Parmalat: suppliers to save the day?

Related tags Parmalat Italy Bankruptcy

There is a defining issue for dairy giant Parmalat that has
virtually nothing to do with fraud. If it lives to trade another
day, it will be because it hung on to its suppliers.

The hourly struggle for Enrico Bondi, appointed by the Italian government to engineer a rescue for the insolvent and fraud-racked giant, is to halt the race for the exit. And he may just be winning.

The Italian government this week announced it was replacing the 60-day payment scheme for the group's Italian milk suppliers with 7-day payments, in an effort to maintain good faith ?as it simultaneously said the chances of any payment of arrears were minimal.

Elsewhere, hours of painstaking negotiations appear to be delivering a spirit of co-operation and support among ingredients suppliers as interested as anyone in getting Parmalat back on track.

"We started negotiations with Parmalat straight after the news broke,"​ Jan Hansen, a director of Danish ingredients maker Chr. Hansen told "We insisted on cash payments?

Chr. Hansen, a global leader in enzymes and cultures, has since relaxed its demands for cash following talks with Parmalat's management, and now argues it is vital that suppliers co-operate in supporting the company through its crisis.

Underlying the Danish company's willingness to support a client it supplies across the world - from Europe to South America, Canada and Africa - are financial guarantees that it believes make the risks sufficiently palatable.

"We have been given the necessary assurances so that we can co-operate with them and help to see them through the crisis,"​ says Hansen, citing, in particular, the use of irrevocable letters of credit.

Late last month Parmalat filed for bankruptcy after the discovery of a €4bn shortfall in its accounts. The company is now under state-appointed administrators ?headed by Bondi ?and protected from any actions by creditors to secure payment.

As we reported yesterday, judicial sources, looking at the implications to suppliers of Parmalat's bankruptcy protection, said irrevocable letters of credit and insurance were in principle safe as instruments guaranteed by a third party.

In the event that the Parmalat administrators fail to secure a rescue for the company, no direct contract with it will be watertight, and creditors will be paid in a simple pecking order.

However, the tide may just be turning towards success for Bondi. Chr Hanson is far from alone in concluding that its best interests lie in finding a way to continue business with the group.

Tetra Pak, the world's largest packaging producer, was adamant two weeks ago that continuing in business with Parmalat rested on financial guarantees. It now says that it is determined to maintain its relations of nearly 50 years standing with Parmalat.

Chr. Hansen is similarly committed: 'The real value of Parmalat is in the brands. It is in the interest of no-one if the brands fold, so we're doing our best to continue the operational side?says Hansen, who casts the survival of Parmalat as a global community issue. "We want to preserve the company for the benefit of all and we have to separate the financial area from the operational.?/i>

Whether this emerging spirit of support will be enough to save the group is likely to be quickly clear.

In unveiling 7-day payments to milk suppliers on Monday, the Italian agriculture minister, Gianni Alemanno, said the scheme would run for 45 days, after which time it would be reassessed.

For Parmalat, with annual sales of €7.6bn, more than 36,000 staff and 139 production sites worldwide, 45 days is all that will be necessary to establish whether exit was just too tempting for the group's web of international suppliers.

Related topics Dairy-based ingredients

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