Dean Foods (Estate) Makes Payment of April Settlement Checks to Previous Dean Independent Producers

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UPDATE – JUNE 9th, 2020:  Southeast area farmers, previous Dean Independent producers, report that they have received funds for their April Settlement milk checks via electronic deposit into their bank accounts.   This action follows several letters from producer organizations both to the Court and to the Committee for Unsecured Creditors.

Please scroll for letters from Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and H. Barlow, Executive Secretary of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council (KDDC), which were sent to the Court. 

The Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board was also active in the process to recover those payments to producers. Read more about their efforts here.

On behalf of the (former) Dean independent producers, we say “THANKS” to the Honorable Judge David Jones, the Court, Dean Foods estate officials, and to all who advocated on their behalf.

At this time, it is not known if dairy co-ops or the FMMO Producer Settlement Funds have received the balance of the funds owed to them by the Dean Foods Estate.

 

Letter from Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau, to the Court and Dean Foods (Estate) Officials

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Letter from H. Barlow, Executive Secretary, KDDC, to the Court:

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The story as first reported:

 

Payments to Farmers Late at Best, in Question for the Future

A May 13, 2020 memorandum from USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service, Appalachian Order, reads as follows:

TO:  Regulated Handlers

FROM: Harold H. Friedly, Jr., Market Administrator, F.O. 5

SUBJECT: Producer Settlement Fund Non Payment

On May 12, 2020, Dean Foods, DIP (debtor-in-possession), a regulated handler on the Appalachian Order, did not pay its obligation to the Producer Settlement Fund (PSF) as required by Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations. USDA recognizes the significance of this non-payment and is continuing to work with the Department of Justice to attempt to recover these monies as part of the Dean Foods, DIP, estate.

When payment is not made to the PSF, Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations prescribe procedure for how the remaining marketwide pool monies should be distributed to handlers (1005.72).  When PSF monies are not sufficient to make full payments to handlers, the Market Administrator shall reduce uniformly such payments to handlers due a payment from the PSF.

Accordingly, for milk pooled on Order 5 during April 2020, payments to handlers from the PSF have been reduced pro rata.  Should the PSF payments be recovered from Dean Foods, DIP, Estate at a later time, full payments will be distributed.  In the meantime, Federal Milk Marketing Order regulations provide for reduced payments to producers from regulated handlers who did not receive full payment from the PSF (1005.73(c)). Consequently, the enforced minimum payments to producers will be at the pro rata amount.

USDA will continue to monitor the situation and work to assist the dairy industry. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available to all market participants. Please feel free to contact Jason Nierman, via nierman@malouisville.com, or (502) 499-0040, ext. 222, if you have any questions.

The memorandum also had this addendum included:

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This schematic explains workings of a Producer Settlement Fund:

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News could not have come at a worse time:

From an industry viewpoint, this non-payment could not come at a worse time for the farmers themselves.

When monies are received by the Producer Settlement Fund, they in turn are paid back out to handlers (co-ops or agents), who then distribute the money to farmers, paying them for milk sold (see the diagram above).  This process is highly regulated by FMMO rules, and has proven to be predictable, and reliable for decades.

Farmers then use their money to pay bills to any number of agribusiness and service firms with whom they do business.   Since this process has been so reliable, most farmers have set-up automatic withdrawals to pay supply companies.  Farmers will now be dealing with any issues related to those automatic withdrawals and any repercussions due to lack of funds. Agribusinesses will lose money as well, and incur any number of extra costs.

Ravaged by a myriad of challenges due to Covid-19, farmers are facing financial stress of an untold magnitude, and many multi-generational farms with long histories of serving consumers are at risk of being lost. The mental health and fortitude of those farmers is a prime concern across the country, due to the stresses which were already in place. Many fear that this news could catalyze additional health issues in farm communities.

An industry insider, who asked not to be identified, said this Dean Foods payment to the PSF could normally be in a range from $160-$250 million, affecting dairy co-ops, individual farms and the communities they serve in many states.  (Note – this figure will be verified and updated if needed – Covid 19 has changed almost everything.)

 

PERPLEXING:  WHY did this happen given Chapter 11 processes?

This payment, which is a regular course of business in both a predictable amount and timing in getting farms and co-ops paid for milk,  had regularly been made by Dean Foods during the course of the Chapter 11 proceedings.

Therefore, it stands to reason that attorneys, accountants, and consultants representing Dean Foods should have budgeted and accounted for these payments as Dean Foods books were closed out over the course of the next few months. In the last months of the process, fluid milk sales were up substantially according to many sources, which should also have added to Dean Foods income.   (An email inquiry to an attorney representing Dean Foods in the proceedings has not received a response as of this posting.)

This gets even more perplexing since farmers were named as critical vendors in the early days of the Chapter 11 process.  Dean Foods officials filed motions, which were granted by the Court, to ensure that those payments were indeed accomplished. It was believed those financial obligations to farmers for products delivered would have been honored until the last payment was due.

Impact on an individual farm:  During this payment cycle, any single farm would be due payments from thousands of dollars to even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the herd.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS OR HOPE AHEAD?

At this time, this is a profound question with unknown answers.  Some of those answers might be:

  • Payment to Settlement Funds in all FMM Orders might come at one of the later dates in this payment cycle, being only a few days late
  • Payment to the Producer Settlement Fund might come later, as accounts receivable from product and property sales come into the Dean Estate
  • Payment to farmers might not come at all, which is a bitter pill to swallow at this juncture in history.

Whatever the answer is, farmer co-ops and individual farmers deserve that answer, and deserve it quickly.  Perhaps a projected payment schedule could be stated by the Dean Foods Estate officials.  Even if it’s a worst case answer, to know what that answer is will honor the dignity of earnest farmers who deserve an answer so they can make some possibly excruciating decisions,  instead of ‘the system’ tap dancing around farm families like performers on a Broadway stage.

According to the Dean Foods / Southern Foods Group, LLC Chapter 11 website, two additional Omnibus Hearings are scheduled for May 20 and June 24. 

One dairyman has often said “The dairy industry at the grass roots level is a dairy community full of really good, decent people who want to earn an honest living and contribute to their communities. However, those good people often have to endure some very wicked events.”

Dean Foods has historically paid its ‘independent producers’ well, which is much appreciated.  It is sincerely hoped that Dean Foods closes its chapter on a better note than this non-payment, and quickly rectifies this payment shortfall to farmers.  For the sake of the mental and physical health of many farmers and their families, lets hope they do just that.

 

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Dean Foods Sells Majority of Assets to Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) & Prairie Farms

 

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DALLAS  – May 1, 2020  – Dean Foods Company (“Dean Foods” or the “Company”) today announced that is has completed the previously announced sales of substantially all of its assets, including the sale of the assets, rights, interests, and properties relating to 44 of the Company’s fluid and frozen facilities to subsidiaries of Dairy Farmers of America (“DFA”).

Dean Foods also announced that it has completed the sale of the assets, rights, interests and properties relating to eight facilities, two distribution branches and certain other assets to Prairie Farms Dairy. The Company also completed the sale of its facility in Reno, Nevada and its “Berkeley Farms” trademark and related intellectual property to Producers Dairy Foods.

These transactions follow a Chapter 11  process which began with a filing under the official name of Southern Foods Group, LLC, on November 12, 2019 in the US Federal Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston. As early as the day the Chapter 11 was announced, DFA was named as the leading contender to purchase the company.  The Honorable Judge David Jones has served as  the presiding judge.

At the current time, three additional hearing dates are posted on the Epiq website which has been housing the dockets and filings of the proceeding.

  • May 11, 2020: Governmental Bar Date
  • May 20, 2020: An Omnibus Hearing
  • June 24, 2020: An Omnibus Hearing

The process has taken place during a time of monumental chaos in agriculture and dairy created by shifts in consumer behavior exacerbated by the Covid-10 Pandemic.  As consumers followed “Shelter At Home” guidance issued across the country, fluid milk sales rose astronomically for 2 months.  Although they have leveled off a bit, fluid sales are still at much higher levels than in recent years.

The stage seems to be set for  the new owners to capitalize on consumer sentiment to reinvigorate fluid sales of the Dean brands, which have risen considerably during the past two months.  It is not known if  the new owners will maintain,  consolidate, or alter brands as they assume the reins.

“We are pleased to complete these transactions which maximize value for our stakeholders and will enable substantially all of our businesses to continue operating and serving customers across the country,” said Eric Beringause, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dean Foods.

“Our team has put in considerable work over the last several months to find the right partners for our assets that would enable them to continue to succeed while preserving the most jobs possible and to ensure a smooth transition for our customers and partners.

The completion of these sales is a testament to our employees’ efforts. I also want to thank our entire team for their commitment and dedication to Dean Foods not only over the last several months, but over the past several years.  Their hard work has helped Dean Foods build and grow brands and products that customers love, and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work side-by-side with this extraordinary group.”

The Company also announced that as part of the US Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) approval of Dean Foods’ transaction with DFA,  DFA has entered into a Consent Decree with the DOJ under which DFA has committed to hold separate and ultimately divest the dairy processing plants located in DePere,WI, Franklin, MA, and Harvard, IL together with certain assets related to the operations at each plant.

Upon closing of these sales, Mr. Beringause has stepped down from his role as President and CEO.

As previously announced on April 4, 2020, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas (the “Court”) also approved the sale of Dean Foods facility in Miami, Florida to Mana Saves McArthur, LLC, for $16.5 million. The company anticipates completing the transaction early next week.

As previously announced on April 30, 2020, Dean Foods completed the sales of the Company’s Uncle Matt’s business to Harmoni, Inc., and of its Hilo facility and related distribution branches on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui, as well as a license to the Meadow Gold Hawaii brand name and related intellectual property, to MGD Acquisition, LLC.

Additional information is available on the restructuring page of the Company’s website, DeanFoodsRestructuring.com.

In addition, Court filings and other information related to the proceedings are available on a separate website administered by the Company’s claims agent, Epiq Bankruptcy Solutions LLC, at https://dm.epiq11.com/case/southernfoods/dockets, or by calling Epiq representatives toll-free at 1-833-935-1362 or 1-503-597-7660 for calls originating outside of the U.S.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and Norton Rose Fulbright are serving as legal advisors to the Company, Evercore is serving as its investment banker and Alvarez & Marsal is serving as its financial advisor.For Court filings and documents:

To read more about the Department of Justice report – a posted news release:

1 May 2020:   Justice Department Requires Divestitures as Dean Foods Sells Fluid Milk Processing Plants to DFA out of Bankruptcy  – Department Also Closes Investigation into Acquisition of Other Dean Plants by Prairie Farms.

The DOJ news release closes with these words:

As required by the Tunney Act, the proposed settlement, along with a competitive impact statement, will be published in the Federal Register.  Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed settlement during a 60-day comment period to Eric Welsh, Acting Chief, Healthcare and Consumer Products Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 Fifth Street NW, Suite 4100, Washington, DC 20530.  At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois may enter the final judgment upon finding it is in the public interest.

Sources: Business Wire, News Releases, and Industry Reports

Dean Foods Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: News. Producer Questions. FAQ Sheets

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UPDATE – posted 6:35 pm Tues, Nov. 12:  “Emergency Relief Has Been Requested. A Hearing will be Conducted on this Matter on November 13, 2019 at 2:30 pm [CST] in Houston Tex.”   This information per court documents, TXSB.

Dean Foods, the nation’s largest processor of fluid milk, has filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the Southern District of Texas. According to a company news release, Dean Foods states the company is working toward an ‘orderly and efficient sale of the Company.”

In the same release, Dean Foods also states it is “engaged in advanced discussions with Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (“DFA) regarding a potential sale of substantially all assets of the Company. If the parties ultimately reach agreement on the terms of a sale, such transaction would be subject to regulatory approval and would be subject to higher or otherwise better offers in the bankruptcy.”

Related to the announcement, Dean Foods cancelled its regular Quarterly Earnings Call, which was scheduled to occur at 9:00 am on the morning of Nov. 12.

Information about the actions and proceedings can be accessed at http://www.deanfoodsrestructuring.com.

The major concern for dairy farm communities – especially the farmers, and  related agribusinesses and community small businesses across the country who serve those farmers – will be how independent dairy farms, who ship directly to Dean Foods plants, will be affected, treated, and compensated during the Bankruptcy proceedings.  Those detailed answers are not available at the time of this initial posting (11:50 am, EST, Nov. 12).

At this time, there are more unanswered questions than answers, and no doubt there will be many anxious farmers and co-ops around the country who depend on milk checks from Dean Foods.  It will take time for accurate answers and solutions to be found as this process works through the reorganizational Bankruptcy process.

For now, here are some FAQ sheets, as posted at http://www.deanfoodsrestructuring.com:

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Here is the related News Release as posted at http://www.deanfoodsrestructuring.com:

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As the news broke on the morning of November 12, here are some additional links from financial news outlets:

From ‘Seeking Alpha’: Initial (breaking) News Release – Dean Foods Files Chapter 11; posted at 7:09 am  – with a link to the news release below:

From ‘Seeking Alpha’: Dean Foods Company Initiates Voluntary Reorganization with New Financial Support from Existing Lenders, a posting with these bullets:

  • Company secures commitments for $850 Million in DIP Financing to Support Operations
  • In Advanced Discussions with Dairy Farmers of America Regarding a Potential Sale
  • Business Continues Regular Operations; Customer Receiving Uninterrupted Supply of Dairy Products as Normal

From ‘Seeking Alpha’: Dean Foods EPS misses by $0.72 – posted at $9.38 am

More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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Dean Foods: Earnings. Farms. Jobs. Communities. What’s Ahead?

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The Dean Foods Earnings Call, a webcast relaying financial news of Dean Foods, a publicly traded company, was held on the morning of Tuesday, May 7th, 2019.
The timeframe immediately before and after these publicly available Earnings Calls, for any company generally provide a wealth of information concerning the financial health and status of that company, along with various industry perspectives.
According to company information, Dean Foods is the “nation’s [US] largest processor and direct-to-store distributor of fluid milk.”  As such, any decisions made by the company will have a direct impact on local/regional dairy communities across the country, affecting many dairy farms and jobs within and related to the processing plants.
It can be said that Dean Foods is perhaps the company which is most supportive of the local and regional farm communities within a fairly close radius of each of its 58 plants.  Additionally, there are 19,000 local jobs in processing and distribution and related company functions at the plants.
Here are general takeaways from the Earnings Call – a grassroots perspective:
  • First: No really horrible news for farms or local business, or even Dean’s resulted from the Q1 call, which I consider a positive, given the company’s downward trending stock prices of late.
  • Second: Stock value was generally up for the day, with market share price at $1.75 at the time of close of business on May 7th.
  • Third: No immediate transitions or sales of the company were announced (as of that day), even though it is no secret the company is exploring options.  Whatever the company’s eventual decisions, there is no doubt that local communities and farm economies across the country will be impacted – but no one knows if that will be in a harmful or helpful manner at this writing. 
  • Fourth: The world of food in general – and dairy companies in particular – is fast-changing, so any news today may be very different a week from now.
Stockholders Meeting: The Dean Foods Stockholder Meeting occurred Wed, May 9th at 9 am, CDT.  The meeting is archived here if readers would like to listen in. There is a delay at the front of the meeting in the recording.
 
Prior to and following the May 7th Earnings Call: These Posts  (chronological)
  • May 6, 2019: Dean Has Got Milk but Few Growth Prospects as it Hunts for Buyer, by Lydia Mulvany and Katherine Doherty for Bloomberg
  • May 6, 2019: Dean Foods Falters from More Concentrated Milk Market – authored by Heather Haddon, for the Wall Street Journal:    (and in case you can’t get to the online edition, here’s a photo of the article as it appeared in print)
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  • May 7, 6:58 am, by Seeking Alpha: Dean Foods Misses Q1 Estimates – notes that sales declined in 9% in Q1 2019, and to this blogger’s understanding, the comparison point is Q1 in 2018 (will verify). Remember, in 2018, the company still had branded shelf space in Walmarts in several states in the projected distribution radius of the new Walmart plant at Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  • May 7, 10:23 am (after the call): Dean Says It’s Turning the Corner with Dairy Drain Set to End – by Lydia Mulvany and Katherine Doherty for Bloomberg – authors note the report was a ‘mixed bag,’ stated the company’s bonds gained on Tuesday (the day of the call) after ‘tumbling since late February.’
  • Dean Foods Company SEC Filing – Current report (8-K) May 7, 2018 (Financial Statement)
  • A Transcript of the Entire Call – posted by Seeking Alpha – access at this link  (21 pages if you print, follow a link to an audio recording): includes the opening statement by Dean Foods officials, including CEO Ralph Scozzafava, and a Q&A Session with Financial Analysts  from well-known companies
  • Slides – played in conjunction with the Dean Foods officials portions of the call, includes graphs and charts further explaining the verbal points – access at this link

And then following the call:

May 7th, Afternoon:  From the Dallas News:  “Dean Foods posts Wider Losses Than Expected in first quarter amid Conversations with Potential Buyers.”

An article by Dom Difurio, a breaking news business writer for the Dallas Morning News, included these three statements of note:
  • “On a call with analysts frustrated with a lack of details around when the company could turn a financial corner, Dean Foods also reiterated that it’s looking at strategic alternatives to accelerate its business transformation and enhance its value.”
  • “When asked whether the company was in talks with any potential buyers for the company, Scozzafava said it’s possible the company could do nothing.
  • “We’ve been in conversations with some folks, and we’ll leave it at that . . . we are very open minded and exploring some things,”  Scozzafava said.

May 7th, Afternoon:  Dean Foods (DF) Reports Q1 Loss, Misses Revenue Estimates  from Zacks Equity Research, a financial publication.

“Investors should be mindful of the fact that the outlook for the industry can have a material impact on the performance of the stock as well. In terms of the Zacks Industry Rank, Food-Dairy Products is currently in the bottom 8% of the 250 plus Zacks industries. Our research shows that the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries outperform the bottom 50% by a factor of more than 2 to 1.”
May 7, 2019 at 3:55 pm:   Dean Foods Needs an Activist Investor  
Posted at Seeking Alpha, authored by Holmes Osborne, of Osborne Global Investments
This is a blunt, tell-it-like-it-is perspective from a financial analyst’s viewpoint, who describes the company’s real estate and transportation assets as interesting. He also suggests some action items for the company to take in order to cause company value to rise.
With most of this blog’s readers in agriculture, it should be noted he suggests the company needs to widen its portfolio to include more plant-based or alternative beverages, or expand whey-protein production.
Parts of this article are a bit hard to read, but may be necessary to absorb in order to take action.
Also – take note, some of the $$$ referring to milk sales are not as impactful as he suggests due to market conditions of two different time frames, and some of his other statements related to agriculture show a bit of a lack of knowledge about grass-roots agriculture.
The Good News?  Osborne also suggests it may be time to buy stock, acknowledging it is risky at the moment.  The opening click title was  “Bottom-Fishing Investors, Snag Dean Foods.
May 8th, 2019, Morning:  “Dean Foods Sees Positives After a Quarterly Loss,” by Jeff Gelski for Food Business News.
  • CEO Ralph Scozzafava notes that a cost productivity plan and improvements in free cash flow provide optimistic things about the quarter
  • Scozzafava: “We believe we have passed the inflection point in our transformation, as many of the initiatives we implemented over the past 12 months are now beginning to take hold.”
  • Scozzafava (when asked about a potential sale):  “It’s very possible that we won’t do anything, and we’ll continue to execute the plant that we have, which we’re very happy with, and we’ll continue to make progress on it. “So look, we’ve been in conversations with some folks, and we’ll leave it at that.”
May 8th, 2019, 1:42 pm: “Dean Foods Seen Trading at Fair Value,” posted at Seeking Alpha and authored by Clark Schultz.
  • Notes this from Wells-Fargo Analyst John Baumgartner:  “The outlook features some positives (seq. EBIT improvement, positive FCF, new business wins), but we think weak volumes, expansive price gaps, and inflationary price basis to dairy costs maintain DF in a vulnerable position.”
  • “Wells-Fargo has a Market Perform rating and a target price of $2 on Dean Foods.”
May 9th: Stock closed at $1.65/share
May 10th, 2019, Afternoon:   “Why Dean Foods (DF) Stock Price Advanced Up to 5.76% Today”  by Samuel Moore for Find News
  • Moore observes that stock has an (average analyst) potential target price of $3.47 share, thus a potential to rise 98.29% increase from recent ranges of $1.57 to $1.71.
  • Trading volume was considered high
Dean Foods stock closed at $1.76 for the week of the Earnings Call, up 11 cents from a close at $1.65 on Friday May 3rd.
May 13th, 2019 (Monday):  Dean Foods Shares Up 11.4%”by Harvey Truce for Rockland Register.  Surprisingly,  Dean Foods stock rose 20 cents/share in light trading volume.   A midday report was posted by Ethane Eddington for the Press Recorder, “Dean Foods (DF) Add 4.5%, Cementing Place as Top Mover Today.”
May 13th, Market Close: Stock closed at $1.96/share, and traded as high as $1.98 during the day.
June 3rd, 2019:  (Monday) Now is the Time to Bet on Dean Foods Company’s Stock: by William Josephs for Finch News, an online publication.
June 3rd, 2019:  Stock closed at $1.06.
June 5th, 2019  (Wed am):  Dean Foods Company (DF) Among Top Stocks to Watch Today:  by Denise Gardner, for Press Recorder
June 5th, 2019 (Wed, 1:34 pm): Dean Foods +13% after skirting with dropping below $1;    posted on Seeking Alpha by Clark Shultz
June 5th, 2019 (Wed):  Should Traders Take A Bit Out of Dean Foods Company?; by Kiel Taylor for US Post News
June 5th, 2019:  Stock closed at $1.22/share
June 6th, 2019: Stock closed at $1.22/share
June 7th, 2019, 8:44 am:  “Saputo takes a pass at Dean Foods”: Seeking Alpha news alert breaks news Saputo will not be acquiring Dean Foods, after earlier announcements Saputo was considering that acquisition.
June 7th, 2019, Midday: “Let’s Make some Money with: Dean Foods (DF) Company” – posted at Nasdaq News Updates, compiled by the NNU Team.  This article explains many of the terms and acronyms commonly used in financial reports about stock prices.
June 26th, 2019: America’s Biggest Milk Processor is Trading at Less than a Buck, by Lydia Mulvany and Katherine Doherty for Bloomberg.
June 26, 2019:  Dean Foods Stock closed at 95 cents / share  (Volume 2,552,000)
June 27, 2019:  Dean Foods Stock closed at 93 cents / share  (Volume 2,974,000)
June 28, 2019:  Dean Foods Stock closed at 92 cents / share  (Volume 4,959,000)
July 1, 2019: Dean Foods Stock closed at 93 cents / share (Volume 2,537,000)
July 2, 2019: Dean Foods Stock closed at 97 cents / share (Volume 2,264,000)
July 3, 2019: Dean Foods Stock closed at $1.07 / share (Volume 2,397,0000)
July 5, 2019: Dean Foods Stock closed at $1.10 / share (Volume 2,338,0000)
July 6th, 2019: Dean Foods Cut to “Sell” at ValuEngine, posted by Steve Reilly on Riverton Roll.
As those in the dairy industry know too well, this is an evolving story with lots of moving parts.  Look for additional updates as they become available.
And please keep in mind, this is mostly a chronicle or digest of information which has been published by other sources. This blog in no way suggests advice on taking actions either in the stock market or in a related business due to information published here.
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