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Dumbest journo award goes to Armstrong

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 pm, March 7th, 2012 - 55 comments
Categories: Media, privatisation - Tags:

Yesterday Shearer asked Key: “Is it correct that under the current provisions of the bill half a dozen foreign investors could legally purchase all the listed shares?”.

Key answered “No, because the limit is 10 percent, 6 times 10 is 60, and the Government is keeping 51 percent.”

Armstrong thinks that Key slammed Shearer writing “It was the equivalent of the maths teacher handing a pupil the dunce’s hat and telling him to go and stand in the corner.”

But of course 6 can buy 49% when there’s a 10% cap. Key lied.

If you’re as thick as Armstrong, I’ll spell it out to you by analogy.

6 people can lift up to 10kgs each. Another person has 100kg of flour and is letting people take 49 kgs. Can the 6 people, between them take 49kgs? Of course they can. They can take up to 10kgs, they don’t have to take 10kgs each. Of the myriad permutations, how about: 5 take 8kgs and one takes 9 =49kgs?  To be more precise, they could take 8.16kgs each on average and none would have to over 10kg. In fact, you can do it with 5 – 4 take 10kgs and one takes 9kgs, or 9.8kgs each.

Get it now, John?

So, Key lied to Parliament when he said that 6 people couldn’t buy all the shares between them. Either he is a complete moron himself and not the numbers genius we’re led to think or, more likely because only a complete fucken idiot like Armstrong would think what Key said was correct, Key knowingly misled the House. I expect the breach of privilege is already under way.

So what are we left with?

A situation where:

  • 6, of 5 for that matter, individuals (which could all be subsidiary companies) can buy all the shares in our assets;
  • the PM is a lair or a moron and;
  • the Herald’s political editor can’t even recognise a breach of privilege in front of him and, apparently no-one else at the Herald picks it up either.

What a goddam embarrassment.

55 comments on “Dumbest journo award goes to Armstrong ”

  1. There’s something I don’t get in the following:

    Shearer was the first to cop it. He asked Key if it was correct that under the provisions of just-introduced legislation covering the part-sale of state-owned enterprises like Genesis Energy, “half a dozen foreign investors” could legally purchase all the listed shares.
    “No,” Key replied firmly before adding that no-one would be able to hold more than 10 per cent, that six times 10 was 60, and the Government was retaining 51 per cent.
    It was the equivalent of the maths teacher handing a pupil the dunce’s hat and telling him to go and stand in the corner.

    Perhaps I don’t understand what ‘listed shares’ refers to but my sense is that the lesson in arithmetic (and logic) needs to be given to John Armstrong and John Key, not David Shearer.

    If 49% of the shares are sold (i.e., publicly listed) and there is a maximum cap of 10% then, how about six shareholders buying 8.166% of the shares, five buying 9% and one 4%, five buying 8% and one buying 9%, etc., etc., etc.?

    If the government’s 51% is going to be ‘publicly listed’ then, surely, it could be traded – but I thought that was out of the question (and legislation).

    If it isn’t out of the question – and the 51% of shares the government holds will be publicly listed – then the partial privatisation is worse than expected. That is, the government would be able to sell its shares whenever it wanted to without altering the legislation.

    If the legislation does prevent the government selling its shares, then how are the shares being ‘listed’?

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Yeah its all ***facedesking*** material here. I can feel myself getting dumber just associating with these people.

    • Blue 1.2

      Give John Armstrong a break. He doesn’t know or care anything for numbers or complex financial stuff. He just loves to snigger like a schoolboy when his idol scores a ‘point’ in Parliament.

      He couldn’t even restrain himself until tomorrow to tell the world how fabulous John Key’s ‘performance’ was. He had to rush out an article this very afternoon to share the news!

      John Key – 1 smartarse point
      John Armstrong – 1 dumbarse point

      • Zetetic 1.2.1

        Well, this is the weird thing, Blue. The exchanges happened the previous question time.

        In this question time, Key was embarrassed by the revelation that Mfat staff have been advised by the contractors handling their redundancies to cope with stress by ‘getting a pet or praying’ – http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/6538752/Get-a-pet-Ministry-spends-340-000-for-contractors

        Armstrong chose not to cover that in his piece immediately after and went back instead to something that happened the day before. Which he didn’t understand.

        A remarkable contortionist feat.

        The only question is whether he did it because he was pissed Labour had given Stuff the cat story to be released simultaneously with question time, or because he’s just a hopeless Key-lover.

        • David H

          Just watching Parliament Yeah it’s late/early, and in the 2nd question Chris Hipkis is going well on a supplementary. But there’s the so called PM just bloody laying back texting or playing a game on his Cell phone! Question 2 4.44 in I mean can he be any more disrespectful to the house and other members? Maybe he’s playing Angry Birds to get the next round of figures he needs for his spin, NZ run by a High Score.

    • PoliticallyCorrected 1.3

      Puddlegum this government has a proven track record of using the sales theory of it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission so for me you’ve raised a point I’ve been cautious about ever since Key first announced National’s intentions of pursuing mixed ownership model for these companies back in January 2011.

      Very early on in this interview on Campbell Live he says,

      “then the government, through ‘Mum & Dad’ would own 51%”

      State asset sales – Key explains why – Video : http://tinyurl.com/72rnymw

      The context of the discussion at the time allowed for ‘Mum & Dad’ to be used in his response, still it struck me as an odd thing or slip (?) to say. Does National have intentions for ‘Mum & Dads’ to be included in the government’s 51% and if yes why are we not been told?

    • Rosemary 1.4

      Maybe it’s me who needs some sort of lesson, Puddlegum, but I think you have simply restated the precise point of Zetetic’s post.

      • Puddleglum 1.4.1

        I actually posted it in Open Mike about half an hour before this post went up.

        The comment got moved over. Same with CV’s comment that follows mine. I haven’t got any problem with that – it fits here.

        • Rosemary

          Okay, that makes sense. Looked a response to Zetetic’s post but obviously it wasn’t.

  2. Reagan Cline 2

    Whoever owns the shares, the company will still be selling the power and we will be paying for it The company will have to charge realistically because there are competitors and we could decide to “power down”, the shareholders will be paying tax back to us and will be carrying the burden of ownership, we will still be collecting the GST. Will the company be worth a whole lot more in 20 years ? How sustainable are those dividends really, compared to the dividend from using the cash in other ways.

    • Zetetic 2.1


      1) Private owners have a higher cost of capital than the Crown, which borrows at sovereign rates (4%) compared to 8% for a corporation.

      So, the Crown can make a profit off owning companies returning 6% (the figure used in the Budget Policy Statement), while a private investor can’t. Even mum and dad are better off paying down the mortgage than taking a 6% before tax return.

      The CEO of Contact, just yesterday, said that corporate investors shouldn’t put their money in power companies unless prices and profits go up.

      2) Currently, the two highest charging power companies are Contact and Trust power. Meridian is the lowest. Partial privatisation will mean the SOEs all move up, allowing the private cos to move up too. The boards will be legally obliged to increase prices if it increases profits. And what are we meant to do when everyone puts their prices up ‘power down’? Shit, do you realise that the major electricity users are our manufacturers? You’re basically saying ‘shrink the economy’. Is that the outcome from privatisation you want? A smaller economy with fewer jobs?

      3) The Budget Policy Statement by the government says that the deficit will be $100m a year larger after the assets are sold. That’s right, selling these profitable assets will leave the government $100m a year worse off. Is that a price to pay for being ‘relieved’ of half the ‘burden of ownership’. When has it ever been ‘burdensome’ to own these companies anyway?

      4) You think that these dividends are unsustainable? What, we’re all going to stop using electricity? If that happens, it be because we have bigger issues than partial asset sales.

      And, no, we’re not all going to be off the gird making our own energy – Meridian’s dams have basically no capital cost and little operating cost, they can always out-price the cost of you getting your own solar panels and wind turbines. In fact, we’re going to end up using more electricity as transport belatedly switches from liquid fuels.

      And, like I said at the start, the return on these assets is greater than the Crown’s cost of borrowing, so the opportunity cost of holding these assets is holding less debt, and that would be a worse alternative.

      • shreddakj 2.1.1

        Everything you said in this comment, over and over. This should be compulsory reading for anyone who is pro-infrastructure sales…

      • David H 2.1.2

        “You’re basically saying ‘shrink the economy’ Is that the outcome from privatisation you want? A smaller economy with fewer jobs?”

        To the NACTS thats heaven.and a well run economy. To the rest of us, well it means ever increasing prices, and decreasing wages, and all the profit goes off shore. To say nothing of the little announce fact that the minority shareholders can take the majority shareholder to court or something . and accuse them of not ‘making proper moves to maximise profits’. Maybe someone else can elaborate, I just know that this 51% bullshit from Keys lips, is NOT the full story, and he KNOWS what can happen, hell he has probably forced it as a rapacious banker.

      • thatguynz 2.1.3


      • Simon Poole 2.1.4

        Have you considered submitting editorials, Zetetic? Posts like this need as much airing as possible.

        You don’t even need to resort to an ideological argument over asset sales – economic facts make their sale untenable. This isn’t about left v. right, this is about the fact that it doesn’t make financial sense to sell the assets.

        Of course, some people don’t care about financial sense or simply don’t understand the issue. None so blind as those unwilling to see etc.

  3. queenstfarmer 3

    Zet, I haven’t seen the draft legislation, but are you sure it isn’t the case that 100% of the shares will be listed, with the Govt retaining 51% and private investors able to buy 49%?? That is the way it usually works.

    In which case Key’s answer is completely accurate.

    • Zetetic 3.1

      it doesn’t actually talk about listing at all. It says the Crown must hold at least 51% of voting rights and others may hold no more than 10% each.

      • queenstfarmer 3.1.1

        Then in the absence of something in the legislation, the company will be regarded as listed, with 49% of the shares floated (not a legal term, but obviously meaning “for sale”). So Key’s statement is technically right.

        To force the desired answer from Key, Shearer’s question could have been: “Is it correct that under the current provisions of the bill half a dozen foreign investors could legally purchase all the offered shares?”

        To which the answer would be technically yes, but highly unlikely for the same reason that no NZX-listed companies have only 6 shareholders, instead typically having many thousands.

        Plus I can guarantee that I will be a shareholder, so in reality the answer to Shearer’s question would still be no 🙂

        • Colonial Viper

          Plus I can guarantee that I will be a shareholder, so in reality the answer to Shearer’s question would still be no

          Shame to lose your shares back to the Government with no compensation.

        • thatguynz

          “Plus I can guarantee that I will be a shareholder, so in reality the answer to Shearer’s question would still be no”

          Are you sure that you can guarantee that QSF?  Have you been assured that there will be no preferential institutional placements and that those placements won’t be fully subscribed? 
          Don’t be so quick to believe that the availability to “Mum & Dad investors” is a guaranteed outcome.

          • queenstfarmer

            Yes I do guarantee it. I expect there will be institutional placements and quite possibly oversubscription. That is a sign of a healthy IPO.

            • thatguynz

              I think you missed my point QSF (Unless you are an institutional insider in which case I apologise)..
              If the full allotment of available shares is made to institutional placements and it is fully subscribed (or over-subscribed) how do you propose that you are going to get any shares at a personal level? (Again – assuming you would categorise yourself as a “Mum & Dad” investor.)

              • queenstfarmer

                Easily. The same way I get all my shares. Buy them on-market. How else do you propose one does it?

                • thatguynz

                  Again, you missed my point.  My point is that with preferential institutional placements there is no guarantee that the shares will hit the open market.  Ergo, there will be none available for you to buy.  It is wholly contingent on whether the institutional placements are in turn back-stopped by hedge funds and the like who may be taking a buy and hold approach.
                  As I said – you don’t have a guarantee irrespective of what John and Bill have been telling you.

                  • queenstfarmer

                    Are you suggesting that liquidity will suddenly grind to halt on the NZX, and large holders will no longer be willing to make trades at any price?

                    If that is your prediction, go ahead and make it.

                    My guarantee stands. I suspect you know how this will turn out.

    • Policy Parrot 3.2

      There are three main problems with the mixed ownership model privatisation the government is proposing. Some are already well documented, and others aren’t so.

      1. Stakeholder interest lessened – State Owned Enterprises are effectively private companies operating under the aegis of the state. As such, they can be directed to operate in manner more reflective of stakeholder theory, the additional stakeholders being (in the case of the electricity companies) customers (power consumers), environmental and cultural groups (i.e. Fish and Game, iwi). Partial privatization no doubt means that there will be a greater focus on profit, at the expense of other stakeholders.

      2. Loss of effective control – Under the MOM, the government is placed in a dilemma. In addition to being a part-owner (majority is irrelevant), it is also a regulator. This situation puts the government in a position where it has serious potential for conflict of interest. Thus, private investors will be likely be cold on investing unless sufficient guarantees can be offered that the government will not unduly interfere in the operation of the company. One likely concession is a board of directors that is either weighted in favour of private investors, or even in the event of a split or state dominated board, the government may instruct its directors to remain largely silent in setting strategic direction and policy, for example, pursuing profit maximisation. In addition, there will no longer be ministerial responsibility for the company, e.g. no Minister of Air NZ?, when there is a Minister for say, ACC.

      3. Loss of dividend stream/Catch 22. Profits made by the company, will under the MOM model be partially portioned out to private investors, instead being wholly returned to the government. If the government can convince private investors that ownership of these companies is such a good idea, why is it so keen to flog them off? Surely either one of two scenarios will result from a float:
      a) Capital returns increase, and the government therefore is worse off than it would have otherwise been (opportunity cost), a huge possibility if the SOEs are undervalued or sold at/near the bottom of the market, or
      b) Capital returns decline, and private investors are worse off, the mum and dad investors that the government has touted the sharemarket to as good place to invest lose money.
      They can’t have it both ways.

      In summation, a poor decision from an economic standpoint.

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        In summation, a poor decision from an economic standpoint.

        Of course, you’re talking about the standpoint of the nation. John Key is talking about the standpoint of himself, his banker mates, and the top 0.1%.

      • Pascal's bookie 3.2.2

        Good poonts PP.

        Another aspect I haven’t seen get any coverage at all is the fact that we are going to have these behemoths listed on the nzx, competing for investors, with an implict govt backing against co. failure.

        I can remember when that sort of thing was considered to be a very damaging lunacy that distorted market outcomes and what not.

        I haven’t heard a peep from any of the people that used to warn against it however, so I guess it was all just a load of shit, but I would like to hear an explanation of why it was a load of shit, and why it’s all kosher now.

    • Blighty 3.3

      They could hold the Crown’s shares as a different class, unlisted.

      All the references I see in google talk about listing or floating 49%.

      It would be dancing on the head of a pin to argue Key was saying that all the shares will be listed, including those held by the govt, when the question is clearly about those to be sold.

      • Blighty 3.3.1

        In fact, the Crown’s 51% is legally a substantially different type of ownership than the 49% – it can’t be sold.

        Like the Kiwishare in Air NZ, I would think the 51% would be treated as a different, unlisted class.

        • KJT

          Until the Government wants to cut taxes to their mates even more as the inevitable deficit from their policies gets larger. Then it will be “deja vu all over again”. TINA.

        • alwyn

          Technically the Kiwi Share in Air New Zealand can be disposed of at any time.
          The Kiwi Shareholder can instruct the company to convert it to an ordinary share and then that share can be sold immediately. Once it becomes an ordinary share it cannot be changed back.
          See section 3.5 of the Air New Zealand constitution.

  4. Ed 4

    It does seem to be wordplay. It would not surprise me if the stock exchange regarded all the shares as being listed – there are plenty of companies where a majority owner is extremely unlikely to sell; having all the shares ‘listed’ would make it easier to work out percentage holdings.

    Shearer clearly meant ‘of the available listed shares’, or ‘of the listed shares available for sale’, but in the context of parliament should perhaps have been more precise.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    So, Key lied to Parliament when he said that 6 people couldn’t buy all the shares between them.

    Key’s reply was a well crafted misdirection implying that the question was about the full ownership rather than the 49% that would be listed as public shares. Armstrong, being the NAct brown-noser that he is, is reinforcing that message.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Armstrong is past his use-by date, he just hasn’t stopped twitching on the keyboard yet.

      • Hami Shearlie 5.1.1

        When I see Armstrong’s photo I’m always reminded of Victor Meldrew!!!

    • Ed 5.2

      I don’t think there was anything ‘well crafted’ about Key’s response. It was instinctive and relates directly back to his view of all assets as being ‘available for sale’ in the Right circumstances. If Shearer had referred to the shares being sold that would have been different – in theory 5 shareholders could hold that portion of the company. Once the company is set up, it is only one same change of legislation to enable more to be sold; Trader John won’t want to exclude that possibility. The article by Armstrong reflects the media bias towards entertaining trivia rather than reporting substance.

  6. tc 6

    Armstrongs pieces are classic examples of the sycophantic approach the MSM has to key, they couldn’t look past the BS if they tried as they are biased shills, osullivan is another blatant Nat apologist.

    Journalism doesn’t exist in granny just opinion and spin that suits its masters.

  7. Spammer 7

    Just from reading the article and not doing any research i would presume that John Key was referring to a maximum buy of 10% of the shares on offer. Which is 4.9% of the total shares in the company. Not sure if this is correct but i don’t think Key would screw up such a simple question like that.

    • I don’t think you are correct (but it was worth suggesting).

      Key mentions “6 times 10 is 60” which only makes sense if Key himself thinks that ‘10%’ is relative to the 100% of shares of which the government will retain 51%.

      Also, that interpretation would suggest that the 51% he refers to as the government’s ‘kept’ share must be 51% of the 49% being ‘offered’, which would mean that the government was, in effect, retaining something around 75% of the overall shares in the entities (the 51% not being ‘offered’ and 51% of those shares that are on offer). (And, incidentally, that would mean that 6 foreign investors could still buy the 49% of 49%, in toto – even with a ‘cap’ of 4.9%.)

      But I don’t think this is what Treasury based their estimates on – and no-one thinks that is the plan.

      Key has either made an elementary arithmetical error (when he had time to make a simple calculation) or he was being (or thought he was being) a clever dick in trying to bamboozle people with nonsensical numerology.

      If the latter, then this may be the secret to his financial success. In that case, I’m sure we’re all glad that our world so handsomely rewards such unproductive, adolescent clever-dickery.

    • Blighty 7.2

      No, 10% is 10% of the whole company. read the bill on legislation.govt.nz

  8. framu 8

    and the comments there just came on line – armstrong is getting a real hammering on his maths skills

  9. tsmithfield 9

    Zetetic “So, Key lied to Parliament when he said that 6 people couldn’t buy all the shares between them…..”

    If it is true that all the shares are to be listed but only 49% offered to the public, then Key has not lied to parliament at all, and the above comment should be withdrawn and an apology issued both to Key and to Armstrong.

    Sure, Key may have been able to assume what Shearer was getting at. However, his job when answering questions is to answer the question as it is put accurately, and not make assumptions about what the questioner might mean. If it is true that all shares are to be listed, then Key would have technically lied in answering the question if he had answered it according to what he might have assumed Shearer had meant. It is the job of the questioner to ask the question in a way that extracts the information desired.

    This shows to me that Shearer simply is not up to the job at the moment. Larry Williams made absolute mincemeat of him on Newstalk ZB last night. Must have been quite embarrassing for Labour.

  10. Kevin 10

    Through the process of mergers and acquisitions 10% investors can consolidate their ownership into one, or alternatively through partial acquisitions increase their holdings to a majority. This will happen.
    Also the mums and dads investors Mr Key often refers to won’t in fact be individuals, they will be shareholders or stakeholders in institutional investment vehicles such as KiwiSaver and Iwi organisations but not as individuals. There may be sub 1% share clubs that may play on the fringes for fun.

  11. Fortran 11

    Why do I feel that Shearer is business naive and is capable of being bamboozled in such matters.

    Would it not have been better for say Cunliffe to raise this. He has been a merchant banker so has some clear iunderstanding of how business works.

  12. Reagan Cline 12

    Zetetic, your analysis is pursuasive, so why is our Government so set on the sale ?

    The picture you paint seems incomplete. Perhaps the policy is supported more by faith than by reasoned argument. In which case a reasoned response might not be persuasive.

    How about moving from an economy based on cheap energy courtesy of Government ownership, in concert with ruthless primary production, the externals never properly costed, to a more knowledge based economy ?

    A comparative analysis of the energy consumption rates of various manufacturing sectors will show differences. Why not try to encourage industries with lower energy and environmental costs and greater input of human cleverness and skills ?

    How can 4.4 miilion people afford to pay for the education and training this might require ?

    How about collecting the cash value of the externals not accounted for by farming, forestry, horticultural and fishing businesses and using it to pay for an education system that will enable a more knowledge based economy. One reason our Government gives for the asset sales is to put more cash into education infrastructure. Would the profits from primary production be too damaged if they payed for the environmental effects ? Is that a reason for raising cash by other means, like selling state assets ?

    We live off the inherited capital of our climate, lands and seas (and of course the largely imported know-how to expoit them). How about creating more human capital assisted by the appropriate government policies, rather than relying so much an accidents of nature. Who would form such a government and devise such policies ?

    • Kotahi Tane Huna 12.1

      The picture you paint seems incomplete: it’s the drivel.

    • Policy Parrot 12.2

      There are a good many other ways in way the same results can be achieved without partial privatisation, the fact that you linked your plausible commendable outcome to such an irrational process demonstrates how the public at large can be persuaded under TINA.

  13. Reagan Cline 13

    Policy Parrot how can my “plausible commendable outcomes” be achieved without partial privatisations and who would form a government to achieve them ?

    • Policy Parrot 13.1

      On the one hand, you talk about the problems we face because our economy is “based on cheap energy courtesy of Government ownership, in concert with ruthless primary production, the externals never properly costed, and yet you go on to ponder “would profits from primary production be too damaged if they paid for the environmental effects?”

      How are we supposed to move towards a “knowledge-based, high-skilled, low energy economy” if those who are most directly involved the production of the negative externalities are not directly disincentivised, so that private investment considers the “knowledge-based, high-skilled, low energy economy” relatively more attractive? Ultimately, we will not achieve the desired economy if the private sector does not sufficiently believe in it – that means they, in addition to the state, have to invest in it.

      Partial asset sales are an irrelevance because the government already possesses the power to simply hike the power dividend from its energy companies. It does not need to privatise them simply so they charge in a manner that reflects the true costs of their power generation. In addition, the dividend stream foregone by the sale would easily cover the portion of the projected proceeds allocated to education within 4 or 5 years.

      Your second question is more difficult to answer. There are many sweetheart deals (e.g. Tiwai Point) and sacred cows (pun intended) that would have to sacrificed in order to shift investment into categories that fit with the vision you have outlined.

  14. Reagan Cline 14

    Helloo again KTH, SO IT’S THE DRIVEL THAT’S MISSING ? Can you be more specific ?

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