I may be wrong but …. there seem to be some vital pieces of logic missing in the debate over selling shares in some of New Zealand’s public assets to private investors.
Hopefully someone with greater understanding of finance and stock markets, and who knows how to count in billions, will be able to help me out.
There are two parts to the election debate about whether or not to sell 49% of five NZ state-owned enterprises – the economics of it, and the ideology underlying private sector versus state sector ownership of large infrastructure businesses.
The incumbent National party is going to the electorate with the policy of selling 49% of the enterprises (Air New Zealand, a coal miner and three electricity generators) into private hands.
Initially the rationale was to raise $7 billion (or $8b, one minister said) and to use it to retire that much debt. That seemed pretty clear-cut. As the election campaign got underway, and noting the trouble in overseas debt and equity markets, the number got revised to several alternatives depending on which National minister was talking, with the most common figure now $5b – $7b. A good enough estimate – what’s a mere $2 billion between friends? (Or does this mean National is really just guessing? Well, of course they are to a degree – how can anyone calculate how much you can sell anything for on an open market?)
Then the fudging began. In order to make the policy look more attractive, National framed it as selling some assets so as to fund other new assets (presumably ones that would otherwise not be built). These new assets – about $1b worth I believe – will include better facilities for schools and better roads. So, that’s $1b less for retiring debt, so we will need to borrow more to cover that gap.
Then National decided to make the sales proceeds into a fund for election sweeteners. First off the block was nearly half a billion for irrigation schemes, which will benefit farmers and then hopefully trickle down to the rest of us. So that bit of public asset sales revenue will go to the benefit of a few. Other recipients from the same fund are promised elsewhere.
In summary, a significant proportion of the funds raised by selling 49% of five state assets will now NOT go to retiring debt, so the National party needs to borrow more or cut a few billion off public services to achieve its target of getting back to surplus within its timeframe.
If I’m wrong in my logic and calculations, please someone tell me.
The other thing I may be wrong about, but would welcome correction, is the question of who will buy the shares. We’re talking about $5 – $7 billion that needs to be raised or, apparently, it’s not worth the sales going ahead. And National is sure that the large majority of the money will come from Kiwis. My questions are:
1. Is there $5b – $7b floating around in New Zealand, outside of the share market, looking for companies to invest in? If so, where is it?
2. If a hunk of that money is to be supplied from part of what Kiwi shareholders already hold in the New Zealand share market, what is the point of moving it from the existing NZ companies to these new ex-state assets? How will that help boost investment in local business and development? Or if locals will need to borrow to buy shares, that puts our (private) borrowing in an even worse state when we’re being encouraged to save more and reduce debt.
3. I assume that such large sums of money could come from Kiwisaver providers, the Super fund, iwi and other large NZ investment funds. But that would mean that most individual “mum & dad investors”, who National is boasting will love to buy shares, will in fact only own shares indirectly, as part of funds they have no control over.
4. Getting back to fundamentals, how many New Zealanders will be able to afford shares in these assets on the open market? There can be no financial concessions to Kiwis because that would reduce the amount raised, so the government will be aiming to get top dollar from everyone. Only the wealthy investors of this country, with money to spare, will be able to afford any significant holdings in the sold assets.
5. As with the similarly contentious issue of the sale of NZ farms, the top money is overseas. In any open market where the seller is after as much money as possible, the buyers will be the ones with the most money. And it won’t stop at the initial public offering; in time the initial buyers will want to sell, especially if the price is right, so eventually non-Kiwis will own pretty much all of the 49%.