The story of Nigeria’s 24-year privatisation journey cannot be complete without mentioning the National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria (NAFCON), established in 1981 to produce and sell fertilizer.
The company began fertilizer production 6 years after it was incorporated, followed by years of mismanagement and corruption which forced the company to shut down 11 years later in 1999. The company resurrected again in 2005 following its privatisation, resulting in a sale of $152 million to new owners and then rebranding itself to Notore Chemicals.
Today, the company manufactures, treats, processes, produces, supplies, and deals in nitrogenous fertilizer and all substances suited to improving the fertility of soil and water. The Company has a 500,000 metric tonne Urea Plant in Onne, Rivers State, Nigeria, generating circa N18.7 billion (2019: N21.4 billion) in revenues as reported in its 2020 audited accounts for the period ended September 30, 2020.
In 2020, the company embarked on a massive Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) programme for its plants, which it targets will help boost its production levels to 500,000MT nameplate design capacity. The company further claims that 70% of the revenue earned from the operation of the plant post TAM filter into its bottom line, hence boosting profitability.
The importance of its TAM cannot be overemphasized. Notore earns 97% of its revenues from fertilizer sale of Urea and other chemicals. About 17% of the revenues are generated from export, thus the potential is there to improve sales and perhaps bottom line locally and within Africa.
But to achieve its TAM plans, Notore has doubled down on its debt binge. Total borrowing for the year spiked from N79.9 billion in 2019 to N108.3 billion in 2020. Whilst most of the loans came from new loans, the rest was due to a devaluation. Notore is swimming in debts and this will stifle any chances of profitability at least in the short to medium term.
Out of its N108 billion loan, it owes Afrexim $38 million (N14.75b); $5.1 million is due within a year as it reported in its audited financial statements. The dollar facility came at a steep 12.7% interest rate and is repayable over 84 months (7 years). There is also another $72.86 million (N29.08b) facility, out of which $5.85 million is due this year – also at an interest rate of 12.7%.
Thus, the company will have to find at least a whopping $10.9 million (excluding interest rates) to fund all its external loan obligations that fall due in one year. How it intends to achieve it this year is anyone’s guess.
Another N16.79 billion are BOI-CBN loans obtained at concessionary rates of about 7%, add commercial bank loans of N44.46 billion at an interest rate of 23%, you start to understand how much debt the company is swimming in. These are unsustainable figures and is weighing down negatively on its balance sheets and profitability.
Interest on loans is now the company’s highest cost driver coming at N23.4 billion last year alone, topping cost of sales and operating expenses of N21.6 billion and N5.9 billion, respectively. In fact, finance cost was higher than revenue in 2020.
Notore recognizes this challenge and restructured some of its loans in 2020. There are also plans to raise capital in 2021 through a rights issue or public offer. Whilst that seems like a plausible route to go this year, the size of equity it will require will depend on its share price and how far it wishes to go in terms of being diluted.
At the current price of N62.5 per share, it will have to sell equity worth half its market capitalization of N100b to pay down just 50% of the debt. This will be a significantly expensive offer for potential investors considering that it has negative retained earnings of N29.1 billion and is unlikely to return to profitability anytime soon.
The company can, however, take solace in the fact that its outlook for its mainstay, Fertilizer, is brighter than its capital structure woes. Nigeria needs fertilizer if its to expand its Agriculture revolution plans. As the company stated “the consumption of fertilizer per hectare of arable land in Nigeria is still far below the 200kg per hectare recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization,” buttressing the potential to grow topline. Export opportunities also exist especially with the start of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Notore only needs to find a better way of financing its TAM programme and it cannot be sustained with the current capital structure.