On the Line: Demerara Distillers Limited Annual Report 2008

In what Dr Yesu Persaud, Chairman of the beverage giant described as one of its most difficult and challenging years the group has experienced in recent times, the Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) group reports a decline in pre-tax profit of 8.8% over 2007. For the parent company itself, the decline in pre-tax profit was 8.98% and is a measure of how significant its alcohol and soft drinks operations are to the group. In addition to the parent, the group comprises a mix of operating companies in Guyana, the Caribbean, Europe and India. It also has a 30% stake in BEV Enterprises Limited, 33.33% in National Rums of Jamaica Limited and 19.5% in Diamond Fire and General Insurance Company Limited. The parent company accounted for 73% of the group sales but 87% of profit after tax. Correspondingly, the subsidiaries accounted for 27% of revenue and together with the applicable share of profits of associated companies accounted for 13% of after tax profits.

The Chairman attributed the performance of the company and group to the problems facing the global economy and the impact on consumers “burdened by the Value-Added Tax introduced in 2007.” The directors of the company are however confident about the future and in June last year announced a $4.5Bn expansion programme extending into the first quarter of 2010, which has already caused a significant increase in the long-term debt of the company. In fact with the total debt for the company increasing during the year from $4.2Bn to $7.3Bn, its debt to equity ratio, a measure of a company’s ability to borrow and repay money, has jumped from 0.48:1 to 0.82:1. Capital expenditure in 2008 was $1.8Bn and much of the increased borrowings by the company went into financing a 17% build-up in inventory and a 75% increase in receivables. Such borrowings have come at a cost, and finance cost increased during the year from $490Mn to $561Mn. This equates to one out of every three dollars earned before interest and tax being used to pay interest. A further $56Mn of interest paid was not charged to the income statement but was capitalised as a cost of the related asset.

Falling returns
The further expansion in plant and machinery will of course lead to additional interest cost which has increased since 2002 when the Chairman announced a financial restructuring including a share issue to minimise financing cost. That has not materialized, and financing cost has continued to rise. In fact interest cover which measures the number of times interest is covered by profit before interest and tax is now 3, when at the time of the announced financial restructuring it was 5.6 times.

While the gross assets employed by the group have more than trebled in the past ten years, the return on those assets has fallen from 29.1% in 1999 to 9.4% in 2008 – the lowest it has ever been. Despite the decline in after-tax profits by 10.9% the directors are proposing to maintain a dividend of $0.40 per share, jarringly referred to as cents per share, which of course went out of existence in 1998. The total dividend payout for the year is approximately 39%.

‘What if’ reporting
An interesting and innovative inclusion in the Chairman’s report was what may be described as a ‘what if’ statement, in which the company suggested that had it not been for some global factors affecting fuel, net exchange loss movement and increase in provision for impairments the company’s profits would have been $903Mn higher, and that profit before tax would have been an implausible $2,585Mn, an increase of 14% on decreased sales of 10.38%. These are however real costs, and reflect the challenges which directors are expected to confront and mitigate.

The composition of the net exchange loss reflected in note 6 to the financial statements is itself interesting, as it is made up of Exchange losses of $488Mn and Exchange gain of $296Mn. This emphasises the inevitable risk of dealing in international currencies such as the euro and the pound sterling, which often move one way and then the other, the negative impact of which may be avoided by what is referred to as hedging.

Liquidity strains
The company and the group have also seen a substantial reduction in cash with the company’s cash resources reduced to $79Mn from $235Mn at the beginning of the year, and for the group from $298Mn to $107Mn. Current liabilities on the other hand, skyrocketed from $3.7Bn in 2007 to $6.7Bn in 2008, partly due to two major short-term loans taken as bridging finance for the capital expenditure in 2008. The position will abate in 2009 with the conversion of those loans into long-term facilities, but will continue to remain high with trade payables and bank overdraft exceeding $6Bn. Included also in Trade and other payables for the company is a huge amount of $2.242Bn, bringing total interest bearing borrowings to $8.354Bn. If this trend continues without compensating returns on investments, they will become a real drag on the company’s development.

One continuing concern about this company is the high level of its inventory and receivables. The company’s sales for the year declined by 11%, but its level of inventory which includes finished goods, raw materials and spares increased by 17%. And for the group the position was only slightly better. Revenue increased by 2.3%, but its inventory increased by 20%. Expressed another way, the company and the group have in stock at their written down value the equivalent of sales value of 14 months and 20 months respectively! Intuitively one would expect the company to have had a high level of inventory because of the aging of alcohol, but these numbers lead one to wonder seriously about the quality of the inventory held by the subsidiaries.

Sales too have come with hidden financing cost. While sales for the company show a decline of 10.4%, trade receivables went up by 46%, and for the subsidiaries the increase in sales of 67% was accompanied by an increase in their trade receivables by 34%. This latter position appears better than it really is because a major subsidiary – Distribution Services Limited – operates on a cash and carry basis.

The performance of the subsidiaries and associates was mixed, with Tropical Orchards Products Company Limited reporting after tax losses increasing from $6Mn to $50Mn. When the group announced a $500Mn investment in TOPCO in 2004 Business Page pointed out that based on a standard measure of investment appraisal such a level could not be justified. Regrettably that fear is being more than vindicated and since then TOPCO has returned a net loss to the group.

Another concern is the investment in India which continues to show losses, and it takes a certain level of faith to persist with this investment in the face of annual losses having to be carried by the rest of the group. China and South America with which the company flirted for a couple of years appear to have gone off the radar and already the company is learning what a difficult environment Jamaica is with its share of pre-tax profits in the Jamaican company declining from $56Mn in 2007 to less than $4Mn in 2008. On the other hand, bright spots are Demerara Shipping and Distribution Services locally, and the European, St Kitts and US operations.

Belatedly, the directors appear to have accepted that the purchase by the company of the controlling shares in Solutions 2000 was not a good investment after all. The company has lost its entire investment in annual losses and given the performance and outlook for Solutions, the company must consider itself lucky that it did not suffer a bigger capital loss. Interestingly it is only in the year of disposal that the company discloses that the controlling interest in the company was acquired from DDL directors Messrs Komal Samaroo and David Spence in 2000. The identity of the purchaser has not been disclosed.

One difficulty I have with some of the numbers presented for the subsidiaries is that all the subsidiaries are private companies subject to minimal statutory and governance obligations. In fact some of them operate in jurisdictions which do not require an audit and even locally the subsidiaries do not comply with the law requiring them to file annual returns and financial statements. It is unlawful and unacceptable that the local subsidiaries have not been filing their annual returns and financial statements, and the only financial statements seen in any of the files at the Deeds Registry are the annual reports of the group.

In preparing for the column I sent a note to fellow accountant Mr Loris Nathoo, General Manager, asking for the turnover and the names of the auditors of the subsidiaries. Since it relates to the subsidiaries of a public company this information should not be a matter of secrecy. However, the reply took the form of a letter from the company’s in-house attorney that did not respond to my request, but boasted of the “Company’s 2008 Report [being] incomparable to any other published accounts in Guyana and, indeed, in the region.” One has to wonder whether the writer is familiar with the annual reports of Neal and Massy or RBTT of Trinidad and Tobago or Grace Kennedy of Jamaica.

One might have expected awareness on the part of the directors that their note 22 on Segment reporting is not in compliance with paragraph 69 (a) of IAS 14, which requires that where a company chooses business segments as its primary reporting format it must disclose revenue by geographical location of the customers. That is where the risk lies and that is what segment reporting is designed to highlight.

One change in the financial statements is the inclusion of the insurance arm Diamond Fire and General Insurance Inc as an associated company in the results of the company. Dr Persaud claims that this change was based on the advice of the auditors and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana. Of course that does not reflect the fact that it was a ruling resulting from a formal complaint lodged by this columnist.

New Director
A related issue is that on the last day of 2008 the board appointed Mr Chandradat Chintamani, Chartered Accountant, as a director of the company. This appointment is considered coincidentally unfortunate since a committee of the ICAG headed by Mr Chintamani had very shortly before exonerated certain directors and the company’s auditors from my formal complaint that they had failed to account for a US$1.1Mn discount on a loan buyback from Hamilton Bank, which had gone into liquidation.

Apart from the announcement about the new investment the Chairman’s report is largely retrospective, and nothing is said about the outlook for the company and the group for the current year and beyond. Like with all the companies whose shares are traded on the local stock exchange, the company’s share price has remained steady, and with the recession in the developed economies appearing to have slowed, the group must be hopeful that it will return to growth in 2009.

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