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The Australian Wine Industry
A Non Speaking Chairman and No Wonder
Wednesday, 17th August, 2005  - Richard Farmer

The beleagured wine company Evans and Tate has a new spokesman - and no wonder. It was the non-executive director Mr John Hopkins who had the task this week of unveiling the bad news that stock write offs at a minimum of $16.5 million would approach double the previous estimate. Shareholders and analysts had been told by company chairman and chief executive Franklin Tate just over a month ago that $8 million to $10 million was a "worse case outcome". No wonder the share price has crashed again to the 30 cent level. After months of statements from Mr Tate that have proved to be misleading and down right wrong, his credibility left much to be desired. Hence the elevation of Mr Hopkins to the title of Lead Director and the task of restoring confidence in a company whose shares a year ago were comfortably over $1.

Restoring confidence will be no easy task for the bad news that Mr Hopkins has to announce is by no means over. Next week will see a further statement on the write downs and any provisions that may be required for the value of intangible assets. Further down the track, perhaps when the full year results are released on 13 September, there will need to be a report on the efforts to sell and lease back the company's Griffith winery. Mr Tate recently spoke confidently about that happening so the funds could be used to repay the ANZ Bank but it will be interesting to see what kind of return a new owner wants on his investment. With conditions at the mass end of the market unlikely to improve much over the next couple of years perhaps the new chief executive to be appointed to replace Mr Tate will be trying to quit Griffith altogether.

For those who have not followed closely the sad decline of Evans and Tate, it was March 2003 that saw the then premium Margaret River producer acquire Cranswick Premium Wines and become a Riverland producer. The change in the nature of the company was dramatic. Sales might have gone from $26 million in 2001-02 to an estimated $83 million in 2004-05, but total inventory (before the recent write offs) rose $77 million to $108 million and debtors from $8 million to nearly $26 million. There might have been profits but there was a huge demand for cash.

SalesInventoryDebtorsCash from
Operations
Year to

all figures in $'000

30-Jun-00

19,501

13,422

3,877

1,598

30-Jun-01

23,121

19,858

6,850

1,542

30-Jun-02

25,996

31,174

7,972

-7,075

30-Jun-03

47,259

55,947

22,107

-2,035

30-Jun-04

72,960

82,548

20,637

-12,847

30-Jun-05

83,000

108,000

25,664

-19,000

(figures for 2004-05 estimates based on company statements)

Some of that cash came from the successful completion of a $12 million issue of Wine Income Exchange Securities (WInES) announced on 16 December last year . "With our capital structure now at an optimum level going forward, we will not be looking to the market for further capital raising in the near future," Mr Tate optimistically reported to the Australian Stock Exchange.

A higher interim dividend after a record first half profit was announced on 21 February 2005. The result, said Mr Tate, ensured his company had a continuing solid foundation on which to build "for increased profit growth for the full 2004-2005 year."

On 5 March, under the heading "WINE GROUP OUTPERFORMS INDUSTRY’, Mr Tate reported to the ASX that "by taking a pragmatic approach to inventory management in response to the current negative sentiment towards the wine industry, the oversupply concerns in the industry can be managed." Sales in both Australia and Europe were outperforming the industry as a whole and "we are delighted at our continued performance."

There was no mention of the need for the additional funding which the company identified during April when a trading update was given to the ASX on 19 May. The domestic market for Evans and Tate was "strong" with further opportunities for expansion. There was a "solid performance" for the principal Barrumundi brand in the UK. An improved "future stock to sales ratio" was "anticipated moving forward."

Just over a month later, on 22 June, Mr Tate, responding to newspaper articles, said that Korda Mentha had not been appointed as administrators of the company but that 333 Performance Management were assisting the company to "improve its forecasting, planning and business efficiencies." The appointment followed on, he said, from the company’s continued focus on "reducing inventory and maximizing returns from its assets." The company enjoyed "a good relationship" with its bankers the ANZ. The extra $8.5 million working loan that was identified in May as being needed was not mentioned.

The next week, 28 June, the company provided the market with a "shareholders update". By now there was an expectation that the wine inventory would be written down by $8 to $10 million and the value of its Yarra Valley winery by $4.3 million. As a result a loss of between $4.8 million and $7.5 million was expected. But never fear. While the bank was awaiting a report from 333 before lending another $8.5 million, it had agreed to defer a $2.5 million interest payment. "The expected loss will not restrict the Company’s ability to pay a final dividend," Mr Tate reported. The Board intended to declare a final dividend on its preference (WInES) and ordinary shares for the current financial year "subject to finalization of the Company’s annual audited accounts."

The optimism about continuing to pay a dividend was not quite as strong when Mr Tate held a conference call for shareholders on 6 July. This time the board had expressed "an intention" to pay a dividend on its ordinary shares "the quantum yet to be defined." Asked by a shareholder if it was a good idea to be paying a dividend while borrowing $8.5 million, Mr Tate replied that "the concept of a dividend is a matter for the independent directors of the company considered without me present. I’m sure you can appreciate that as a major shareholder I have a material person interest in it and as such it is not appropriate for me to be a part of that decision making process."

Mr Tate had no such reservations when asked if any further stock write downs were likely. "It certainly is the only one," he said. "We’ve also indicated that our view is that whilst an independent valuation hasn’t been completed yet, we see this as a worse case outcome, it could be up to this number but it won’t be greater." As for 333, their role would be ended once the E&T budget went to the bank. The bank had not said it desired them to have any future role and "the Company for its part has not contemplated any future role."

By the next report to the stock exchange on 18 July, the budget had gone to the ANZ and the provision of an additional $10 million (up from the $8.5 million referred to on 6 July) in short-term working capital approved. As a condition of the loan 333 Performance Management were to continue helping the Board implement a new management structure and improve the Company’s business processes. The new management structure would separate the roles of Chairman and Chief Executive. Following the appointment of a new chief executive Mr Franklin Tate was to become a non-executive chairman.

In a shareholder update this week, 16 August, the $8 million to $10 million in stock write downs, described on 6 July by Mr Tate as "a worse case outcome", rose to "not less than $16.5 million". Shareholders were also warned that the $4.3 million write down in the goodwill of Oakridge Vineyards would not be the only adjustment to intangible assets. Further write downs and provision would be needed in the accounts for the year ended 30 June 2005. Accordingly the losses for the year would be greater than the accumulated retained funds. Thus the company was not in a position to pay a final dividend.

See earlier stories on Evans and Tate at:-

Take a Risk With a Good Name

Tuesday, 19th July, 2005


The Disappearing Barramundi

Wednesday, 6th July, 2005


A $222 Million Loss of Value in a Year

Monday, 4th July, 2005

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Wednesday, 31st August, 2005

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Tuesday, 30th August, 2005

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Thursday, 25th August, 2005

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Friday, 19th August, 2005

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Wednesday, 20th July, 2005

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Tuesday, 19th July, 2005

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Tuesday, 12th July, 2005

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Thursday, 7th July, 2005

The Disappearing Barramundi

Wednesday, 6th July, 2005

A $222 Million Loss of Value in a Year

Monday, 4th July, 2005

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Monday, 4th July, 2005

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Tuesday, 28th June, 2005

Xanadu Hardly Idyllic for Shareholders

Tuesday, 21st June, 2005

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Tuesday, 21st June, 2005

Yellow Tail the Trendsetter

Wednesday, 15th June, 2005

Cleaning Corked Wine

Wednesday, 15th June, 2005

Stelvins for Adelaide

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Straight Talking By the Man From Thomas Hardy

Tuesday, 7th June, 2005

The Downward Price Vortex Gathers Speed

Sunday, 5th June, 2005

Trying Until the End

Wednesday, 2nd June, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes to SGARA

Thursday, 19th May, 2005

Holding up Well – All Things Considered

Tuesday, 10th May, 2005

One for the Brave Investor

Sunday, 8th May, 2005

We Talk with U.S. Importer Peter Weygandt

Friday, 29th April 2005

Ned Kelly Rides In

Wednesday, 27th April 2005

More on that Disappearing Wine

Tuesday, 26th April 2005

Wine Investment Takes Another Knock

Friday, 22th April 2005

Let the Hard Work Begin

Friday, 22th April 2005

Will a Desperate Company do a Desperate Thing?

Wednesday, 20th April 2005

Nearly Half are Yellowtails

Tuesday, 19th April 2005

The Smell of Death

Thursday, 7th April 2005

Fake Medals to Go

Thursday, 7th April 2005

An Update on Australian Wines in the U.K.Market

Saturday, 2nd April 2005

A Peep Behind the Wine Show Door

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Downward Wine Price Pressure Continues

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Make Me Some Clean Skins

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

The Foster’s-Southcorp Game of Bluff

Thursday, 10th March 2005

Greg Norman Back on the Winning List

Tuesday, 8th March 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

Mine is Bigger than Yours

Friday, 11th February 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

No Surprises from Foster's and Southcorp

Wednesday, 9th February, 2005

Jacob's Creek and Wyndham Estate Feel the Pressure

Saturday, 5th February, 2005

A Wine Merchant’s Warning

Monday, 31st January 2005

Drinkers Will Smile and Investors Frown

Friday, 28th January 2005

Great News For Southcorp Shareholders - the Bid is for Cash

Monday, 17th January, 2005

A Record to Inspire Confidence?

Friday, 14th January, 2005

A Terrible Botch at Takeovers

Thursday, 13th January, 2005

AUSTRALIAN WINE INDUSTRY ARCHIVE 2004
Doctors Keep Pressing for Increased Wine Tax

Saturday, 25nd December, 2004

Wine Comes to the Big Screen

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2004

American Journalists Must be Wine Drinkers

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

Memories of 1905

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

ABARE Report Shows Meagre Returns for Grape growers

Monday, 15th November, 2004

The Value of a Brand

Tuesday, 9th November, 2004

What Governments Give...

Thursday, 28th October, 2004

Hot Weather to the Rescue

Tuesday, 26th October, 2004

The Battle for Pubs

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Back to Being a Cash Cow Good News for Investors

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Another $70m of Embarrassment for Foster’s Group

Wednesday, 13th October, 2004

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Friday, 1st October, 2004

How do You Grow a Wine Company While Cutting Vineyards and Stock?
The Answer is:

Tuesday, 2nd September, 2004

Glug visits the Adelaide Wine Show

Friday, 8th October, 2004

The Price Of Being One Industry

Tuesday, 29th June, 2004

Cork Amnesty – The Move to Screw Tops Continues Apace

Thursday, 16th October, 2004

Coming to a Bar Near You?

Wednesday, 8th September, 2004

Andrew Garrett Goodbye?

Tuesday, 24th August, 2004



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