28 Nov 2012

Fonterra sets investment fund unit price

7:30 am on 28 November 2012

Fonterra has set the price for investors in its new fund at $5.50 a unit, the top of the range.

The Shareholders Fund, which allows investors outside the dairy co-operative to invest in the dividend earnings from Fonterra's shares, will raise $525 million to boost its financial position and fund its expansion plans.

Last week the dairy co-operative said it was surprised by the lack of interest among its farmer owners to sell shares in the fund.

The fund lets Fonterra's 10,500 farmers trade shares on the stock exchange, and gives outside investors the chance to invest in the dividend earnings from the shares.

But only 260 farmers have offered to sell about 5.5 million shares, worth up to $30 million - meaning Fonterra will stump up the rest - about $495 million.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings says the company doesn't expect that arrangement to be permanent and more farmers will deposit shares over time.

Australian fund managers show interest

Fonterra says about 7000 retail and institutional investors have applied for a stake in the fund.

That's in addition to the 2500 suppliers, staff and retired farmers who are also investing in the dividends from shares that the company and its farmer shareholders deposit in the fund.

Fonterra says 58% of its shareholder units will go to New Zealand retail and institutional investors, while the remainder have been allocated to offshore institutions.

Australian fund managers have become heavy investors.

"We are listed in Australia, we have Bonlac suppliers over there, we have a big operation there as well with a lot of employees, so Australia is very important to us," Mr Spierings says.

While China is a key plank in Fonterra's expansion plans, Mr Spierings says China's $400 billion sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation, is not an initial investor.

Mr Spierings says the Chinese investment fund is very interested in Fonterra and its strategy but it looks at a certain size of investment.

The fund launches this Friday.