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A2 Milk lifts outlook, but shares fall as it rebuffs suitors

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Shares in a2 Milk tumbled despite it lifting its revenue guidance, as the after the specialist dairy product group rejected takeover overtures from its largest shareholders.

The group also suggested that it was being courted by other interested parties.

The board of New Zealand-listed a2 rejected a takeover offer from its main shareholder, the Australian Freedom Foods, and US dairy processing giant Dean Foods.

A2's share price collapsed by 9% following the news, but recovered to close the day down 2.6% at NZ$0.75 a share.

Other enquiries

"The board has also received other confidential enquiries indicating potential interest in the company, and is in the course of evaluating these," Geoffrey Babidge, the A2 chief executive, said.

Mr Babidge did not name the interested parties. But Chinese diary companies have been building and buying infant formula production capacity in New Zealand in recent years.

New Zealand is the world's biggest milk exporter, and China the biggest importer.

However, demand from China has recently slumped due to thick inventories, pushing the global diary price to 13-year lows and causing Fonterra, the giant New Zealand milk co-operative, to cut jobs last week.

Insulated revenues

A2, which sells premium specialised milk, has so far remained insulated from bearish global dairy markets.

The group's milk supply is sourced from herds that have a particular genetic profile, which means they produce a milk with a particular protein profile, with is supposedly suitable for some people who react badly to normal milk.

The company, which markets products in Australia, New Zealand, China and the UK, is currently working to expand its sales in the US.

Unaudited accounts

In response to the release, a2 released unaudited accounts that showed growing revenues. Audited 2015 results will be released in August of this year.

A2 raised its 2016 revenue forecast to NZ$267m from NZ$230m, up 73% from 2015, citing growing infant formula sales in New Zealand, Australia and China.

Meanwhile analysts from Deutsche Bank and UBS had previously forecast this year's revenues at NZ$215 million and NZ$190 million respectively.

Earnings guidance for 2016 was at NZ$12m, up 300% from $4m this year.

A note from a UBS analyst forecast revenues "marginally below" that guidance.

"An upside scenario would likely involve increased market share in the North American and Chinese drinking milk markets," the report said.

'No certainty'

Despite rebuffing the terms of the takeover offer, Mr Babidge urged the two bidders to come back with a better offer.

However he downplayed the possibility of a deal.

"The board remains of the view that there is no certainty that any proposal will result in a transaction or offer capable of acceptance by the company or its shareholders, and that a takeover offer is not imminent," Mr Babidge said.


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