Concerns mount as Bega blues continue

Company News

by Glenn Dyer

Since it provided a surprisingly weak trading update on April 20, shares in Bega Cheese have fallen 30% to Wednesday’s close of $3.55 because of fears it can’t recover cost rises fast enough in higher selling prices, that demand will weaken and that other negatives are proving to be hard to reverse.

From being a ‘star’ of Australian business for buying back icons like Vegemite from overseas (American) owners, not to mention the range of drinks and other dairy products from a Japanese owned company (Lion), Bega’s April update saw it pushed onto a ‘suspicion’ list by investors concerned about the ability of the company to rightsize itself.

Wednesday night at 7.27pm (the final announcement for the day) those investor fears were given greater credence when Bega again surprised with another trading update that contained a forecast that investors won’t like – no change in earnings and perhaps a small fall for the year to June 30, 2023.

And that’s before the outcome of 2021-22 has been released.

The reason? Higher farm gate milk prices across the industry and especially in Victoria which will mean higher milk and other dairy product prices across the board and lags in recovering operating cost rises.

While there was no change in the forecast “normalised EBITDA of $175 to $190 million, Bega said an early forecast for the same profit line for 2022-23 was a range of $160 million to $190 million.

In effect the company is saying it will have 12 more months of marking time in terms of earnings performance.

“Bega Cheese expects that the company’s FY2023 performance will be impacted by the delay in timing of some of these higher product prices and the finalisation of secured milk volumes during July. While market pricing and milk procure

In reality it’s no rise or a small fall on the expected outcome for the 2021-22 year which will be revealed in late August.

“While milk prices vary throughout Australia, the largest supply region Victoria was expected to experience a farm gate milk price increase for FY2023 in the range of 15%-20% based on the stability and strength of global dairy commodity markets and currency relativities.”

“Initial milk price announcements by Bega Cheese and other dairy companies on 1 June reflected this level of expected milk price increases. However, after the release of those initial prices there has been particularly strong competition amongst milk processors during June and July and farm gate prices in Victoria for FY2023 have further increased to a level of approximately 30% higher than FY2022 prices.

Bega said the farm gate price increases will benefit farmer suppliers, impact all Australian dairy companies, “and is already being reflected in higher product prices in the retail and food service markets.”

In its April statement, Bega listed disruptions its business including, the continuing impact of Covid19, floods in various regions around Australia, the war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid19 lockdowns on product deliveries to the China market through the Port of Shanghai.

“A number of the business disruptions referred to in the April Update are resolving and Bega Cheese has now been able to pass through many of the increased business costs it experienced in FY2022 in the form of higher wholesale and retail prices or mitigate the impact through various initiatives.

“Nevertheless, there is the ongoing cost pressures of robust competition amongst dairy processors for milk referred to in the April Update,” Bega said in its Wednesday night statement.

“The company’s strong brand portfolio, extensive chilled distribution network, Australian and international product mix, and customer profile positions it well to recover the higher costs associated with the increase in farm gate milk prices through both the global commodity market and the retail and food service markets."

Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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