Bimbo executives comment further on plan withdrawal

by Josh Sosland
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MEXICO CITY — Executives of Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V. described as “opportunistic” a recent decision to withdraw from two U.S. multiemployer pension plans, a move that resulted in a one-time charge against earnings of about $80 million. In an Oct. 26 conference call with investment analysts, the executives said the circumstances of the two withdrawals were very different, but the principle underlying the decision and potential future withdrawals were the same.

“We’re taking advantage of opportunities that have presented themselves to resolve our situation with them and move forward,” said Lou Minella, vice-president of human relations, Bimbo Bakeries USA.

The call included a presentation offering background on m.e.p.p.s and the long-term financial benefits from withdrawing from The New England Teamsters Pension Fund and Bakers Local 433 Fund. Overall, Bimbo participates in 34 m.e.p.p.s covering 15,100 employees. Guillermo Quiroz, Bimbo’s chief financial officer, prefaced the discussion by calling it “a very complex issue.”

“We understand that it's basically unknown for many of you,” he told the investment analysts. “It was unknown to us until a couple of years ago.”

In the case of the New England Fund, Mr. Minella said the fund was adopted and made available to employers what’s known as a hybrid withdrawal liability solution.

“It’s an opportunity to cap your liability and resolve it on favorable terms,” Mr. Minella said. “We decided to take advantage of that.”

The circumstances around the Bakers Local 433 Fund, essentially a two-employer fund, were different, Mr. Minella said.

“The other employer served notice on the union of their withdrawal from the fund earlier in the year,” he said. “And so, again, trying to take advantage of the situation. What we didn't want to do is be left as the only significant employer in the fund. We have followed suit and taken advantage of the opportunity to withdraw, cap our liability, exit from the fund, and move forward for the benefit of our financial position, as well as for our employees.”

While overall withdrawal liabilities from the two actions total $110 million, Bimbo already had taken a reserve of $31 million, resulting in the net charge of $80 million, Mr. Quiroz said. In accompanying materials, he showed the overall economic impact will be a positive $68 million.

“What is happening is that we are comparing our estimate for future outflows if we were not to withdraw from the plans to the new expected cash flows under the new solution,” Mr. Quiroz said. “Most of this economic value comes from the fact that even though the $80 million is a one-time charge to the p. and l., and we are taking it today, the withdrawal payment is going to take place in 25 years in the case of the New England Teamsters case and 19 years in the case of the 433.

“Now, these payments are without interest. So, basically speaking, as I was saying, the economic value comes from discounting those future payments to a present value, and, for those calculations, we used our WACC (weighted average cost of capital) number for the U.S.A. That is basically the way we calculated this.”

Asked by an analyst whether the funds involved both came from Sara Lee, Mr. Minella said the Local Bakers 433 is a fund that came from Sara Lee but that the New England fund was with B.B.U. before th

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