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6 quick reasons why asset sales suck

Written By: - Date published: 6:00 pm, January 26th, 2011 - 83 comments
Categories: election 2011, privatisation - Tags:

Asset sales as tax by stealth
We already own the SOEs. Our tax money paid for them. So how can we ‘kiwi mums and dads’ ‘invest’ by buying something we already own? What Key is really telling you and me is: ‘you’ll have to stump up with cash to retain your ownership of these assets’. Isn’t that basically just a poll tax? You and I gain nothing if we buy a proportional share of the SOEs when they’re sold – all we’re doing to giving the government money to keep what was already ours.

The reality for most of us, though, is we won’t be able to afford to buy the shares in our own assets if they are sold. So we’ll end up with nothing and be tasked with paying through out taxes what was once paid for by those assets’ dividends to the Crown, while some overseas investor pockets the profits.

Selling assets to pay for motorways
Key does a little rhetorical slight of hand when he lumps in SOEs with other public assets like motorways and schools. The purpose of the State owning commercial assets has always been to prevent private monopolies and ensure the provision of vital commercial infrastructure at fair prices. The other assets are part of the government doing its job in providing healthcare, education etc. When Key says ‘we’ll sell part of some assets to buy more assets’ he is mixing the two. He is selling down the commercial assets to pay for building social assets that have always previously been funded out of normal government capital investment.

Selling assets is selling future profits
Private investors don’t want to buy our assets for kicks. They want the profit stream. Any purchaser must think that the present value of the future profits they will extract from owning the asset will exceed the price they’re paying to buy it. That means we’re giving up the profit stream in return for something that the buyer thinks is worth less. Doesn’t sound too bloody smart – unless we think the government is a more savvy player than private investors and will get over the odds prices but you just have to look at history to know that isn’t the case. Last time, assets were inevitably sold off too cheaply and the profits lost overseas have been massive.

All asset sales give you is some cash up front. In the long-run, they don’t reduce debt, they increase it.

Selling assets is like borrowing but with a higher interest rate
Imagine the Crown’s balance sheet. All up (not just financial instruments) it has $225 billion in assets and $132 billion in liabilities for a net worth of $92.5 billion. Conceptually, there’s nothing different from reducing the value of the assets by selling them then there is in upping the liabilities by borrowing – they both impact on the Crown’s net worth exactly the same: cash goes up, net worth excluding cash goes down.

So, selling assets is like borrowing. Except the ‘rate of return’ that applies to asset sales is higher. If the governments sells to private investors they need to make a profit from the asset that meets their cost of capital. If the government borrows it does so at its sovereign rate – which is much lower than a private investor’s cost of capital.

Again, this is another reason why you don’t sell assets unless it is absolutely necessary. And it isn’t necessary when the government insists it can still afford the billions in tax cuts that have been passed in the last three years.

The most profitable assets will be sold
The Nats have made a big argument over SOEs not being very profitable. As a group, that is true. But with good reason: many of the SOEs are specifically tasked with providing essential services like electricity at a reasonable price. Which assets are the private investors going to want to buy? The most profitable ones and the ones with the most potential to increase their rate of return by hiking prices. That just leaves us with fewer profits flowing into the coffers and higher prices for essential services.

Asset-stripping
There is no evidence that suggests selling our assets will somehow make them more efficient so that the private investor can take larger profits without upping prices for us. In fact, ‘efficiency gains’ usually turn out to be asset-stripping, which leads to a government bailout in the future.

Private investors in major infrastructure know that their investment is too big to fail, that the government will be forced to step in with taxpayer cash if things go wrong. That creates a moral hazard. Investors have an incentive to extract as much profit as possible by taking large dividends rather than re-investing and to undertake risky investments in the hope of big gains, always knowing that the taxpayer will pick up the bill if things go wrong. Don’t think for a moment that the government retaining some ownership of the companies will prevent this happening.

We know asset sales suck. We tried them before. They sucked then and they suck now.

83 comments on “6 quick reasons why asset sales suck ”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    He is selling down the commercial assets to pay for building social assets that have always previously been funded out of normal government capital investment.

    So what??? Times are tough. The only other way to pay for large infrastructure spending is to borrow the money which increases our risk of a downgrade. Ireland, Greece anyone?

    Private investors don’t want to buy our assets for kicks. They want the profit stream.

    Yes the do. However, profit stream from equity is not guaranteed in the same way as interest on a loan. If the business is strapped for cash or wants to invest the money elsewhere it might not pay a dividend. This is the big difference between equity and debt. Interest on debt is an obligation where as dividends are not. Therefore, selling shares in the companies to raise funds isn’t going to affect our credit rating as borrowing the money could.

    So, selling assets is like borrowing. Except the ‘rate of return’ that applies to asset sales is higher.

    Yes it is. But the risk for that return is higher. A business may decide not to pay a dividend for various reasons as mentioned above. This means no or less income for the investor. So, investors need to be able to make hay when the sun shines.

    Investors have an incentive to extract as much profit as possible by taking large dividends rather than re-investing and to undertake risky investments in the hope of big gains,

    You obviously haven’t had much experience with investing. Investors don’t take dividends as of right. They don’t choose to take large ones if they wish. They are paid or not paid dividends to the degree the company can or can’t afford it.

    • Marty G 1.1

      “However, profit stream from equity is not guaranteed in the same way as interest on a loan. If the business is strapped for cash or wants to invest the money elsewhere it might not pay a dividend. Interest on debt is an obligation where as dividends are not. Therefore, selling shares in the companies to raise funds isn’t going to affect our credit rating as borrowing the money could.”

      Except for two things 1) the assets we’re talking about have market power, which is what makes them such attractive buys – if things get tight they can raise prices 2) we pay extra for them taking on the riskier investment of equity rather than debt – there’s no free ride here, you can’t magic away the cost of risk.

      “A business may decide not to pay a dividend for various reasons as mentioned above. This means no or less income for the investor. So, investors need to be able to make hay when the sun shines.”

      I thought the whole point was meant to avoid the borrowing costs of a credit downgrade – we’re going to do this by choosing a more expensive borrowing option? And I’ve already pointed out the the implicit government backstop for vital assets means you can make hay for ever until it collpases and its the taxpayer who cleans up.

      • tsmithfield 1.1.1

        You can’t quite grasp this risk and return concept Marty. Investors will invest on the basis of projected profits. However, those projections don’t always come to pass. Therefore, it might not necessarily cost more for an equity investor. It might cost less. Dividends are paid as they can be afforded, unlike interest on debt which is a binding obligation. Therefore, equity investment is much easier to manage on a cashflow basis. This is why companies often float shares rather than borrow money.

        • Marty G 1.1.1.1

          see where you said ‘might’? that’s risk. risk costs money. any competent investor prices risk in to their required rate of return when making an investment – ie. risk means lower buy price.

          The analogy with companies choosing to issue shares rather than borrow doesn’t hold. a) I don’t see a lot of share issues recently, I see a lot of bond issues b) the government can borrow at much lower rates than a private company but the return on capital an equity investor is going to ask when buying into an SOE is the same as a comparable private company (eg Contact).

  2. “So what??? Times are tough. The only other way to pay for large infrastructure spending is to borrow the money which increases our risk of a downgrade. Ireland, Greece anyone?”

    Ireland got where it is because its neoliberal governments cut taxes to unsustainably low levels – they had a structural deficit, then a massive cyclical one, topped off by bank bailouts.

    Times are tough. But we have options other than selling the assets we took generations to build up (and in some cases have only just bought back because they were so badly managed by the private sector). When National has reversed the tax cuts, which have had no economic impact, and stopped wasting money on white elephant projects like highways and prisons. Then we’ll talk.

  3. tsmithfield 3

    How about correcting the factual inaccuracy in your last paragraph that I pointed out to you above.

    • Marty G 3.1

      I’m getting there son. But good to see you concede those other points without a fight.

      “Investors don’t take dividends as of right. They don’t choose to take large ones if they wish. They are paid or not paid dividends to the degree the company can or can’t afford it.”

      And who makes that decision? the board? and who appoints the board? the owners? and who will the owners be? 49% foreign managed funds that don’t give a damn about nz and 51% a tory shareholding minister. If there was ever a recipe for asset-stripping, that is it.

      • tsmithfield 3.1.1

        At least you now realise that shareholders can’t decide how much dividend they take. Given that the government will be quite keen to retain earnings in the business to pay for capital purchases within the business rather than borrow money.

        • Marty G 3.1.1.1

          If you think National won’t appoint the boards that the private investors want, you’re in a dream world.

          • tsmithfield 3.1.1.1.1

            But good to see you concede those other points without a fight.

            Not at all. Besides your misunderstanding about dividends, the rest boils down to your inability to grasp the concept of risk and return. This cuts both ways, for the investor and for the entity offering the investment. Sure, equity can be expensive if the company is running a large profit. However, if the business is struggling, then equity is very inexpensive.

            • Maynard J 3.1.1.1.1.1

              There is no risk when a private company buys an asset that is vital to our country. Proven time & time again.

              Time for another round, apparently. How depressing.

              • tsmithfield

                That is priced into the return that investors are willing to accept. Because the risk is very low, the expected return is also very low.

                • But TS the Crown cannot run any partially privatised company any way it wants to. It has to acknowledge the existence of the minority shareholders and cannot act in a way which disadvantages them.

                  Air New Zealand is an example. Despite the Crown owning a huge majority (83%?) it has to conduct business in a certain way. The minority shareholders can affect the way the company is run.

                  Even worse the company has to act in a financially prudent manner. If this means burning coal instead of constructing windmills then this is what it has to do.

                  We lose control and the ability to affect the type of power development that occurs if we privatise as well as a huge income stream.

                  Why would you do this?

              • Jagilby

                “There is no risk when a private company buys an asset that is vital to our country.”

                The fact that discount rates for utilities globally are far higher than the risk free rate would suggest otherwise.

                Amti-spam: Embarrassing
                As in you and Marty’s understanding or corporate finance, governance and economics.

  4. Bill 4

    Dunno Marty. I just need one reason, not six.

    I already own these things by reason of being a permanent resident or citizen of New Zealand. My share of those assets cannot be traded or sold by me and there exists a tacit agreement that they are held, and the assets they refer to managed, by the entity called ‘government’. My share grows or shrinks in relation to total population. It becomes zero when I die.

    The entity named government has no more right (neither moral nor legal [I’d argue]) to take my share and distribute it to others than I have.

    End.

    • Marty G 4.1

      “I just need one reason, not six.”

      good to have a few spare. 🙂 Especially as not everyone agrees with each one.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        In terms of a narrative its important that you pick the two strongest, most commonsense reasons and stick with them like shit on a shoe. 6 is great for the wonks. Like us. But for the public its too much.

      • jcuknz 4.1.2

        To me the most pragmatic is No.7 or is it No.77 …. each asset sale increases the flow of money out of the country and damages our already poor balance of payments situation.
        If I am in debt I don’t sell off assets but hunker down even if it takes longer to get clear.
        If the shares were being sold solely to NZ Mum and Dad investors with a lock to prevent sales to overseas investors I would be quite happy … it is simply a con or special tax, else a patriotic donation by the people to help the nation.
        I’m sure there must be a ‘Mum and Dad Inc.’ of Chicago or someplace that JK was referring to?.

  5. Bored 5

    For f**k sake Marty, why bother to answer TS? He is an ideologue who quite obviously has no real experience hands on in what he pontificates about. He has no concepts of rentier behavoir as opposed to constructve investment, nor of the social and economic obligations that underpinned the original investment. Best way to treat TS is to ignore his ignorance.

  6. big bruv 6

    “The government will retain a 51% shareholding”

    You know, as hard as I looked I could not see where Marty G had made that point.

    Could Marty G be telling porkies again?, would somebody from the Standard really deliberately tell lies about the governments policy?

    • If this policy was implemented, and kept – eventually there would be a large foreign cornerstone investor of note. Every time there was a new equity instrument issued, the government would be forced to buy – to maintain majority shareholding. Or, those in know may you just decide to let government control go down the gurgler.

      This already happens with Air NZ, except since the governments own approx 73%, dilution of the government’s control happens more gradually.

      • big bruv 6.1.1

        The bloody government should let control go to who ever pays the most money.

        There are no good reasons why a government, any government, should be in business.

        Sell the lot, the first to go should be the TV network and the radio stations.

        • NickS 6.1.1.1

          Lawlwut?

          So you’d rather pay for overpriced power etc and shoddy maintenance + higher taxes to cover the lose of income from the dividend? Personally though I’d rather see the power SOE’s compacted back into one body, as the divisions haven’t driven lower power prices due to competition costs, such as marketing and advertising.

          And given the craptastic approach to R&D by NZ businesses, it does make economic sense for the government to have SOE’s exploring various stuff in order to try and provide new economic opportunities. And potentially drive a healthy profit on the odd big break through.

    • Marty G 6.2

      Everyone knows that the policy is to keep 51% so I didn’t mention it. Not mentioning the obvious is not the same as lying. I’m not your fucken mother BB, I’m not here to spell out the obvious for you.

    • NickS 6.3

      And the bit you’re conveniently forgetting is that translates as less of a dividend for the government, until renationalisation occurs, which could result in a potential net lose in the longterm. Then again, expecting you to be capable of thinking in the longterm is like expecting you to actually honour a bet…

  7. maui 7

    So, what do the pollsters say about Senor Key’s proclamation ?

    Methinks it has something to do with braking momentum recently developed by Harawira and Goff.

    • Marty G 7.1

      well, tv3 polled last yeah and only 12% supported asset sales.

      and the online polls show big opposition even though they usually lean to the right.

      • big bruv 7.1.1

        “well, tv3 polled last yeah and only 12% supported asset sales.”

        So what?

        • NickS 7.1.1.1

          Awwwwww, you’re so cute when you can’t guess obvious implications of low public support.

        • Marty G 7.1.1.2

          so, 80% that opposed asset sales then. I find it hard to believe that those numbers have turned around in the space of a few months, especially given that the polls show consistent opposition fore decades to asset sales.

          Or am I missing your point? Are you actually saying a) polls aren’t a valid indicator of public opinion or b) who gives a damn if the people oppose them?

          • infused 7.1.1.2.1

            That’s total asset sales. Not part asset sales. Get a grib boy. Funny how you are all believing in online polls now. Good when it suits you eh?

            • McFlock 7.1.1.2.1.1

              “That’s total asset sales. Not part asset sales”

              Heh – funny for key to make a slip like that. Smile&wave should know better than anyone else that the electorate will remember “asset sales”, skim over “partial” and ignore the tortured explanations that a partial ipo will keep government control.

              Or maybe the public aren’t so stupid to believe that investors will pay more money for shares than they are actually worth, so it means less public income overall.

              Either way, the nats are carelessly letting their ideology show.

  8. Pascal's bookie 9

    Few questions about how this is supposed to work.

    1) Am I right to assume that they will no longer be SOEs, but will become publicly listed companies covered by different acts?

    2) If that is the case, what are the effects in terms of governance? Will the minister of SOEs still be responsible? Will ccmau (or whatever it’s called now) still have an oversight role? etc

    3) How does this square up with neolib concerns re moral hazard. I’m thinking here that there will be an implicit govt guarantee that this co’s will not be allowed to fail. That will distort their valuation giving them an advantage over companies without the govt majority shareholder. In other words, will these listings deprive private companies of capital above and beyond what the fundamentals of the companies might suggest?

    • Marty G 9.1

      1) and 2) very good questions. Air NZ isn’t an SOE, so I doubt partially privatised assets could be either. SOEs are subject to transparency obligations and government policy guidance that private companies can’t be – commercial sensitivity don’t you know

      3) moral hazard – that’s the term I was looking for (goes to correct post) 🙂 but yes, the implicit govt guarantee should, in theory, make the sale price higher. of course, that’s not a real gain, it’s just the price of the risk of having to bail the company out. And, if history has taught us anything it is that the government is bad at getting good prices for its assets. Now, Key says Kiwi ‘mums and dads’ will have first dibs at a lower price than offered to overseas buyers. Since overseas buyers will be bidding against each other, they should get a truer to market price. Then, once the sale occurs, the value of mum and dad’s holding will bounce up and they’ll say ‘yay, we made 10% in a day’ sell, and the asset will end up in foreign hands.

  9. Pascal's bookie 10

    ‘nother thing.

    Key says he is going to ‘slow the rate of growth’ in govt spending,
    and talked in terms of raw numbers,
    cutting a 1 $billion plus number
    to one, somewhat south of that,
    but north of fifty $50 a week
    or something

    How does that square with
    spending the ‘billions’ from asset sales on ‘investing in our future’
    and shit?

  10. Nick C 11

    “The purpose of the State owning commercial assets has always been to prevent private monopolies and ensure the provision of vital commercial infrastructure at fair prices”

    But SOE’s are ment to opperate like private companies. They charge the market price, not a ‘fair price’ (whatever that means) because they have to.

    As for preventing private monopolies: Where is your evidence of that? We have competition law to do that. And if an SOE is ever in a position to extract monopoly rent it will do so because theoretically it is set up to opperate on a commercial basis.

    “What Key is really telling you and me is: ‘you’ll have to stump up with cash to retain your ownership of these assets’. Isn’t that basically just a poll tax?”

    But by the logic of ‘government=people’, you dont lose any cash, because it goes back to the government

    “the ‘rate of return’ that applies to asset sales is higher”

    To prove that you have to know the average rate of return on SOE’s. I think you will find its actually lower than market interest rates for many of them.

    “There is no evidence that suggests selling our assets will somehow make them more efficient”

    Yes there is

    http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/shleifer/files/theory_privatisation.pdf

    • Nick C 11.1

      In fact the rate of return on SOE’s in the year to December 2009 AVERAGED JUST 1.5%. We could make more money by sticking it in the bank!!

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/blogs/on-the-house/2274367/Change-coming-to-our-SOEs

      • Marty G 11.1.1

        would you rather the power companies charged higher prices? Because that would be the only way to significantly increase the return – and the power companies are actually already highly profitable.

        obviously any buyer of these assets is not going to be willing to pay the price that the SOEs currently value themselves at because that wouldn’t be profitable, not enough return on capital invested. The Nats will have to sell for less than book value and take a write-down on the value of the Crown’s holding.

        • Nick C 11.1.1.1

          Power companies opperate in a fairly competitive market. If they raised their prices they would probably have lower profits, not higher. So i doubt that would be an outcome of privitisation.

          But lets suppose that SOE’s were in fact charging below market power prices, and thus making lower returns. Wouldnt that prove that the SOE’s are a failure? The whole purpose of the turning govt departments into SOES was to remove the political influence in goods and services provision and thus reduce inefficiency. If they arent opperating to maximise profits, whether out of the goodness of their heart in order to provide lower prices, because ministers are telling them to, or (most likely) because they arent as accountable to a government as private companies are to shareholders, it proves that privitisation is the best option.

          And even if none of the above arguements hold, you have still effectivly conceeded that point 4 of your post isnt true.

          • Vicky32 11.1.1.1.1

            “Power companies opperate in a fairly competitive market.”
            Not really! I would never switch, after all I have heard about the things that can happen when you do! It’s not worth the risk, and I know I am not alone in thinking that…

        • Nick C 11.1.1.2

          “obviously any buyer of these assets is not going to be willing to pay the price that the SOEs currently value themselves at because that wouldn’t be profitable”

          So you are assuming that the SOEs are valuing themselves incorrectly by overvaluing their assets. Do you have any evidence of that? If anything they have an incentive to fudge numbers to make the assets worth less, so their average return looks better.

          The more likely explanation is simply that the assets are valued correctly but they arent opperating them efficiently enough to make normal returns.

          • Marty G 11.1.1.2.1

            it’s a common belief in the market that some of the SOEs fair values don’t reflect what they would fetch if sold. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10693028

            The fair value system they use to value their assets is different from the price a market would determine, which is the present value of future dividends.

            this is why the returns on equity seem low for some of the SOEs – notably, not the ones that National wants to sell. Because, as I say, it’s the profitable ones that will be sold.

          • Colonial Viper 11.1.1.2.2

            So you are assuming that the SOEs are valuing themselves incorrectly by overvaluing their assets. Do you have any evidence of that?

            Dude this is a bunch of ass.

            SOE valuation schema is typically pie in the sky rubbish.

            An SOE’s price is what it can be sold for.

            But their value is their strategic worth to the country, and quite a different thing.

            • Nick C 11.1.1.2.2.1

              “SOE valuation schema is typically pie in the sky rubbish.”

              Evidence of that? If not, your comment is pie in the sky rubbish.

              “But their value is their strategic worth to the country, and quite a different thing.”

              SOE’s theoretically mimic the behavior of profit seeking firms, thats what they were set up to do. They shouldnt be engaging in any sort of strategy other than the strategy which maximises their profits, which is exactly how a private firm would behave. So in theory they have zero strategic value to the country.

              In practise they can be subject to political interference which means they might behave differently to a profit seeking firm, but that leads to bad not good outcomes. Thats the whole reason they are SOEs and not government departments in the first place. For more on why that is you should read the study I linked to in comment 11

              • Colonial Viper

                Why the hell do I need to provide you with ‘evidence of that’?

                Why don’t you provide me with a skerrick of evidence that the valuations of any of the SOEs John boy mentioned will fetch anything like the prices their current ‘valuations’ promise. Otherwise I will consider your position the “pie in teh sky rubbish”.

                And who cares why SOEs were set up like that a quarter of a century ago. By neocon freemarket Roger Douglas and pals. Its a different millenium bro.

                Today is a new age. Strategic energy assets are invaluable in an age of peak oil production and we must have maximum control and ownership over them as a nation.

                This is a matter of energy sovereignty, the life blood of this country’s continued economic wellbeing.

                • Nick C

                  “Why the hell do I need to provide you with ‘evidence of that’?”

                  Because you are making a counter intuitive claim, you need some sort of backing. The very fact that they have been valued that way is evidence that they are worth that much, presuming that they were valued by professionals and they didnt just pick bums off the street to do it. At very least you need to give an explanation for why these people are wrong.

                  It seems for you that ideology is evidence enough. Id suggest you are suffering from cognative biases which hamper your ability to think independently. Perhaps you should read this: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-certainty-bias

                  • mcflock

                    Nick, I’m somewhat intrigued that you saw CV’s response at 11:25pm, but missed Marty G’s supplying of at least some supporting data at 9:45pm.

                    The Herald report Marty points to suggests at least very wide disparities between valuations of these assets, significant enough that the description “pie in the sky rubbish” might, in my opinion, be applicable (if lacking technical precision).

                    And yet you ignore the comment with a supporting link, but follow up with an allegation that CV’s thinking is muddled. Hmmm.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    Yes, whatever mcflock said 😀

                    Cognitive biases my ass, all these Righties are turning into weekend therapists.

                    Because you are making a counter intuitive claim, you need some sort of backing.

                    My claim is that we are entering an age of constrained and very expensive oil production. To successfully adapt to this environment, NZ must maintain full ownership and control over our remaining strategic energy hard assets.

                    This is not counter-intuitive, I would argue that it is common sense: Don’t give away your energy production facilities for worthless brand new printing press US dollars at a time that an energy crunch is coming. That paper money will not run your lights or cook your food, but the Clyde Dam will.

                    Geddit?

                    Your pitch to sell our strategic energy hard assets in a time of peaking oil production is what is ‘counter-intuitive’ my man.

        • more_ben 11.1.1.3

          would you rather the power companies charged higher prices? Because that would be the only way to significantly increase the return

          No it’s not. They could cut costs. Some competition would help lower prices. As would an increase in overall supply.

          • IrishBill 11.1.1.3.1

            Most likely they’ll do both. Much as Telecom did. Which means we’ll see higher prices and lower wages. Seems like the worst of both worlds to me.

  11. Nick K 12

    Nowhere in Key’s speech did he mention selling state assets. He should have, but he didn’t.

  12. Tim 13

    What we are not talking enough about is the type of assets and the implication for a country like New Zealand. Those dreamers that think that asset sales will lead to competition have to be joking. In a country of our size this will never happen – the population cannot sustain a level of competition that would force companies to offer competitive prices (think about rail, or telecommunications, or just about anything).

    What’s more we are talking about selling our power generation potential. How f’ing dumb is that! If there is one thing that you keep hold of in government is your means of power generation – selling that to the chinese is a recipe for eventual price gauging.

    The other thing that we need to be talking more about is the fact that THE INVESTORS ARE NOT MUM AND DAD – they are wealthy white men from Auckland and their overseas friends. Anyone thinking that Lisa and Matt have 10K under the mattress that they have nothing to do with have got to be joking.

    The poor lose ownership of the asset which is then sold to the rich in order to fund tax cuts for the rich who will then use this money to buy the assets that are being sold and charge the poor more to use the fruits of this asset. And so the cycle continues…rich get richer, poor get poorer.

    • Jim Nald 13.1

      Yup. Key’s “mums and dads” are political fiction.
      We should not buy into his latest bullshit.

  13. Colonial Viper 14

    Why are we selling NZ’s strategic hard assets to foreigners for worthless US$ which are simply coming out of the printing press by the hundreds of billions?

    Energy assets which this country is going to live or die by as the price of liquid fuels skyrockets over the next 10 years.

    Its idiotic, its stupid, its National under Bill and John.

    LAB get your frakking narrative sorted.

    • Nick C 14.1

      Lets pick your worst case senario: 49% of Meridian is bought to some big American company. What are they going to do- Pick up the windmills and dams and fly them by helecopter to the US?

      • Colonial Viper 14.1.1

        Uh, no the worst case scenario is that they will maximise their profits via increasing prices while creating an infrastructure deficit and reliability gap in our power grid.

        However the Chinese have the most cash to burn at the moment and they have their eye on converting worthless USD into hard strategic assets.

  14. Sanctuary 15

    Mr. Hickey makes some additional points – http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/opinion-john-key-has-finally-got-religion-debt-reduction-he-needs-worship-much-harder

    “…In total, the four SOEs potentially up for sale generated total dividends last financial year of NZ$732.5 million and shareholder (government) equity stood at NZ$9.642 billion. THIS IMPLIES A COMBINED (AND VERY RAW) DIVIDEND YIELD OF 7.6% LAST YEAR.

    YET THE GOVERNMENT IS CURRENTLY HAVING TO PAY AROUND 5.5% FOR THE NEW DEBT IT IS SELLING, MOSTLY OFFSHORE.

  15. just saying 16

    http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2011/01/a-leftwing-perspective-on-asset-sales.html#more

    Bryce Edwards’ take on asset sales. just fyi.

    He doesn’t really address any of the points rasied here, seems more of an ideological position ie the state owning assets can’t be considered “socialist”. Probably quite right, but there is still good reasons to keep them imo, since neoliberalism isn’t looking like going away anytime soon (sadly).

    • Marty G 16.1

      god bryce edwards is useless. If there is such a thing as an ivory tower academic it’s him. No serious understanding of the political-economy, just a whole lot of theoritical frameworks to religious apply and a smugly contrarian attitude.

      • IrishBill 16.1.1

        That post is hilarious. With logic like that I fully expect him to be picked up by a major newspaper as “the voice of the left”.

        • Marty G 16.1.1.1

          I love how he rambles about Bismarck as if what an empire-builder did 140 years ago is relevant. Moreover, he gets Bismarck wrong – yes he pursued a ‘rightwing’ foreign policy but he enacted liberal social reforms that remain the basis of the German social contract to this day and a model for other countries.

  16. more_ben 17

    Isn’t that basically just a poll tax?

    No. It’s not. At all.

    god bryce edwards is useless.

    Christ, the one smart leftie in NZ and your knives are out for him as well.

    • Marty G 17.1

      It is like a poll tax. Every household in NZ has to front up with about $6,500 or lose their share of these SOEs.

      Bryce is the rightie’s leftie.

      • just saying 17.1.1

        This is definitely not his best work, but it’s taking it a bit far claiming he’s a “rightie’s leftie”

        I don’t know where he’s going with this, if he’s building to something valuable. But yeah, so far…

        Bryce has done some good stuff, he often produces valuable critiques of the left (and right), in general.

        At the moment I’m having a bigger-than-usual problem with the idea of the left being led by the wealthy, disproprtionately white male, professional (often academic) set.

  17. erentz 18

    Jesusf#ck voters have a short memory. National’s poll numbers *should’ve* nosed dived 20 points with this announcement.

    • Marty G 18.1

      I’m picking they’ll take a hit significant (3-4% hopefully). A huge majority (80% vs 12%) opposes this and many oppose it strongly.

      • marty mars 18.1.1

        I hope the opposition to this keep the ‘selling of family jewels’ line going – it is short, sharp and sweet and can be hammered ’till the cows come home. That meme will drop the gnats support.

  18. Heh – thanks for everyone’s very kind words about me! I guess all the ad hominis attacks I receive from anonymous Standard writers is the reason I don’t often bother participating in the debates and discussion here. Standard writers never seem to want to actually debate my arguments, which from my point of view are always open to be questioned. Here on The Standard, however, it too often seems that if you have the “wrong line” or question the so-called left’s sacred cows then you are some sort of enemy or “right-winger”.

    At some stage I’ll be writing more in depth blog posts on the questions of state ownership, nationalisation, socialisation, privatisation, SOEs and corporatisation. And hopefully these will answer any questions that people here might have. After all, my initial post was just a quick dab into the issue.

    So I won’t get into this debate here, except for this. And just in case I wasn’t it clear enough in the initial post, I’ll try and sum it up the crux of it again for clarification:

    The left needs to be a lot clearer about its orientation towards state ownership. While the Labour Party – and most of the left – might bitterly oppose businesses like Air NZ or Genesis Energy being privately owned, they should take a long hard look at the neoliberal corporatisation model that the Labour Party so strongly adheres to. It’s Labour’s State Owned Enterprises Act 1986 that ensures that so called “public assets” are merely profit-driven businesses that just happen to be owned by the state. It’s a total myth to pretend that they serve any social purpose beyond being profitable companies.

    • lprent 19.1

      Bryce: I haven’t been following it much except in my usual moderator fashion. But from what I’ve seen in the moderation sweeps, you’re talking about relatively few people (compared to the number of authors, commentators, or lurkers) who happen to disagree with what you’ve been saying and write down their disagreement. In other words not “The Standard”.

      The authors and commentators on this site are not anonymous like (for instance) the Heralds editorial writers – they are pseudonymous. This means that they have a distinct personality for given handle. I don’t allow people to just jump around identities because it makes more work for me (and is bad for discussion). I can detect people who do so and I make my displeasure at identity hoppers quite clear. As far as I’m concerned it is a signature of a troll.

      But in any case, in most cases I suspect that even if they had their real names on-site that you probably still wouldn’t know them. For instance my real name is readily available, but if I argued with you then you still wouldn’t know much about me that I hadn’t chosen to make visible on the net.

      Which makes you whining about all the ad hominis attacks I receive from anonymous Standard writers rather pointless. What exactly is the difference between dealing with an argument from someone using a pseudonym or dealing with an argument from someone you don’t know? I think it is a rather pointless statement to make, and really is just you indulging in an ad hominis attack yourself rather than dealing with whatever the authros and commentators issues with your pasts was.

      The left needs to be a lot clearer about its orientation towards state ownership. While the Labour Party – and most of the left – might bitterly oppose businesses like Air NZ or Genesis Energy being privately owned, they should take a long hard look at the neoliberal corporatisation model that the Labour Party so strongly adheres to. It’s Labour’s State Owned Enterprises Act 1986 that ensures that so called “public assets” are merely profit-driven businesses that just happen to be owned by the state. It’s a total myth to pretend that they serve any social purpose beyond being profitable companies.

      Just for the record, I’d disagree with that statement for one main reason. Almost all of the businesses are either effectively natural monopolies to one degree or another, or are in-place to provide a control of essential services to the local market (for instance Air NZ freight). The ‘owners’ have the capability to bend consumers of those services over a barrel with price fixing, preferential marketing practices, and asset stripping/rundown in the pursuit of excess profit. If they were privately owned then that is exactly what would probably happen – look at Telecom or Toll for instance.

      The private owners don’t have a particular downside if they’re only after short-term profit. If the government owns them, then they feel the downside in the market in reduced growth and reduced tax take. Now I have no idea if you feel that is a ‘social purpose’, but as a consumer of these services both privately and in business, I certainly do.

      The only other alternative are the ineffective mechanisms of regulation on these types of organisations that have been tried over the last 25 years.

    • just saying 19.2

      Bryce,
      I hope you didn’t feel ‘got at’ by my commenting on middle-class professionals leading the left. I often find your contributions valuable and always thought-provoking. My comment was about the leadership of the left in general, and appropos of nothing ‘cept what was going on in my head at the time. I suspect many of the writers here fall into the same broad ‘middle’ category.

      Lately I’m noticing increasing numbers of little cabals of the working class bitching about the middle-class in general. I’m not the only one. To quote Danyl “the recession is not spread evenly”. The people I’ve been talking to have been less polite.

  19. Malcolm 20

    Marty – I think Bismarck’s liberal social reforms might have had more to do with the strength of the German labour movement at the time rather than him just being a nice guy and all. And of course what happened then is relevant to today.

    Bryce makes some sound criticisms of the assumptions held by most of the Labour Party cheerleaders on this site.

  20. orange whip? 21

    Danyl at the Dim Post sums up nicely:

    Near’s I can tell the pro asset sales argument goes like this:

    All our private companies are rubbish, so investors should be able to own equity in profitable, well-run government companies, which will improve their performance because the government is rubbish and private businesses are profitable and well run.

    Obviously they never phrase it quite like that, but this is the basic argument Key, Weldon et al are selling us.

    http://dimpost.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/the-battle-of-ideas/

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