25 May 2006

FPI viewed from down under

Sanford is an international fisheries business based in New Zealand. The company holds about 14.97% of FPI's outstanding shares.

In the ongoing political bumpf about Fishery Products International, people keep forgetting the presence of Sanford in the shareholder pool as well as the place its managing director, Eric Barratt, holds on the FPI board.

Purely for the sake of information, here's the FPI section from Sanford's 2005 annual report. Note two things in particular. First, the major shareholders cannot support the share price in the marketplace by increasing their investment because of the limitations in the FPI Act. After all, a good way of showing confidence in the company's medium- to long-term viability is for the major shareholders to increase their holdings.

Second, note reference to the problems Sanford is experiencing in its own primary division. What FPI is experiencing is a global problem and the problem is one best solved by the business owners, not government bureaucrats and politicians.

Check out the annual report, as well, for a discussion of Sanford's investment in Chinese processing. As a successful publicly-traded company, Sanford has been able to grow and diversify over the years. It does so as a New Zealand enterprise and a large part of its success must surely be attributable to the absence of the level of paranoia and political interference that is currently plaguing the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.

The section of the Sanford annual report reproduced below might just provoke consideration in some minds that maybe investors were attracted to FPI in 2001 not because they could break it up and destroy the company, but because they saw greater potential in what the company could become. The post-2001 FPI leadership may well have made some mistakes, but since 2003 FPI has experienced a level of political interference in its business that would have it difficult for any leadership team to operate successfully.

As a successful, diversified private sector company, Sanford offers a good model for FPI. Unfortunately, in the Wednesday Great Gab-fest, few people floated the idea that maybe - just maybe - the way to move the fishery in the province from its current state to one of a successful locally-dominated industry would be to get guys like Premier Danny Williams, Tom Rideout and Loyola Hearn out of the process.

Instead, the three politicians seem hell-bent on doing the opposite, and in the event will be repeating the same fundamental mistake of virtually every government in this province since 1949.

With rare exceptions, Newfoundland and Labrador politicians are pathologically incapable of make sound business decisions. That is because, collectively, they cannot be interested in anything beyond their political personal survival. The election in October 2007 will be ever-present in the minds of Williams, Rideout and their fellows in the months ahead. As a result, the fundamental needs of the fishing industry will go untended as their political needs take precedence over all else.

What might the assembled throng have concluded if, for once, they took a look at the local fishery from another perspective, perhaps the perspective from down under?

Extract from the Sanford 2005 annual report:
In Canada income trusts dispose of their surplus operating cash flow usually on a monthly basis and the income trust holder is required to account for the income tax on that return. In the normal equity market there is no ability to pay imputed dividends so the income trust structure provides a more tax advantageous situation compared to equity investment. Over the past three years there have been many Canadian companies that have converted all or parts of their business into income trusts.

FPI proceeded on the basis that it would convert its mainly United States-based marketing and added-value business(Ocean Cuisine International) into a Canadian-based income trust and float income trust units for 40% of the business and retain ownership of the remaining 60%. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador believed that such a float required their approval. Although the company did not believe that to be the case it sought the provincial government'’s approval. This process took over 12 months by which time the Canadian federal government'’s review of the tax status had been announced and a float was no longer viable.

Part of the proceeds of the float would have been used to repay some of the debt in the FPI primary fishing business. This business is suffering in much the same way as our fishing business. The increased value of the Canadian dollar compared to the United States dollar is threatening the viability of their operations.

Two fish processing plants have had to be closed down and written off in the past 12 months. With the poor underlying primary division results, the write-off of two plants and the write-off of the not insubstantial costs of preparing for the income trust, the Company results have been poor. As a consequence, the limited share trading that has taken place has seen the share price fall to a low of C$4.11 but which has since been trading at C$5 per share. The existing four major shareholder groups are prevented from purchasing additional shares and supporting the share price because they are up against the provincial government legislation restricting ownership to a maximum of 15%.

While the Ocean Cuisine operation has been expanding and has good prospects for the future, the FPI Directors are focused on actively restructuring the business and believe that with a net asset backing per share of C$11.00 per share that further value can be gained from Sanford'’s investment.

The Directors decided to write down Sanford'’s investment by NZ$2.2m as an expense in the current period. The shares are now valued at C$7 in our books which the Directors believe to be a fair value. Both Sanford and Ocean Cuisine continue to benefit from our marketing arrangement which has seen further growth in our trading business.