in asset values and future earnings, lifting our financial discipline, getting clear on why we exist and completing a strategy review.

"Many of these calls were painful, but they were needed to reset our business and achieve success in the future.

"We made the decision to reduce the carrying value of several of our assets and take account of one-off accounting adjustments."

Commenting on the underlying performance, Hurrell said Fonterra's normalised earnings per share for the year was 17 cents, which was above the last forecast for the year of 10-15 cents.

"The gross margin from our largest business, New Zealand Ingredients, was $1,332 million, up 3 per cent on last year due to increased sales and price performance.

"Our Foodservice performance also improved on last year, with gross margin up 10 per cent. This was despite lower total sales volumes, following a slow start to butter sales in Greater China and Asia.

"But we can't ignore that we had a number of challenges across the year – these included Australia Ingredients, our businesses in Latin America and the consumer businesses in Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and New Zealand."

Sales revenue was down 2 per cent at $20.1 billion. Normalised ebit was down 9 per cent at $819m. Free cash flow was $1095m, up 83 per cent.

The gearing ratio remains high at 48.2 per cent. Normalised return on capital was 5.8 per cent, down from 6.3 per cent, while normalised operating expenses were $2311m, down 7 per cent. Normalised gross margin was 15 per cent, down from 15.4 per cent.

Hurrell announced a new organisational structure to enable the cooperative to deliver its new business strategy.

It would move from two large central businesses, ingredients and consumer and food service, to three in-market sales and marketing units that would be close to customers. Called APAC for Asia Pacific, Greater China and AMENA covering Africa, Middle East, Europe, North Asia and the Americas, the new units would be led by a new team working under the office of the chief operating officer.

Chief executive of APAC would be senior leadership team member Judith Swales, while veteran Fonterra senior executive Kelvin Wickham would lead AMENA. A chief executive and chief operating officer for the China business will be recruited.

Marc Rivers would remain chief operating officer, Mike Cronin managing director of cooperative affairs and Debroah Capill, managing director people and culture.

Robert Spurway, chief operating officer for the now defunct global operations unit, would be leaving the company after eight years.

New strategy

Commenting on Fonterra's new strategy, Hurrell said the aim was to unlock value focus on three goals – "healthy people, healthy environment and healthy business".

Fonterra has dropped ambitions to be a global dairy giant sourcing milk from around the world in a new business strategy which dictates "less is more".

"This is the right strategy for us, but it requires us to make some hard choices. We've looked at the big opportunities and risks for a New Zealand dairy co-op today. We've also got clear on what our strengths are and the hard realities we have to face up to. I'm pleased that we now have a strategy that is built from the belief that our farmers' milk here in New Zealand is the best and most precious in the world.

"Recognising this, while we will complement our farmer owners' milk with milk components sourced offshore when required, we will start rationalising our off-shore milk pools over time."

"This focus on dairy ingredients and foodservice will see us playing to our strengths and driving more value from the parts of our business that consistently perform.

"We will still be in Consumer and will focus on markets throughout Asia Pacific. The majority of the products we sell in these markets are made from New Zealand milk and are similar to those we sell in our Ingredients business. This creates efficiencies and helps us play to our strengths. It also means we will reduce our consumer product portfolio to those that create superior value."