Never mind the quality feel the width
Australian Vintage (AV) is ‘Australia’s largest listed pure wine company.’ Its recent year end result boasted: ‘Export branded sales were up 22 percent by volume and 9 percent in net dollar terms.’
It’s always smart to pick out the good bits from a result, no matter how thin they may be; but once you’ve delved into the results and poked around a bit, this originally thin piece of good news starts to look downright skinny. The figures show – but the company failed to highlight – that overall it took $1.77 per litre in 2008/09, but only $1.73 a litre in 2009/10. In a statement issued in May the company were boasting the same 22 percent at the end of April, which implies they didn’t improve in the following two months.
Overall, in the financial year ending 30th June 2010, AV had amassed revenue to the tune of $237,663,000 (which was 17.6 percent less then they did in the previous financial year). Net profit after tax was reported at $8.1 million – much better than the $166 million loss induced by write down the previous year.
Domestic wine sales are down $287,000, but a loss last year has turned into a $4.8 million profit. Export sales are down $21.6 million, but profit is up $542,000. Any increase is good, but the detail is not as convincing as the AV statement implies. The boasted 22 percent increase is based on private label bottled exports rising from $19,943 million to $24,288 million – hardly the most important chapter in the whole story.
Off with another bit
Wine assets are starting to move, and while not in great quantities or at top-end prices, the fact remains that they are transferring into new hands and hopefully they will, in the longer term, be a boost to the industry overall.
Troy Christensen, President of Constellation Wines Australia, has overseen the sale of Amberley Estate in the Margaret River to Stephen Tobin, Managing Director of Terrex Seismic. Michael Kelly, formally of Fermoy Estate, has been appointed General Manager and winemaker.
Hot money for cool wine
Gunns the forest slayer sold Tamer Ridge to Brown Brothers (BB) for $32.5 million, declaring a $28 million unaudited net profit after tax of $28 million.
There would have been a time when that would have been considered a cheap price to pay. In fact, newspaper reports prior to the sale were forecasting around $40 million.
However, in today’s wine climate it’s nevertheless a lot of money and it will probably take Brown Brothers some time to recoup the outlay.
Vodka over wine
The Pernod Ricard year-end report showed a stable set of figures overall. Sales were slightly down and profit was slightly up, but ‘slightly’ in percentage terms for a company of this size translates to some huge figures:
• Sales €7.08 billion, (down 2 percent which equates to €122 million A$171 million)
• Net profit €978 million, (up 1 percent which equates to €12 million around A$17 million)
There are a lot of Australian companies that would like to add $17 million to their bottom line. But then there are not many Australian companies carrying the equivalent of €10,584 million dept.
Absolut vodka is the company star with sales of over 10 million cases – an increase of 6 percent on the prior year. Moving to wine, Jacobs Creek recorded another drop in both volume (down 10 percent) and value (down 5 percent). The company passes this off by saying it’s the move to higher value reserve wines and away from the discount sector that is responsible.
The results, however, didn’t impress the market; the Paris-listed company shares dropped 2 percent. In London, Gilles Bogaert, the company's Managing Director for Finance, was forced to defend the wine division at a press conference saying it was not up for sale –but then he also said he wouldn’t rule out one-off strategic disposals. The reality is that if the price was right wine would probably go.
Fosters sweating in the rumor mill
Newspaper reports originating out of the UK over the weekend (21/22nd August) strongly suggested that London-listed SABMiller was preparing a bid for Fosters’ beer division once the wine division was separated out.
It’s not an unreasonable idea but one article was flagging it as an almost ‘done deal.’
This generated excitement when the local market opened on Monday morning. Trading in Fosters shares was on the quicker side of brisk forcing a ‘please explain’ letter from the ASX. Fosters responded that there was no information originating from them that any deal was taking place.
Apart from the speculation surrounding SABMiller, the Japanese brewer Asahi was said to be interested as indeed is the Canadian/American brewer Molson Coors which already holds around 5 percent of Fosters stock.
The excitement surrounding Fosters on Monday, abated slightly on Tuesday (24th
August) when the year end results were announced. The share price, which had closed at $6.26 on Monday, had dropped to $6.04 by mid morning trading on Tuesday and was $5.99 at close of play.
The report was as positive as all company reports are; writing off a billion or so impairment charges is just good housekeeping and should not be considered a reflection on the business or the people who run it.
• Add up all the good bits and it amounts to a net profit (pre material items and SGARA) of $711.3 million.
• However, knock off a material items loss after tax of $1,162.7 million, and a SGARA loss after tax of $13.0 million.
• The result is a net loss (post material items and SGARA) of $464.4 million.
There were no surprises in the $1.3 billion write-down in wine as Fosters have been upfront about it and warning the market since May. The company refrains from committing to a date but does flag that the demerger of wine from beer will take place in the first half of 2011.
Hardly had the dust settled from the results when an offer from a unnamed private equity firm offering $2.3 to $2.7 billion in cash for Fosters wine assets (now rebranded Treasury Wine Estates) was received. Fosters knocked back the offer – which is not surprising as it can be considered an opportunistic grab.
The identity of the mystery bidder for Fosters wine assets didn’t remain a mystery for long. New York-based private investment firm, Cerberus Capital Management, was said to be the cheeky raider. Not that they admitted to being the culprits, but then they didn’t deny either.
Since then, a great deal of speculation has been generated, the most pertinent being just how much are the wine assets worth? There is no clear answer on that front either, with the closest speculation being that Fosters book calculations puts it north of $3 billion.
Reports are circulating that other private investment firms are also considering putting forward bids. The truth of that remains vague, however, it’s almost certain that all PI firms have done complicated calculations and if they see a penny in the deal then they'll consider making an offer. On the other side of the coin are reports that the Cerberus top end offer of $2.7 billion was about as far as offers would go, with outsiders not seeing the value in the investment that Fosters do.
The shares had a turbulent week, starting Monday 6th September at $6.09 and (around 74 million trades later) finishing the week (Friday 10th September) at $6.25.
Australia is not alone in facing financial difficulty in its wine industry recent results from New Zealand are not encouraging.
Delegat's Group reported sales revenue at NZ$219.7 million for the year
ending 30th June. Volume sold was up at 1.95 million cases, but return per case was NZ$112.70 (10 percent lower than the NZ$124.60 achieved in 2009). Profit before impairment charges was NZ$12.11 million, but revaluation of vineyards and goodwill turned that into NZ$1.14 million, and then the taxman had his cut, all of which resulted in loss of NZ$6.72 million.
The New Zealand Wine Company Limited has no better tale to tell for the year ending 30th June. Revenue was up 4 percent (at just over NZ$13 million), but profit was 248 percent down (resulting in a loss of NZ$1.89 million).
Although Oyster Bay is just over 50 percent owned by Delegats, it’s a separate listed company. The company’s audited financial performance for 2010 is a net loss after tax of NZ$13,820,000, compared with a net profit after tax of NZ$1,538,000 in the previous year.
Awatere Vineyard Holdings and Awatere Vineyard Estates has hit the wall with debts of around NZ$24 million. Early reports say Westpac Bank has been hit hard with around NZ$22 million owed.
As much as I personally would like to see Chardonnay back on top of the league table, and I must admit to having no great love for Sauvignon Blanc (especially the grassy NZ style), the timbre of recent newspaper articles suggesting Sauvignon is on the way out and Chardonnay on the way back is not being backed with fact.
The only figures that were used in the articles were ‘Industry figures show that the growth of Sauvignon Blanc sales for bottled wines priced between $14 and $19 have fallen from 25 percent six months ago to below 5 percent while Sauvignon Blanc selling between $5 and $8 has shot up 580 percent as New Zealand winemakers slash prices amid a severe oversupply.’
This is where one becomes uncomfortable; ‘industry figures’ require greater definition in order to demonstrate authenticity. These figures only show the move from one price point to another; what they don’t show is a decline in Sauvignon Blanc sales.
Nielson figures showing white wine performance on a moving annual total until the end of June, (making these statistics the most up to date) demonstrate, from an equal point in September 2008, that Sauvignon Blanc is in the lead and pointing upwards, whilst Chardonnay has experienced a steady southwards decline.
Still the acid bite
Little has been said in Australia about Andrew Jefford’s article in The Financial Times (UK) 7th August. Jefford spent 15 months in Australia as wine writer in residence at the 2030 Wine Research Network and as a Senior Research Fellow at Adelaide University. He has since returned to the UK and seems unconvinced about the merits of Australian wine.
This article is softer than the one he wrote for Decanter, but it still manages to get in a dig here and there. He does make a point worth considering when he mentions the gung-ho effect of Aussie winemakers: ‘The direct and humorous approach can come to seem banal after its novelty wears off; most wine consumers prefer a little lingering mystery and complication, in particular for more expensive wines.’ However, there is a very fine line between the novelty he rejects and the pomposity which he seems to be advocating.
Jefford lists the ‘Twelve of the best Australian winemakers’ as being: Julian Castagna, Larry Cherubino, Peter Gago, Michael Glover, Sue Hodder, Rick Kinzbrunner, Tim Kirk, Ron Laughton, Jacques Lurton, Gilles Lapalus, Louisa Rose and Philip Shaw.
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