27 Nov 2008

Fonterra to sell assets to cut debt

9:38 am on 27 November 2008

Fonterra is to consider selling some assets to reduce debt, as prices for dairy products fall on ebbing demand.

The company refused to specify which assets may be sold at its annual meeting in Palmerston North on Wednesday.

Chief executive Andrew Ferrier said Fonterra wants to cut its debt to debt-equity ratio to 50% by July next year, and 45% by 2011.

Fonterra also told shareholders that it needs to resolve its capital restructuring proposal in light of on-going economic uncertainty.

The restructuring proposal, which would see the creation of a new company that would be listed on the stock exchange, was first announced at the end of last year.

However, an initial vote by farmers which was due to take place in May, was cancelled because the company said shareholders needed more time to consider its plan to split into two entities.

Given the on-going economic uncertainty, chair Henry van der Heyden says it's important that this issue is resolved.

Volatile times

Mr van der Heyden also told shareholders to prepare for continued economic volatility.

He said hard times caused by the drought saw large numbers of farmers cashing in their company shares.

Fonterra's equity base has declined by $700 million because of this.

Fonterra also looks likely to lose its presence in the Chinese domestic market, as San Lu, in which it has a minority stake, is being broken up and sold to several other dairy companies following a fatal milk scandal.