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Killing the Cullen Fund’s costing us

Written By: - Date published: 7:58 am, January 8th, 2013 - 45 comments
Categories: superannuation - Tags:

You may have missed it, but David Shearer recently picked up National’s policy of not contributing to the Cullen Fund until 2017/18 because the Government’s in deficit.

Of course, there is nothing fundamental about being in deficit that alters the case for investing the Cullen Fund any more than there is for transport investment or any other capital spending. It makes as much sense to say you shouldn’t put money in the Cullen Fund when there’s a deficit as to say you shouldn’t unless the surplus is over $5,691,000,000 – zero is an arbitrary and meaningless point. As long as the return exceeds the Crown’s cost of capital, it’s worthwhile.

So, how much have the canned contributions cost us so far? $1.2 billion.

If the contributions had continued at $180m per month and National hadn’t made that weird one-off $250m payment at the end of the 2008/09 year (if investing in the Cullen Fund was so crazy as they claimed, why did they finish with an extra big payment?), we would now have $8.6b more in the kitty to pay for our future superannuation costs and gross government debt would be $7.4b higher – net government debt would be $1.2 billion less than it is now.

(all the data for working this out is here)

And, because, the returns are compounding, the lost gains in the last three years will get exponentially larger (even if returns only keep up with inflation) over time.

Since the contributions were cancelled, the fund has averaged a return of 1.18% a month versus the average Crown borrowing cost of 0.22% per month. 5.5 times. Over its full life, including the big losses in 2008/09, the Cullen Fund has exceeded its goal of beating the Crown’s cost of capital by 2.5%.

Cancelling the Cullen Fund contributions may end up being the costliest mistake this National has made. Because the contributions and the lost gains on them will have to be made up later. See, there’s a legislative requirement that there is a certain amount of money in the Fund (roughly $100b) when it begins to pay down at the end of next decade. The Fund is currently $20.5b when it would be $29.1b if the contributions had continued, and that gap get exponentially wider every year the contributions are suspended.

The legislation has a formula that works out the amount of contributions needed each year to get to that $100b target.

To try to make up the lost ground, when contributions resume in 2017/18, Treasury’s model says we’ll have to put over $2 billion a year in, whereas, if we kept the contributions up the whole time, it would be $1.5b. And the lost time means we’ll never close the gap – in 2030, the Fund will be worth $96b if the contributions only resume in 2017/18, but if they resumed today, there would be $110b.

By failing to invest early, we’re losing tens of billions in the long-run. Tens of billions that would pay for our superannuation when the time comes and would right now be reducing our net debt to the rest of the world.

But that’s National for you, short-termists and failures to the end.

45 comments on “Killing the Cullen Fund’s costing us”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    By failing to invest early, we’re losing tens of billions in the long-run. Tens of billions that would pay for our superannuation when the time comes and would right now be reducing our net debt to the rest of the world.

    But that’s National for you, short-termists and failures to the end.

    You didn’t mention Labour in your conclusion, even though they have copied this exact same National policy for the exact same National reasons?

    • mike e 1.1

      CV with out the 20 billion in the Cullen fund National would be making cuts similar to Camoron in the UK!?

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.1

        National would have to borrow an extra $45M per week to keep contributing to the Cullen Fund, but that borrowed money would have been paying itself back even faster as the fund gained.

        Having said that, I remain extremely dubious of the safety of these monies invested in the casino financial markets.

  2. Lightly 2

    which is why it’s good to see the Fund actually doing direct investment in assets, buying up large interests in strategic assets (even if one of them is a petrol station chain), not just trading in shares

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      :) sure, its important to follow the clue of the banksters mafia in Europe. Buy up ports, airports, farms, power generation and grid, and other productive assets.

  3. DH 3

    Well I for one hope that the left parties don’t drag this up again. It’s a fools gambit.

    James the risk free rate of return quoted in the fund workings is not the cost of Crown borrowing. That’s the 90day bill rate. Interest on Govt debt is considerably higher than that 0.22% and if they’d borrowed more to pay into the fund it would likely be higher again.

    Any gains would have been negligible, much less than $1.2b, and offset against the reduced cashflow from interest payments on the borrowing.

    • Lightly 3.1

      long-term govt bonds are now going at less than 3%. The 90 day Bill is at 2.5%.

      “Any gains would have been negligible, much less than $1.2b, and offset against the reduced cashflow from interest payments on the borrowing.”

      care to do the numbers, or are we just supposed to believe you?

      • DH 3.1.1

        The argument is stupid. The high returns from the fund since payments were cancelled are primarily due to the value of existing investments bouncing back after the big losses in 2008/2009. It doesn’t follow that new money invested would have returned the same kind of sums.

        The long run return from the fund is 2.62% above the risk free rate of return. Even if Govt borrowing cost was the same that’s a gain of $26.2million for every $1billion invested, which wouldn’t come close to $1.2billion in four years.

        Whatever the gains it would also have resulted in a cashflow loss to the Crown of a greater sum, since the cost of Crown borrowing is higher than 2.62%. With the Crown running a deficit they’d have had to borrow the interest as well, which would compound Govt debt further.

        The intended purpose of the Super fund is to take the burden of Super off future generations. Well borrowing won’t do that will it, future generations will instead be paying off similar sums of Govt debt & be no better off.

        • Colonial Viper 3.1.1.1

          Borrowing to put into the Cullen Fund would have left the country better off today, by $1.2B.

          I agree that past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance however (a premise you would do well to stick to yourself).

          • TightyRighty 3.1.1.1.1

            CV, the cheertator has pronounced, therefore it must be so!

            No matter that DH may have a point should he wish to love it himself, this is not a cheerocracy, this is a cheertator ship. All hail CV!

            Why not just Kim Jong-un it and say that labour would have been responsible for the extra 1.2b if national had continued with the payments?

            • Colonial Viper 3.1.1.1.1.1

              but Labour wouldn’t have continued with the payments. Labour and National think the same way and both have said they wouldn’t continue the payments.

        • mike e vipe e 3.1.1.2

          DH you have got your accounting wrong the 2.62% is the difference between borrowing costs and return i.e. profit.

  4. Here is a link to an interesting chart.

    Max Keiser alludes to it because of the minute amounts of gold owned by your average sovereign wealth fund but it also shows that most sovereign wealth funds invest ridiculous amounts of money in other things. The Cullen fund was recently given the price for being the most innovative SWF. They even beat the Kazakhstan oil fund.

    What that meant according to the website is they had a good system for deciding what to buy and invest in. The Cullen fund has some interest in Dairy, Forest and other real world assets but the GAAP changed one or two years ago allowing them to deny us to find out what kind of derivatives they have on their books, most especially which ones are currently losing money.

    My guess is that with a Merrill Lynch derivatives and wealth specialist on the first of the board of guardians in 2002 when they started trading and a Goldman Sachs banker on the current board of Guardians it is reasonable to presume that the Cullen fund is chockablock with new fangled Financial Products, collateral debt swaps and other derivatives which will evaporate into thin air when the global Financial System collapses under the weight of the derivatives bubble.

    • tc 4.1

      ‘GAAP’ Generally Available Avoidance Policy, so much for IFRS and other tomes from the international beannies board etc etc protecting people by providing transparency so they can make informed decisions.

      There’s a reason why they don’t want you to see the smoke and mirrors.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        Goldman Sachs bankers get bonuses based on how much money they can rip off from their clients.

        GS is not called the “Vampire Squid” of the investment banking cartel for nothing.

  5. alwyn 5

    There is one major reason for the Government NOT putting any further money into the Cullen Fund.
    NO politiciann, in any party, can be trusted to keep their grubby little paws off the investment policy, at least in the long run. As the fund was set up it was meant to be kept well clear of the political desires of the hack politicians in our Parliament. Unfortunately, because of the Constitutional rules that prevent any Parliament binding its successors we can’t rely on that continuing indefinitely.
    National, for example, proposed in 2008 that the fund should invest 40% of the funds in New Zealand. I don’t know whether they forced it to happen or not but it was certainly a proposal.
    The Green party have been the worst offenders. If one reads through their policy they have very definite proposals for what the fund should do. Basically they will decide what they think is desirable and then order the Fund to invest in their fantasies. I am quite sure they will, if they ever get into power ORDER the fund to invest in any rail project that is proposed, regardless of the economic merits. They will also insist it invests in any form of “renewable” energy that is suggested.
    I would suggest that there won’t be any fund to pay for Super in the future. It will all be frittered away on political grand-standing.
    Labour and Green policies will also prevent the money ever becoming available to pay for Superanuation.
    After all the fund is state owned and therefore anything it owns must be a state-owned asset. However to obtain the funds to pay Super the assets will have to be sold, and these parties policies forbid any such sale.
    Will the funds ever become available? Not a chance. They will just be an enormous slush fund for economic illiterates, like Russel Norman, to blow on their favourite fantasies.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Countries with major sovereign wealth funds like Singapore, Norway and Russia seem to do quite well.

      However, I am concerned that our funds are invested in productive assets as much as possible, and not financialised casino instruments.

      And you don’t have to be worried about politicians wasting the money; the bankers are more likely to steal it first.

      • alwyn 5.1.1

        I don’t know anything about the operations of the Russian Fund. Given much of the activities of the Putin regime I would however worry about its soundness.
        One thing to note about the Singapore and Norwegian funds is that they do not invest at all in their own countries. This is not the case in New Zealand and would become even less likely if the Green party had any influence. Investing exclusively outside the country enables one to cash up when it becomes time to spend the money. Investing inside your own country will mean, in practice, that when the state requires the money, as the Cullen fund is meant to be needed, it will mean the only practical buyer of the assets will end up being a foreign purchaser, which is something the Labour and Green parties are sworn to oppose.
        The worst thing that a fund such as the Cullen fund could do would be to invest the money in NZ Government bonds or such like. Then the state would owe the money to itself and when it was needed for paying Super it would have to be done from current taxation. In practice there would be no fund at all.

        • Colonial Viper 5.1.1.1

          But the Cullen Fund doesn’t need to “cash up” productive assets, that’s why they are called productive assets: they generate a strong income stream eg dairy farms and hydrodams.

          One thing to note about the Singapore and Norwegian funds is that they do not invest at all in their own countries.

          Not true. For example, Temasak invests in a lot of Singaporean companies.

          • alwyn 5.1.1.1.1

            To your first comment about not having to cash up. This illustrates what I was saying about the way that the design of the Cullen fund will be manipulated to achieve other aims. (Note I am not suggesting that you are a politician who is going to do it). I am only saying that the design of the system will be changed.
            The fund was intended to receive positive contributions from the state until 2029 and then to be run down from that date. The peak of the assets would be achieved in about 2050 and the fund was then expected to SHRINK from about that date.
            I refer to http://www.nzsuperfund.co.nz/index.asp?pageID=2145879268

            You are right about Temasek Holdings. Singapore has two Sovereign Wealth Funds. Temasek Holdings is the smaller. The other, The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, is about 50% bigger. It was that one I was thinking about when I said they did not invest in Singapore. In total about 12% of Singapores funds are invested in Singapore companies.

            • Colonial Viper 5.1.1.1.1.1

              12% internal investment is probably a deliberate target by the Singaporean authorities. More than that and the nature of their geography (tiny island nation) would present too much of a risk. For instance, a tsunami causing massive damage to Singapore would end up causing massive damage to their sovereign wealth fund in just one hit, exactly when they needed it.

              In NZ, I suspect that we could have up to 20%-25% internal investment in NZ and still achieve a relatively good risk profile (e.g. no one tsunami or earthquake could take out all NZ investments in one hit).

    • millsy 5.2

      And what is your problem with rail?

      Your concerns (however unfounded they are), will be addressed by having the nation building activites that you deride with such scorn being the filthy neo-liberal scum you are, be the responsibility of a seperate fund.

      You beloved nats, with their Future Investment Fund, has provided such a vehicle, but they, with their obsession with neo-liberalism, are too blind to see it. DS, is probably as well., but he apparenltly has expressed interest into looking into whether a study is possible as to whether we might think about adopting Singapore’s Temasek Holding model.

      • alwyn 5.2.1

        I only just noticed this comment.
        My, you were grumpy when you wrote it weren’t you.
        “You beloved Nats” you say. I don’t know whether you mean “YOU”, in which case you are wrong as I am certainly not a member of that party, or “YOUR”, in which case you are wrong as I certainly don’t think much of them.
        You did notice I said “No politician, in any party, can be trusted to keep their grubby little paws off the investment policy …”. Does that sound like someone who loves a party?
        I distrust the activities of ALL politicians. They are, as a general rule, in it for the power they can over the rest of the populace.

        • millsy 5.2.1.1

          I did a search for your comments. You tend to slant to the right.

          • alwyn 5.2.1.1.1

            I would agree with that. It’s just that I don’t trust po;iticians
            Actually it was the phrase “being the filthy neo-liberal scum you are” that I thought was just a tad harsh.

  6. Rogue Trooper 6

    interesting. a long-standing, well read socialist that I am friends with argues that the “Greens” are “idealists” :) and do not see the people clearly, except Julie, mmmwha

  7. Tiresias 7

    It must be remembered, too, that National’s friends in the finance industry do very much better out of KiwiSaver than they do the Cullen Fund.

  8. infused 8

    There is equal chance we could have lost that much money. What would your headline be then? Either way National is fucked, but less fucked this way.

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      There is equal chance we could have lost that much money.

      Best to invest it in houses and property instead

      • TightyRighty 8.1.1

        No, big budget movies seem the way forward.

      • alwyn 8.1.2

        You are aware of what the primary cause of the banking liquidity crisis in 2008 was are you?
        All those people putting ever larger amounts of money into houses and property and then when the bubble burst the whole thing fell apart.
        Now repeat after me, “House prices can fall as well as rise”.

        • Colonial Viper 8.1.2.1

          The thing is that your answer covers investment asset prices, and implies that it wasn’t actually a liquidity crisis in 2008. Never was of course.

  9. TightyRighty 9

    But for 67 million the country for got 1.5 billion back. That’s ROI

    • mike e vipe e 9.1

      tighty almiighty we didn’t get 1.5 billion the film co got that before expenses that just the takings at the door.All up between the hobbit and LOR the govt has pumped nearly $400 million and NZ has benefited by $400 million Zero profit!
      The Hobbit is not doing any where near as well in door sales down considerably on the LOR !

      • TightyRighty 9.1.1

        At the risk of another incoherent rant, source please for your claim that $400m went in, and that NZ only saw $400m worth of benefit.

        I think you are full of it to be honest. The film companies spent more than that all these films in NZ. So should we just ignore the marketing and tourism spin offs?

        • mike e vipe e 9.1.1.1

          Between council and govt hand outs since the Clark govt started funding the LOR i think you will find from last years hobbit fiasco figures published here on the standard thats roughly the sum stumped up by us the tax payer!

      • TightyRighty 9.1.2

        At the risk of another incoherent rant, source please for your claim that $400m went in, and that NZ only saw $400m worth of benefit.

        I think you are full of it to be honest. The film companies spent more than that on all these films in NZ. So should we just ignore the marketing and tourism spin offs?

        • mike e vipe e 9.1.2.1

          These film companies might have spent more on these films but not all in NZ!

  10. tracey 10

    One drawback is that having bought shares when prices were high we have lost the opportunity to buy in when they are low. Key would know this from his trading days. The one thing he has some knowledge of hes fucked up

  11. tracey 11

    Tightright cld you post your source for the statement that the coubtry has received 1.5b from the hobbit?

  12. mike e vipe e 12

    Tight arse almighty show me the real figures they Don’t look any where as good as you portray!
    The feel good factor maybe but no real increase in tourism no real increase in jobs!
    The Americas cup on the other hand has built a $2 billion a year boat building industry!
    When the hobbits have finished thats if they are the film industry will bugger off to Estonia!

  13. irascible 13

    I would contend the biggest balls up any Government of NZ has made was the Muldoon decision to axe the 1972-75 Labour Governments contributory superannuation scheme followed by the KeY-English decision to prune the Labour Government (Cullen) fund. In both cases short term self interest has won out over long term investment in the country and thus encouraged the “flog off the assets to foreign corporates” policies we now see being enacted in the name of “saving the country (by destroying it)”.

    • millsy 13.1

      Very little chance the NZ Superannuation Corporation would have made it beyond the 80’s (rather like disco really). It would have been chopped up and farmed out to Wall St.

  14. irascible 14

    Agrred. Richardson would’ve been in there boots & all ready to privatise and gut the NZ Superannuation Corporation in the quest for “private enterprise efficiencies.”
    I doubt if Douglas would’ve attempted to dismantle what was, in 1975, his policy and creation. Then, again, that is supposing that Douglas didn’t undergo the same sort of road to Damascus revision that lead to his leaving Labour and creating ACT.

    • millsy 14.1

      ” doubt if Douglas would’ve attempted to dismantle what was, in 1975, his policy and creation. ”

      You never know with Douglas….

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