5 Aug 2013

$1b wiped off Fonterra's value

7:20 pm on 5 August 2013

Fonterra's food contamination scare has shaken the money markets, and wiped as much as $1 billion off the company's value on the stock market.

New Zealand's biggest company has revealed that three batches of whey protein concentrate totalling 38 tonnes produced at its processing plants in Waikato in May 2012 has been contaminated with the bacterium that can cause botulism, prompting product recalls and import bans in some countries.

On Saturday, the dairy cooperative announced the international recall of 900 tonnes of spoiled products, including infant formula.

China has suspended the importation of all Fonterra products that include whey or milk powder, while Russia has imposed a ban on all New Zealand dairy products.

New Zealand exported $12.5 billion of dairy products during 2012, about 27% of all merchandise exports and Fonterra accounts for most of that.

China comprises 21% of all New Zealand milk powder exports, while Russia accounts for 1%. The other countries affected by product recalls together account for 12%.

Fonterra shares and units recovered somewhat after an initial extreme reaction but investors are still nervously awaiting further clarification of the extent of the problem and how it occurred.

Fonterra shares, which only dairy farmers can own, rebounded from their opening $6.50 low to close at $6.92 on Monday, still below Friday's closing price at $7.14.

Fonterra units, which anybody can own, also recovered to close at $6.86, below the Friday close at $7.12.

The New Zealand dollar was also hit by the scandal, falling as low as US76.99 cents before recovering to US77.72 cents, but still down from about 78.85 this time on Friday.

The value of Fonterra fell as much as $1 billion to $10.4 billion but reclaimed some lost ground. Synlait was initially down 4%, and A2 Corporation was down 5%.

Radio New Zealand's economics correspondent Patrick O'Meara said more volatility is to be expected until more information is revealed.

"Later this week, the bi-monthly global dairy auction comes out. Will buyers want to play? That is going to be the big issue and whether prices hold or whether they fall will be a measure of confidence.

"However New Zealand accounts for about a third of all globally-traded dairy products, so it may be difficult for some of these customers to switch away."