So, Mighty River Power has so much spare cash at the moment that it just doesn’t know what to do with it. Rather than pay out a special dividend, they’re going to buy back some shares (it’s more ‘tax-efficient’ than dividends, because it allows investors to pocket profits without paying tax, and it will support the spare price during the Meridian float). This, naturally, has raised eyebrows because these shares were only just sold to ‘mum and dad’. But the bigger question is: where did Mighty River get a spare $50m in the first place?
From you and me, of course. By charging too much for power.
Now, seventh form economics was a while ago, but I’m pretty sure that efficient market hypothesis says that a company that is making excessive profits (thanks to the Randian heroes running the show, no doubt) will lower its prices in an attempt to garner more market share, thus eliminating the super-profits and delivering a better result for customers.
But Mighty River isn’t doing that. It’s sitting on so much spare cash it’s using inventive methods to get rid of it.
What does the majority shareholder, the Government, think of Mighty River preferring high profits over lower prices. Seems Johnny Key’s just fine with that:
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that Mighty River Power’s buy back of $50 million worth of shares is “highly normal”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes. Air New Zealand, for example, started the share buy-back programme last year and is planning to purchase up to $45 million of its shares. Infratil is planning a $65 million share buy-back. Telecom did a $200 million share buy-back last year. Comvita did a buy-back last year. This is normal business practice and the decision is made by the board in the interests of the company and its shareholders.
Metiria Turei : If Mighty River Power is charging so much for power that it has $50 million lying around and nothing better to do with it than buy back shares, what action has the Government taken, as the majority shareholder in the company, to ensure it reduces electricity prices for families and for businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : We have a very competitive electricity market in New Zealand. People are free to choose. The member is making a huge mistake in showing her complete lack of knowledge of financial markets if she wants to conflate pricing with the capital structure of the company.
Metiria Turei : When power consumption in New Zealand is falling but electricity prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation, such that electricity companies are using the surplus cash to buy back their own shares, does he honestly believe that the electricity sector is working for New Zealand families and businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes. I think we have a competitive electricity sector. I say this to the member: it will be interesting to see when she goes knocking door to door to tell the least well off families in New Zealand how much they are going to enjoy paying $500 a year for her emissions trading scheme.
Metiria Turei : Can the Prime Minister confirm—[Interruption ]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have called Metiria Turei, if she wants to continue with her supplementary question.
Metiria Turei : Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government, as the majority shareholder in Mighty River Power, prefers that it distributes $50 million in extra profits to shareholders in a share buy-back, rather than lowering its electricity prices by $50 million for families and for businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Whether the company engages in a share buy-back is a matter for the board.