a2 Milk mulls ASX float

The board of dairy group a2 Milk is “seriously contemplating” a listing on the Australian Securities Exchange as it prepares to break into the US market.

Managing director Geoff Babidge said a float on the ASX could happen as early as next year as the company steams ahead with its international expansion, which will include processing milk in the US in the next 12 months.

The company has been listed in New Zealand since 2004 but its Australian sales have spurred its growth.

“Clearly as this business continues to grow strongly there continues to be interest in the potential dual listing,” said Mr Babidge, adding that he could have an update for shareholders by the company’s annual meeting in November.

“It is an agenda item that the board is more seriously contemplating because of the interest by consumers, the interest by institutions and the importance of the business base that is the market at this point in time.”

A2 Milk now accounts for about 9 per cent of Australia’s fresh milk market by value, after its fresh milk sales surged by 24 per cent in the year to June 30.

This was despite competition from bigger rival Lion, which rebranded its Pura milk products in July, saying it “naturally contains” the A2 protein.

Regular cows milk contains a blend of the A1 and A2 beta casein proteins. But a2 Milk is the only company that processes milk exclusively containing the A2 protein, which many people say is easier to digest than regular milk.

Pura’s milk still contains a significant amount of A1, with A2 accounting for 50-70 per cent of its beta casein protein content.

Regardless, Mr Babidge welcomed the competition.

“In some respects being aided by the increased focus of protein in milk.”

A2 says it will externally fund its expansion into the US, which is expected to cost $NZ20 million ($17.94 million) over a three year period.

Mr Babidge said the company would progressively introduce its product, state by state. He declined to say which area of the US it would launch.

The expansion comes after the a2’s full-year net profit slid more than 99 per cent to $NZ10,000.

Mr Babidge said a strengthening of the New Zealand dollar wiped about $14 million in revenue and $2.7 million of its earnings before interest and taxes.

“That’s if we had the exchange rate of a year ago being applied. So the Australian dollar earnings were extremely strong but they were impacted by the movement in forex.”

Modest sales in Britain and China also slowed momentum.

A2’s infant formula contractor Synlait missed out on the first round of new regulatory approvals from Beijing in May. It has since gained permission and a2 is eager to grow Chinese sales.

Mr Babidge said the company launched a fresh milk trial of about 10,000 litres, which was flown to China earlier this month.

But he said UHT products, which are cheaper to transport, “as potentially a larger revenue opportunity in the medium-term”.

“But we are happy to participate with quality people … to supply fresh milk into China”.

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