Bega shares buy-up mystery

MYSTERY surrounds a 6 per cent buy-up of Bega Cheese shares at the end of last week.

A volume of 9.4 million shares changed hands on Friday for $5.55 per share, representing an investment of $52 million in the New South Wales processor.

At this stage it is unknown whether the shares were bought by a single or multiple buyers, but it is known that two brokers were involved.

If it was a single buyer and a new shareholder, the volume traded is above the 5 per cent threshold requiring a buyer announcement to the ASX. This had not been received yesterday but must be made by tomorrow.

The only existing substantial shareholder in Bega is Fonterra, which holds 9.6 per cent of the register. Any change of more that 1 per cent in Fonterra’s holding would require an announcement to the ASX.

Fonterra bought its holding while Bega was engaged in a takeover battle for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter to protect its cheese supply contract with the company.

Meanwhile, Bega has allocated up to $25 million to secure more milk supply in a move that promises a better deal for farmers. 

Executive chairman Barry Irvin made a statement to the ASX yesterday in which he said it was important for the company to more strongly link the needs of the factory and its suppliers.

“With competition for milk expected to increase and a relatively static Australian milk supply, it is important to think about new approaches that encourage existing suppliers to invest and sustainably grow their milk supply.”

Mr Irvin said Bega needed to have longer term supply security to allow it to meet growth targets.

Bega directors are holding meetings with farmers in its supply regions this week at which they are discussing new models for long-term relationships between the company and suppliers.

Bega’s plans will further promote competition for supply as processors look to the offers they will be making for the 2014-15 season.

Competition among processors is set to reach unprecedented levels as the factories vie for an increased share of the milk pool.

Saputo needs more milk to meet its promised growth plans for WCB, Murray Goulburn is determined to secure a greater share of supply after missing out on taking over WCB, while Fonterra is advertising that it can increase farm profitability.

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