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The Standard

Key says ‘damn the torpedoes’ on asset sales

Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, October 30th, 2013 - 44 comments
Categories: privatisation, referendum - Tags:

The asset sales have been an unmitigated failure. They’ve raised less money than expected, they’ve cost more than twice as much as National said they would, no ‘mums and dads’ have shown up to buy the shares, and the public is waiting for its referendum. Now, it turns out that Treasury warned Key not to flood the market but Key plans to keep on flooding it.

It’s pretty much common sense from the Treasury (which is something of a revelation in itself). They told National: ‘look, if you’re going to sell 3 big electricity companies into a sharemarket that is already heavy on electricity companies, for God’s sake don’t do them all at once, the market can only swallow so much at a time; rush it, and you’ll get less Kiwi ownership and less money for the Crown’. Specifically, Treasury said don’t sell more than $1.5 billion every 12 months and spread it over 3 to 5 years.

Well, Key and co went ahead and sold two companies that were meant to be worth nearly $5 billion in just six months. The result: $1.3 billion less than thought and a fraction of the expected ‘mum and dad’ investors.

Of course, Key’s made a Prime Ministership out of ignoring all common sense and repeatedly failing in the pursuit of ideology, so he’s ignoring the lessons of Mighty River and Meridian, and threatening to sell Air NZ and Genesis in the next six months.

As Kiwi citizens, and the owners of these companies, we’ve got to send a strong message to Key and National in the referendum. A strong ‘no’ vote will tell them that, if the asset sales continue, National will get slaughtered in the election. That won’t matter to Key, he knows he’s odds on to lose and he’ll be on the next flight to Hawaii when it happens so he doesn’t care how big he loses, but it could force more level heads in National to rope him in.

44 comments on “Key says ‘damn the torpedoes’ on asset sales”

  1. Old Irascible 1

    Meanwhile, Hungary’s right wing Government says “We’ll take back the state assets for the public good.”
    http://theirasciblecurmudgeon.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/on-wisdom-of-selling-state-assets-right.html

  2. tricledrown 2

    Key will sell the other half of the power companies.

  3. Tracey 3

    He still has 12 months…

  4. vto 4

    I laughed yesterday when I heard the boss at Meridian state that the company’s governance will improve to best practice because it is now a listed public company….

    …. is it worth pointing out Chase Corp? Dominion Finance? Equiticorp? Feltex? Pike River? Where does this list end?

    …. what is it about these so-called “captains of industry” that they flick their blinkers to shut so often and on matters of such consequence?

    …. wait for Meridian to get into trouble…. and need taxpayer support ….. ffs …. idiots

    • Copperhead 4.1

      You missed the elephant in the room, Enron. Public ownership did that one very well…

      • Tat Loo (CV) 4.1.1

        Its the same old meme that private is somehow better than public. For the privateers and corporate monopolists that is of course the case. Just check out the rape and pillaging caused by the listed UK energy companies.

    • miravox 4.2

      “… the company’s governance will improve to best practice because it is now a listed public company….”

      You heard the one about the train company operating the east coast line in the UK that was privatised and couldn’t provide a profitable service?

      It went bankrupt, was re-nationalised, and with the profit requirement of it’s Bermuda-registered holding company removed, has since then paid more money back into public funds that any of it’s private pseudo-competitors. It has a much improved (and much better) safety record, punctuality and customer satisfaction ratings than all the private operators.

      So good in fact, that the Tories are going to re-privatise it. Two of the top bidders are majority-owned by the French state, and one a wholly owned subsidiary of the German government-owned rail operator, but somehow the British state can’t own it.

      Hilarious.

      Watch out Air NZ.

      • halfcrown 4.2.1

        Thanks for that miravox, as I said not long ago, when Air New Zealand was “privatised” and the major share holding was bought by Briely Investments, we were told that it had to be privatised otherwise in a decade it would be a third rate operator with debts of 500 million. After a decade of privatisation, and bungy jumping by the spivs from the right, in 2001 the then Clark government had to re nationalise Air New Zealand as it was a third rate carrier with debts of 880 million. Now they are out of the shit Key wants to sell it off to his spiv mates AGAIN.

      • Francis 4.2.2

        Yep, there’s two ways that companies go after privatisation:

        1) In the case of some SOEs, the new owners milk them for all they have while failing to fund essential maintenance. After several years, the privately owned company is on the verge of collapse with its asset near ruin (the railways are the best example of this, but I’m sure similar things have happened to other companies). Eventually, the government is forced to buy them back if they stand any chance of surviving.

        2) The companies, which were performing reasonably well under public ownership, then go into the private sector and continue to perform reasonably well. However, instead of the profits going to the public, they go into the hands of a few (usually overseas) owners or companies. These companies are often Monopolies, Duopoly, or Oligopolies, so private ownership also allows the companies to forego their social responsibilities and instead dramatically increase prices (and thus increase profit margins). Examples of this include Telecom and the power companies.

        Either way, the public looses out. Particularly in the long term.

        I also have to ask, what’s the difference (in terms of the way the company is run) between public and private ownership? Was the SOE model not designed to effectively be a publicly owned company run like a private company? If the trouble is supposed to be with the management of the company, what’s to stop the government simply restructuring the management while retaining the entity of the dividends?

        • Tat Loo (CV) 4.2.2.1

          I also have to ask, what’s the difference (in terms of the way the company is run) between public and private ownership? Was the SOE model not designed to effectively be a publicly owned company run like a private company? If the trouble is supposed to be with the management of the company, what’s to stop the government simply restructuring the management while retaining the entity of the dividends?

          Actually, nothing.

          In some cases, when shit in the private company has gone real bad, statutory receivers or similar are called in to get things back on an even keel.

          The “private companies are run better” canard was set up by the neolibs (along with bullshit like “market discipline”) and left wing/progressive elements never pushed back against it adequately.

        • Draco T Bastard 4.2.2.2

          2) The companies, which were performing reasonably well under public ownership, then go into the private sector and continue to perform reasonably well. However, instead of the profits going to the public, they go into the hands of a few (usually overseas) owners or companies.

          Telecom: The $17b of profits went into private pockets and now we get the honor of paying even more taxpayer dollars to put in place the network that the $17b should have paid for. It’s really nothing short of legalised theft.

          I also have to ask, what’s the difference (in terms of the way the company is run) between public and private ownership?

          These days, nothing – even the dead-weight loss of profit is the same.

          Was the SOE model not designed to effectively be a publicly owned company run like a private company?

          Yes it was and, generally, speaking, it’s doing that which is, of course, why we’re all worse off.

          If the trouble is supposed to be with the management of the company, what’s to stop the government simply restructuring the management while retaining the entity of the dividends?

          Nothing but it’s not management that’s the problem that Tories and other capitalists have the problem with. What they’re really concerned about is those profits going to the government rather than them.

          The grip of privatisation on our vital services has to be broken

          Privatisation is a failed and corrosive model. In Britain, it has combined with a determination to put up any asset up for sale to hollow out the country’s industrial base to disastrous effect. If Britain is to have a sustained recovery, it needs a genuinely mixed economy. The political and corporate elite have run out of excuses.

          The same can be said of NZ.

          • TheContrarian 4.2.2.2.1

            “The $17b of profits went into private pockets and now we get the honor of paying even more taxpayer dollars to put in place the network that the $17b should have paid for. It’s really nothing short of legalised theft”

            This assumes that the 17b would have gone in totality to the network. An assumption, nothing more.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.2.2.2.1.1

              A reasonable assumption considering that that was exactly what was happening to Telecom’s surplus before the sale – as I’ve told you before. Sure, governments probably would have fucked with that, especially the 1990s National government, but that still would have shown the dead-weight loss of profit.

          • miravox 4.2.2.2.2

            A great article by Seamus Milne there, Draco

            This bit, too:

            the costs of privatisation have created a powerful counter-momentum in Europe (and even more so in Latin America) to bring services, resources and utilities back into the public sector: water in France, power in Germany, and transport in Britain (Newcastle is currently attempting to take back bus routes). In September, the people of Hamburg voted to bring back the power supply into municipal ownership. Berlin is set to follow suit this coming Sunday.

            Of course, where I am in this far-left (according to some) outpost of Vienna, public utilities still remain in public hands. A referendum this year on the topic overwhelmingly rejected selling them.

            The sale of public utilities and services is flawed ideology, the NZ public knows it, but accepts it anyway. Strange – people must have lots of money to burn.

            • Tat Loo (CV) 4.2.2.2.2.1

              Or too much trust in the Government of the day.

              • miravox

                Yep, and that’s even crazier. Governments need to be challenged not to misuse the power the public has entrusted to them. Not trusted unreservedly.

                • Tat Loo (CV)

                  And that curiously, is supposedly the role of the news media and of journalism: to constantly challenge those in power and those in official positions.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.2.2.2.2.2

              The sale of public utilities and services is flawed ideology, the NZ public knows it, but accepts it anyway. Strange – people must have lots of money to burn.

              I don’t think that they accept it. I think that they feel powerless to change it. Both major parties have been selling off assets and only a minor party or two, which people don’t have full trust in, are saying that they’ll renationalise.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.3

      what is it about these so-called “captains of industry” that they flick their blinkers to shut so often and on matters of such consequence?

      Because they believe themselves to be better than anyone else. The failures that we see in the private sector is proof that they aren’t.

      • hoom 4.3.1

        “Because they believe themselves to be better than anyone else.”
        Don’t forget: Rapacious self serving sociopaths.

  5. ghostwhowalksnz 5

    You gotta think think who is pushing this policy forward and would National benefit financially before the next election from ‘selling the lot’

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 5.1

      Depends how many of them are capable of taking the long-term view. Key is in it for the short term and can expect huge rewards from his clients for transferring our wealth into private hands. These rewards will be delivered offshore, so he won’t even have to worry about the potential for vilification and contempt every time he shows his face in public.

      Visiting performers are often amazed by our openness, at how ridiculous their bodyguards look on Queen St. Even Muldoon was eminently approachable in public, (anecdotally) even at home. Our Prime Minister feels differently; he travels with security because he’s stealing from us and he knows we know.

      • Quincy 5.1.1

        I recall during the Muldoon era while driving my Morris Minor along the quay in Wellington I passed Muldoon’s limo (no doubt carrying him from the airport to parliament) parked up on the roadside with his driver out helping a woman to change a wheel.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      They probably will but that’s not why they’re selling any assets. They’re selling to increase the profit for the private owners. That extra profit comes from our pockets.

      Then there’s what happens once everything is privately owned as it once was under the aristocracy.

    • SpaceMonkey 5.3

      Possibly some in National will do well but John Key’s bankster mates and hedge fund operators will do much better. That National might contemplate a sell-the-lot firesale is a indication to me that financial collapse might be closer than many think.

  6. fambo 6

    Looking on the bright side, the PM signalling that he plans to sell off the rest of the assets in the hurry must increase the motivation for people to vote in the referendum, and (hopefully) reduce National’s chances of winning the next election.

  7. Sable 7

    There’s an assumption here I find interesting but naive, that is, that Keys is operating in the interests of the New Zealand people when in fact the only people he is interested in is himself and his well heeled mates…

  8. karol 8

    Steve Baron: another referendum, another ignored result, on the sham of NZ democracy.

    It is easy for political pundits and politicians like Whanganui MP Chester Borrows to suggest people are not voting because “we are all a pretty apathetic bunch”, but a rational voter is quite justified in coming to the conclusion that voting is a waste of time. Maybe we expect more from our political system than casting one vote every three years and when we are not given the opportunity to mould our own destiny in specific referendums, we give up in disgust? Democracy is not just about “elect me, I know what’s best for you”, it’s about having a say on the real issues that often affect us directly. The same can be said when it comes to conscience votes in Parliament – who cares what John Key or Chester Borrows thinks? What is important is what the majority of their constituents think.

    The Government is not taking our democracy seriously. So, all you politicians down in Wellington, don’t belittle us by denying us our democratic rights and do not assume we are apathetic and ill-informed. Dwell on the words of President Thomas Jefferson: “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

  9. Rodel 9

    Be interesting to know which mom and dad politicians bought, at bargain prices, the assets that we used to own. Is there a way to find out? If its a blind trust thing I guess not.

  10. captain hook 10

    I’m getting really pissed off with the noo noo heads who think the share price is the defining issue of the asset sales.
    Its the future income stream that is important and where the payoff for National is.
    wrangling over the share price is just a red herring that lets National completely off the hook and lets them know that the proletariat is still ignorant of how the whole thing works.
    Wake up.

    • tc 10.1

      +1 and the insertion of a minority shareholding that can have a big say in dividend V reinvestment, minority interests being looked after are enshrined in our corporate laws.

      They couldn’t care less if the price was multiples of what is it as these are long term money spinners.

      The low price just makes this an even better deal for the nats backers.

    • Rob 10.2

      But that is exactly how a share is valued Captain , its value is determined by future generated cashflows.

      • framu 10.2.1

        whatever happened to demand and supply?

      • tc 10.2.2

        Value is not the same as price which captain is referring to or ‘Historical Cost’ in accounting terms.

        Supply and demand drive price but that’s no indication of value…..hands up who thinks Zero are worth what that caps out at with it’s actual customer/revenue/cost structure.

        One fund manager I recall called a sharemarket a hysteria index.

  11. Roy 11

    [pedant mode] David Farragut’s famous, foolhardy order to ‘Damn the torpedoes!’ actually led to a successful naval invasion of Mobile Bay, so you might want to reconsider the headline of this article. It isn’t really appropriate since Key’s asset sales program is a disaster [/pedant mode]

  12. Sawitt Cuming 12

    Key is only doing what he is told by his bosses at the Federal Resrve and his mates on Wall Street and in the corporations. Once we elected our own leaders but those days have long gone. Anyone not preoccupied with genuflecting at the Mall or otherwise “having fun” would have joined the dots and come to this conclusion for themselves ages ago.
    Iceland and Hungary are showing the way but Key has to go, the sooner the better and back to Wall Street for preference.

  13. Peter Freedman 13

    The obsession of conservatives in selling off everything that moves would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

    • Tat Loo (CV) 13.1

      They aren’t conservatives, they are neoliberals. True conservatives conserve stuff. Plenty of National voting Southland conservatives hate the fact that our nation’s assets are being sold off.

  14. Ennui 14

    I have said it so often before so fekkin often: this whole “sale” issue is NOT about funding government. If the Left debates it on that basis they will get screwed because they are using the language and argument set out by their opponents.

    This debate is about one very small class of people who realise that the future is energy poor laying their hands on a strategic asset that produces power. This is about the rich positioning themselves as energy barons renting power to us serfs and peasants. Todays price and return are irrelevant, in fact the extreme Right are probably delighted with the debate to date being about “government funding etc”.

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