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Comvita shares sink after earnings warning

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/01/2017 Paul McBeth
Honey © Getty Images Honey

Comvita shares sank 14 per cent after the manuka honey products maker warned annual earnings will tumble by about two-thirds as the nation's unseasonably wet and windy weather saps the honey harvest and slow sales in China.

Te Puke-based Comvita expects after-tax operating earnings of between $5 million and $7 million in the year ending June 30, having previously predicted it would be in line with 2016's earnings of $17.1m.

However, the company's sale of its Medihoney brand and shareholding in Derma Sciences will bolster the bottom line, with net profit expected to be between $20m-$22m.

The shares dropped $1.06 to $6.77, the lowest they've been since November 2015.

"Unfortunately these wet, cold, and particularly windy conditions have significantly impacted the production of this season's honey, which in turn has impacted our ability to deliver on our 2017 financial forecast," chairman Neil Craig said.

"We also indicated for the first four months of the year, we had experienced tough trading conditions, with sales significantly lower than the prior year resulting from a slowdown in the New Zealand and Australian informal trade channels into China."

In October, Comvita warned it was likely to report a first-half loss due to the crackdown by Chinese authorities on grey market traders, which has also hit other industries that use those distribution channels such infant formula makers.

Comvita chief executive Scott Coulter said outside the grey market into China, the company's sales were strong across all other markets.

He said the honey products maker was keeping a lid on costs, "which enables us to maintain confidence to deliver on our longer term objectives", and has previously said it laid off 23 staff from head office.

The company expects a honey crop of 380 tonnes in the 2017 year, compared to an average harvest of 974 tonnes.

Mr Coulter said Comvita had been preparing for this type of scenario, buying Manuka honey inventory from third party suppliers over the past 18 months, which gives it enough supply to meet demand for the next year.

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