Fonterra farmers vote on share rule change
Mon, 25 Jun 2012 5:06a.m.
Fonterra's 10,500 dairy farmer shareholders will today decide whether to approve or fend off a contentious change of structure for New Zealand's biggest company and export earner.
If approved, the Trading Among Farmers scheme will allow dairy farmers to buy and sell shares in the co-operative among themselves, rather than only to Fonterra, and a separate fund will make non-voting units available to non-farmer investors for the first time.
Many have voted via mail ahead of meetings around the country today.
The Fonterra Shareholders' Council, a watchdog body, has endorsed it by an "overwhelming" majority, although its chairman Simon Couper resigned because of his concern the proposals did not sufficiently guarantee the bottom-line of 100 percent farmer ownership.
Former chief executive Craig Norgate says farmers will approve the proposal and there are risks to the future of Fonterra because of lack of investment if they don't.
Business commentator Bernard Hickey says that Fonterra is presently at risk from what is known as "redemption", and that this is hindering its expansion.
“In a co-operative, if you’re a farmer and you decide to reduce your production or you want to give up farming you can take all your money out, which is the capital you’ve got in the co-operative,” he says.
“Now if everyone does that at the same time, that could clean out Fonterra.”
Critics say the proposal will take the co-operative's focus away from the price it pays farmers for their milk.
Former Federated Farmers dairy chairman Lachlan McKenzie does not think the plan will go ahead because it will mean some profits will flow to outside investors, rather than to farmers.
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings has warned farmers that a no vote would not preserve the status quo as the risks Fonterra faced from current share arrangements were too great.
Fonterra is responsible for about 30 percent of the world's dairy exports and is New Zealand's biggest company in revenue terms with annual turnover of $19.91 billion.
The special meeting will be held in Hamilton at 10.30am, with simultaneous broadcast to venues in Whangarei, Rotorua, Hawera, Palmerston North, Nelson, Ashburton and Invercargill.
The results will be announced as soon as the vote counting is complete.
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