It has been pretty certain that control of Warrnambool Cheese and Butter (WCB) would change since the opening bid by Bega Cheese in September last year. It rapidly became an auction as rival bidders emerged, and WCB shareholders struck the short term jackpot.
The only real question left was whether control remained in Australia, or it went overseas. Seems that question is now answered, as Canadian Saputo becomes the beneficiary of Bega’s 18.8% holding lifting their stake to nearly 50%, with a rush of acceptances expected in the last few days of the offer period.
Progressively, the Australian dairy industry in particular, and Australian food manufacturing in general has been sold off, slice by slice, overseas to the point where there is not much left. Now that the $A has retreated,so that on paper it looks like local suppliers should be more competitive with the global supply chains of the major retailers, there is buggar all locally owned manufacturing left.
It may be seen by some to be a bit jingoistic to want to have control over the supply chain that feeds us, but I see it as common sense. Australia is an efficient, technically advanced supplier of commodities, from grains to meat, wool, and minerals, but the further processing and value adding is very limited.
Realistically, there is little the Government can do beyond developing robust industry policy, then applying that policy with apolitical consistency, something neither side of politics seems able to do. Policy consistency seems to be trumped by short term political expediency every time, and in the long term, we are all the poorer for it.
It is up to Australian management to see the opportunities and invest for the long term, and they have largely failed to measure up. In addition, it seems persuading the suppliers of capital that returns sometimes take longer than the next quarterly period to emerge is a large barrier. The pool of genuine risk and venture capital in this country is very shallow indeed.