Saturday, 22 December 2018 08:55

Ex-director suggests Fonterra suspends dividends

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Greg Gent believes Fonterra should look at suspending dividend payments rather than selling assets. Greg Gent believes Fonterra should look at suspending dividend payments rather than selling assets.

A former Fonterra director says the co-op could suspend dividends to shore up its balance sheet rather than sell key assets.

Greg Gent says farmers and investors would understand if the co-op suspended dividends to get its books in better shape. And it could suspend dividends and sell some assets that don’t align with its new strategy.

However, he wants to see the co-op’s strategy before decisions are made on selling assets.

“The co-op must first have a strategy and then sell assets that don’t co-relate to the strategy,” he told Rural News. “I haven’t seen a strategy, but I’m not on the board any more.”

Fonterra’s new chief executive Miles Hurrell is hoping to reduce the co-op’s debt by $800m this year; asset sales are to help achieve this target.

The co-op is looking at offloading its disastrous investment in Chinese food company Beingmate and the sale of its iconic ice cream brand Tip Top.

Earlier this month, Fonterra chairman John Monaghan announced it was looking at selling Tip Top.

The co-op has appointed FNZC as an external advisor to work with as it considers a range of options.

“We want to see Tip Top remain a New Zealand based business and this is being factored into our options.

“While performing well, Tip Top is our only ice cream business and has reached maturity as an investment for us. To take it to its next phase successfully will require a level of investment beyond what we are willing to make.”

But Fonterra’s announcement triggered angry response on social media. A petition was launched by Taranaki farmer Matthew Herbert to block the sale of Tip Top; over 5000 people have signed it online so far. 

The petition says Fonterra is looking at selling its Tip Top ice cream brand.

“Kiwi’s eat more ice cream per person than any other country on earth,” it says.

“Tip Top ice cream is one of the biggest links between fresh New Zealand milk from Fonterra farmers and people who live in our cities. Sign the petition and help farmers save Tip Top from the chopping block! Lets tell Fonterra to hold onto Tip Top and keep our delicious ice cream going from farm to freezer.”

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