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Bill English killed Solid Energy

Written By: - Date published: 8:46 am, April 3rd, 2015 - 96 comments
Categories: bill english, business, economy, energy, Mining, national - Tags: , ,

More economic genius from the Nats. This time featuring Bill English:

Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

Labour has tabled documents in Parliament showing that ministers put pressure on Solid Energy in 2009 to increase its debt levels and pay bigger dividends, despite warnings a falling coal price could crimp its profits.

Finance Minister Bill English … had approved a higher debt level in 2009. Solid Energy’s gearing ratio was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year.

When the crisis at Solid Energy was disclosed last month, Prime Minister John Key said coal companies typically had little debt. Labour leader David Shearer said ministers had pressed for the extra debt and bigger dividends despite knowing the company was facing financial difficulties. “Bill English knew that coal prices were forecast to decline in 2009 but still urged Solid Energy to increase its gearing [debt to equity] ratio,” he said. “That means ‘go out and borrow more’, despite knowing there was trouble ahead.”

English had said today that he did not know coal prices were going to decline, “but documents obtained by Labour show that he did”, Shearer said.

So last month we had the announcement that:

Solid Energy ‘may not be viable’: English

Finance Minister Bill English says he still doesn’t know if Solid Energy is viable, raising the prospect of the company collapsing. The Christchurch-based coalminer is negotiating with a group of banks in a bid to reduce its $320 million debt.

Solid Energy’s chairwoman has voted with her feet:

Solid Energy chairwoman quits over disagreement with Finance Minister

The chairwoman of Solid Energy quit because she disagreed with Finance Minister Bill English that the company could be saved, an email shows.

I think we should shut down Solid Energy because we should keep the coal in the hole. But this wasn’t the way to do it – another shambles from the Nats, like the great job they did negotiating the SkyCity deal, and the great job they did in Northland.

Update: Snap!

96 comments on “Bill English killed Solid Energy”

  1. Kevin 1

    And they accuse Russell Norman of being economically illiterate…

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    Back in the days when we had ministers for each discrete SOE this level of gross incompetence would very properly have ended Bill’s career.

    Under neo-lib norms it instead ‘proves’ state ownership doesn’t work. Bill should face the same sanctions as a failed private sector CEO – loss of salary and benefits, public scorn, legal action and unemployability.

    • Kevin 2.1

      Does it prove that State Ownership doesn’t work, or that the SOE model doesn’t work?

      I would have thought that if a publicly listed company was run this way, someone would be in shit up to their eyeballs over these decisions.

      • Descendant Of Sssmith 2.1.1

        It proves neither.

        What it proves is that this government is the worst government we have ever had and that it consciously and deliberately is running up government debt.

        This is no different to the making of one power company buy assets off another power company to pay dividends to the government books or the insistence that from the HNZ rentals that increased dividends were paid to the government while maintenance was deferred.

        These bastards see the public assets as their own personal monopoly board.

        They lie and obfuscate all the while making all NZ citizens asset poor and debt laden.

        The efforts recently to tell government departments what they should research and investigate is just a continuation of that.

        I’ll vote for whatever party wishes to release publicly all then public records around this stuff, around the ECAN sacking and around the bailout of the SCF investors – especially those who invested 100,000’s in the four weeks before the bailout was announced when everyone knew they were in deep trouble, around the purchase of trains from China and so on.

        So much of what this government has done is hidden from public scrutiny.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1.1

          They lie and obfuscate all the while making all NZ citizens asset poor and debt laden.

          That’s what needs to happen to turn us all back into serfs for the rich and that’s what National’s doing.

      • fisiani 2.1.2

        It proves that the price of coal has plummeted and that Solid Energy should never have been owned by the government. There was a chance to sell it a few years ago or even sell 49% but the No Assets Sales hysteria whipped up by the Left in their failed 2011 campaign destroyed any chance to sell it. I blame the Left for economic sabotage. How dare you try to blame things on Bill English. He wanted to sell Solid Energy in 2008 but Labour and the Greens and NZF would never vote for what is best for New Zealand. Solid Energy’s problems are due to the massive fall in world coal prices, nowt to do with the Honourable soon to be Sir Bill English.

        • pure stupidity fisiani.
          english and key sold off mighty river and air new zealand and meridian and genesis and they are trying to flog off housing nz. nothing stopping them from selling solid energy, but they are ideologically committed to coal.
          bully boy english demands high dividends from his SOE playthings and this is killing them (and a stealth tax in the case of powercos).

          • fisiani 2.1.2.1.1

            National did NOT sell off MRP, Air New Zealand, meridien and genesis. they merely sold a minority shareholding. What stopped then selling shares in Solid Energy was the likely low share price. So much for an ideological commitment to coal. It does not exist. They should have sold in 2009 but the Left were implacably opposed to making a great deal for New Zealand.

            • Atiawa 2.1.2.1.1.1

              The science along with the realities – see California’s current drought predicament – of global warming caused by the burning of carbon emitting fossil fuels is reason enough for the state to have 100% ownership and control of the production and non production of green house gas causing fuels, including and especially coal, oil & gas.
              Governments have a duty of care to it’s citizens to ensure that the country is in better shape then what it was before they took office. That starting point is ensuring the environment is protected and undamaged.
              Private ownership of carbon producing resources does not allow rational thinking of it’s raw material utilisation.
              Hydro and geothermal producing resources should never be placed in the hands of private owners.

            • Sacha 2.1.2.1.1.2

              You will recall Fisiani that they originally intended to sell half of Solid Energy as well, but its prospects became so dire nobody in that market wanted it (and the govt would have got in trouble afterwards for selling it to a mug) so English, Joyce and Key pulled it from the offer.

              Sensible decision at the time even if you agree with their overall policy. Pressuring the organisation to build its dividend and debt levels to make the govt’s books look a tad better, not so much. Shonky economics.

            • Frank Macskasy 2.1.2.1.1.3

              Fisiani – “National did NOT sell off MRP, Air New Zealand, meridien and genesis. they merely sold a minority shareholding.”

              Oh, so you can count. When it suits you.

            • Frank Macskasy 2.1.2.1.1.4

              Fisiani – for your interest;

              ” “The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE [state owned enterprise] balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt… it made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” Mr English said.

              Mr English acknowledged that in 2009 he signed a letter to Solid Energy approving a higher debt level.”

              Source: http://www.3news.co.nz/politics/solid-energy-was-allowed-to-increase-debt-2013031316#ixzz2Nnn0EBn1

              More here: https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/solid-energy-a-solid-drama-of-facts-fibs-and-fall-guys-2/

        • Tracey 2.1.2.2

          There you are again. Loving your use of right wing mantras to parody another disastrous decision by the career civil servant and the futures trader. keep it up, you are hilarious.

          • felix 2.1.2.2.1

            re- “career civil servant”, are you familiar with the Tyler Durden theory of Bill English? It suggests that Public Sector Bill English has created in his mind “Private Sector Bill English” a version of himself who looks like he wants to look, fucks like he wants to fuck, fights like he wants to fight etc

        • Frank Macskasy 2.1.2.3

          Fisiani – ” I blame the Left for economic sabotage. How dare you try to blame things on Bill English. He wanted to sell Solid Energy in 2008 but Labour and the Greens and NZF would never vote for what is best for New Zealand. ”

          Are you smoking some serious sh*t or what?!

          National and it’s coalition partners had a majority in Parliament since 2008.They could do what they want.

          Learn to count before you write your illiterate garbage.

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    Not long after Labour finished government, ( yr to Jul 2009) Solid Energy had revenue just under $1 billion per year and was making profits of $110 million, with dividends to the government of $60 million, PER YEAR.

    In Nov 2012 they lost practically the entire board by resignation.

    • fisiani 3.1

      And that’s when it should have been 100% sold. Surely you must agree?

      • Stuart Munro 3.1.1

        No – that’s when the Serious Fraud Squad should have been all over Bill English – they would’ve if a private sector manager had destroyed value on that scale.

  4. DH 4

    That’s typical beancounter work, just what I’d expect from an ex Treasury hack like English. He’s playing a shell game, improving OBEGAL by converting capital to operating income and using (anticipated) asset revaluations to hide the losses on the final balance sheet.

    One of the biggest creative accounting scams both Labour and National discovered was using depreciation to pay dividends. Depreciation is a repayment of capital but through secondary asset revaluations they use the depreciation cash to pay dividends which are not dividends at all. They’ve quietly stripped many $billions of capital out of our SOEs and claimed it as income.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Once you understand DH that ultimately: public debt = private profit (somewhere in the chain) then it all makes perfect sense.

      I wouldn’t call this lot incompetent. The evidence is that they are spectacularly good at what they do.

      • tracey 4.1.1

        YUP. What they are getting bad at these days is covering it up.

        • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1

          The lies always mount up to the point that the truth becomes obvious.

          • tracey 4.1.1.1.1

            Sadly it takes 3 electoral terms and like many GOvts before them they will have done so much damage and successfully moved us more toward entrenched capitalism as the only answer to what ails us.

      • KJS0ne 4.1.2

        Amen.

    • tracey 4.2

      I agree DH. I am sick of people (including DIMPOST ( who should know better)) calling him a

      “Southland farmer” (without usng irony quotes)

      he is not a Southland Farmer. He may have been raised on a farm. he may own a farm but that doesn’t make him a farmer anymore than my owning dogs since I was 8 makes me a VET.

      he is, however, a career bureaucrat. A person who, if he came from the Left, would be called a career civil servant with no “real world experience”

      Was thed rive to pay a dividend related to money into govt coffers for surplus targets or to keep their voting demographic happy with a payout? Genuine question btw.

      • DH 4.2.1

        “Was the drive to pay a dividend related to money into govt coffers for surplus targets or to keep their voting demographic happy with a payout? ”

        Hard to know without being in the inner circle but I’d think it was to make the Crown accounts look better… reduce the deficit. What they’re doing is, in my view, dishonest & unethical but it’s not illegal so they do it.

        English is the worst Finance Minister this country has ever had IMO. He’s achieved nothing of any substance.

        • Tracey 4.2.1.1

          smoke and mirrors, and when you read the excellent post by Macskasy (linked below) you see the facts and know that most won’t read the facts… cos if they did they would see the govt’s MO for getting away with all of this in black and white…

          • DH 4.2.1.1.1

            I agree that’s exactly what it is Tracey, they’re just moving numbers around on paper to make one set of books look better at the expense of another. All smoke & mirrors and hugely dishonest & deceitful IMO.

  5. peter h 5

    And he keeps on raving, about getting back to surplus. The reason why, because most of the country thinks he means ,good. now we don’t owe anything

  6. KJS0ne 6

    National, Robin Hood’s dark doppelgänger. A wealth siphoning government.

    • Incognito 6.1

      Funny, I had just been thinking something along the same lines: what if Robin Hood and anti-Robin Hood would meet? They would annihilate into a burst of energy. National: they steal from the poor to give to the rich. And people still vote for this bunch!?

  7. Gosman 7

    Governments shouldn’t run commercial enterprises for this very reason.

    • in this case i agree.
      however in a small country like NZ, publicly owned utilities are more efficiently run as a natural monopoly and it’s ridiculous (immoral, short sighted) to carve up and sell assets that generations of hard working kiwis created for the benefit of all.

    • Tracey 7.2

      and yet you voted to prop them up again and again, so they can keep doing things you object to.

      FOG thinking

      • Gosman 7.2.1

        Ummm… can you give me a political party in NZ that i should vote for instead?

        • left for deadshark 7.2.1.1

          anti 1080 party, self preservation gosman.

        • felix 7.2.1.2

          If you look to the left you’ll find parties more willing to consider alternatives to running public infrastructure on a commercial basis, Gos.

          • Gosman 7.2.1.2.1

            But I don’t support that viewpoint so therefore I would be voting against my political beliefs which is what Tracey is kind of stating I shouldn’t be doing.

            • tracey 7.2.1.2.1.1

              you would rather vote for your political beliefs that you accept get traded away so easily and regularly cos ACT won’t stand up for them, SO, you are nOT voting for your political beliefs at all.

        • The Murphey 7.2.1.3

          Q. Are you eligible to vote in NZ elections Gosman ?

        • Frank Macskasy 7.2.1.4

          Gosman – “Governments shouldn’t run commercial enterprises for this very reason.”

          No Gosman, NATIONAL shouldn’t run “commercial enterprises for this very reason”.

          There’s a difference.

    • felix 7.3

      …or maybe people who are hell-bent on destroying public assets shouldn’t be in government for this very reason.

      But more to the point, vital national infrastructure shouldn’t be treated as a commercial enterprise for this very reason.

      • +1 felix, well put

        the purpose of the Nact government is to defeat democracy not build it

      • Gosman 7.3.2

        Why is a coal mining company vital national infrastructure?

        • felix 7.3.2.1

          What is energy?

        • Gosman 7.3.2.2

          Are you just spamming this for the sake of disruption? I thought that was frowned upon here.

          My question is a sound one. Why is a coal mining company in any way a piece of vital national infrastructure?
          .

          • weka 7.3.2.2.1

            Have you heard of climate change?

            • Gosman 7.3.2.2.1.1

              Yes and?

              • weka

                The govt needs to remain in control of coal. Is that not obvious? (we need to prioritise coal to transitioning off fossil fuels, and then keep the rest in the ground for very small use for future generations). That this govt does so badly and completely against any sane understandings of CC and preparing for the future, points to a problem with this govt, not governments owning infrastructure.

                • Gosman

                  Quite the contrary in my opinion. It would be much more beneficial if governments didn’t have any ownership stake in coal mines. Then they could impose additional taxes to discourage it’s use without having to worry about directly harming their own fiscal situation not to mention dealing with the additional political costs of closing mines.

                  • weka

                    taxation doesn’t give the govt control on how the coal is used. We need that coal in order to transition off fossil fuels. Do you know what that means?

                    At the moment we’re exporting coal fffs. It’s a limited resource and we’re sending it overseas for pieces of electronic money. That is stupid beyond belief.

                    You have some ideological stance on state ownership and market forces that is completely at odds with the reality of the physical world (unless you want to argue that making money instead of moving off fossil fuels is valid).

                • Gosman

                  I do find it interesting though that your argument could be used as a pretext for State control over any number of sectors of the economy. For example the single biggest sector contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in NZ is the agricultural sector. Following your same wrongheaded logic the government should nationalism all livestock farms (if not the entire industry) to better “manage” it’s impact on climate change. Do you advocate for that?

                  • felix

                    That cuts both ways, Gosman.

                    Following your logic, there should be no issue with agricultural emissions as the state would have imposed taxes to discourage them without directly harming its own fiscal situation.

                    • Gosman

                      Yes you are right. If the cost of the externalities have been factored in and someone is still emitting I have no problem with it.

                    • lprent

                      Clearly they haven’t.

                      Here I was thinking that you were against the ETS? The way that this government and to a lesser extent the last didn’t price in the costs of pollution from farms was pretty damn disgusting.

                      This government has gone so far as to disband groups that were imposing some of the full downstream costs on farming practices. Their intervention to disband democratic control of Environment Canturbury explicitly to control “tragedy of the commons” issues on excessive irrigation in particular.

                      The logical course according to your precepts of “cost of the externalities” would be to treat irrigation as a scarce resource and keep raising the costs year by year until the water levels rise and the salinity intrusions into ground water cease.

                      Perhaps that process should be written into any updates to the RMA rather than the current proposals which rip those externality protections away.

                    • ropata

                      [parody]
                      Atlantis Won’t Sink, Experts Agree
                      If you’re like most Atlanteans these days, you’ve heard all sorts of unnerving claims about the future of our continent. Some people are even saying that recent earth tremors are harbingers of a cataclysm that will plunge Atlantis to the bottom of the sea. Those old prophecies from the sacred scrolls of the Sun Temple have had the dust blown off them again, adding to the stew of rumors.

                      So is there anything to it? Should you be worried about the future of Atlantis?

                      Not according to the experts. I visited some of the most widely respected hierarchs here in the City of the Golden Gates yesterday to ask them about the rumors, and they assured me that there’s no reason to take the latest round of alarmist claims at all seriously.

                    • ropata

                      [grim reality]
                      None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use
                      None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero. That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.

                      The notion of “externalities” is so technical, such an economist’s term. Got a few unfortunate side effects, so just move some numbers from Column A to Column B, right?

                      But the UNEP report makes clear that what’s going on today is more than a few accounting oversights here and there. The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution.

          • left for deadshark 7.3.2.2.2

            One would think thats simple,,the citizenship of this country own the resource, the land, and has the were fore all, Pike River coal mine was tragically in the hands of self serving businessmen, they should hold their heads in shame,never again.

            • Gosman 7.3.2.2.2.1

              The citizenship of this country does not own the land. Land is either owned by private interests (of various types) or by the Crown.

              • left for deadshark

                The citizenship of this country, though the crown, owns the mining rights to permit etc.I just goes to show your lack of understanding of ownership of crown resources. 👿

                • Gosman

                  No. The Crown and the Citizenship of the nation are two different and distinct entities. We only have an ability to influence what the Crown does.

                  • weka

                    The Crown isn’t really real though Gosman, and exists only because the citizens say it does. We use the Crown to manage our affairs.

              • Macro

                Actually In the Commonwealth, The Queen of England – or in the case of NZ – Maori “own” the land. The Queen grants us “title” to a piece of land.
                The one country where people actually own land is the USA.
                The Treaty was, in part, a response to the problem to this vested problem of ownership after the early settlers (Wakefield et al) started to aquire land from the the local Maori. Initially the British Govt of the time didn’t want a bar of this – having been burnt in the War of independence in America. Just 50 – 60 years earlier. But when things began to get out of hand they had to take some steps to remedy a potentially disastrous situation.
                You may recall that the Treaty grants only the Crown the right to purchase land from the local Maori no one else. That land was then on sold (ie title created and handed on to subsequent ‘owners’ by the Crown (ie The Monarch).
                Essentially one owns the title to land, not the land itself.

          • felix 7.3.2.2.3

            “Are you just spamming this for the sake of disruption? I thought that was frowned upon here.”

            Some of my questions are more serious than others. Feel free to respond to them when you’re ready.

            • Gosman 7.3.2.2.3.1

              How about you specify which ones are serious and which ones are just wasting everyone’s time first.

    • Tracey 7.4

      Governments that deliberately lie and mis-manage should not remain governments.

      • philj 7.4.1

        IMO in many respects we don’t have a real government, it’s really a patsie for corporate interest e.g. USA.

    • millsy 7.5

      Roads
      Health
      Education
      Air Traffic Control
      Fibre-optic data communications networks
      Lighthouses

      These could be regarded as commercial..

      NB: The US government runs the GPS system. I dont know about you, but my GPS hasnt lead me to a Siberian gulag just yet…

  8. Jo 8

    Here is Frank Macskasy’s excellent timeline from 17 May 2013. Two years on, it’s still as dispiriting and outrageous as a gassy mine with insufficient ventilation :

    http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/05/17/solid-energy-a-solid-drama-of-facts-fibs-and-fall-guys/#comment-26673

    • Tracey 8.1

      Excellent work from Frank. Thanks Jo, for putting the link up again. It helps to see how the Government develops and uses memes and how certain of its supporters (such as Fisiani above) repeat some of the mantras knowing that most won’t read the actual facts.

    • Thanks for that, Jo. I was just about to post it, when I spotted it.

      If National sycophants like Fisiani, Gosman, et al, bothered to read what I found, it might make them think a bit before parroting their right-wing mantras…. or not.

  9. McGrath 9

    What about the simple answer that the commodity price for coal fell to a 3rd? Few businesses can survive that price drop regardless of political affiliation.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 9.1

      What about it?

      Look forward to your analysis.

      Good businesses have reserves aside for commodities ups and downs and it seems worldwide lots of coal businesses did survive.

      Wonder what was different about where the profits and capital reserves were going by our one.

      I recall also they were made to buy Pike River Coal mine when it’s hard to see that any company doing proper due diligence would have done so.

      The government should have bought the mine directly (or taken it off it’s private operators)but nope Solid Energy were made to buy it.

      SOE’s were supposed to stop political interference but in fact simply removed much public scrutiny and accountability and extensively lined the pockets of the managerial class..

      And by the way the private sector receivers (PWC) were saying this about the sale and the prospects:

      Q. Why do the Receivers believe a sale of the Pike River mine to Solid Energy is the best option?

      “The sale offers certainty and enables conclusion of the receivership. Solid Energy is an experienced and credible New Zealand mine owner and operator, with extensive knowledge of underground coal mining on the West Coast. The Receivers also believe the sale to Solid Energy provides the best prospect of eventual body recovery as well as a re-opening of the mine that will deliver general economic benefit to the West Coast.”

    • In which case, McGrath, why did Finance Minister Bill English issue a ministerial Directive to Solid Energy to ramp up it’s borrowing? And subsequent to that, why did the National government extract big dividends from Solid Energy?

      The answer, I submit to you, is obvious; The Nats were in a precarious position with their Budget and 2009/10 tax cuts, and every SOE was expected to pay big dividends to the shareholder (Government) to help balance the books.

      The same is happening right now, with Housing NZ.

      It wasn’t simply commodity prices that hurt Solid Energy. They could have weathered that storm with their (at the time) low debt ratio.

      As I wrote above to Fisiani;

      ” “The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE [state owned enterprise] balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt… it made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” Mr English said.

      Mr English acknowledged that in 2009 he signed a letter to Solid Energy approving a higher debt level.”

      Source: http://www.3news.co.nz/politics/solid-energy-was-allowed-to-increase-debt-2013031316#ixzz2Nnn0EBn1

      More here: https://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/solid-energy-a-solid-drama-of-facts-fibs-and-fall-guys-2/

      National killed Solid Energy – a viable company in 2008 – with it’s demands for high debt and high dividends.

  10. philj 11

    Why did Solid Energy buy out Pike River?
    Please explain.

  11. Philip Ferguson 12

    The Mainzeal and Solid Energy woes, around the same time, would suggest that neither private capitalism nor state capitalism work all that well. We need an alternative to both: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/neither-private-capitalism-nor-state-capitalism-but-workers-power-what-solid-energy-and-mainzeal-reveal-2/

  12. Steve Withers 13

    So English flew Solid Energy into the ground…and no one could get the cockpit door open or make him listen to reason before it was too late.

    It’s a (sad) metaphor that applies to National’s electricity “reforms” and many of their other policies.

    • tracey 13.1

      Treasury banged hard on the door, as the did with his decision to extend the guarantee to SCF…

      BUT he just accelerated

  13. Rob 14

    The tragedy here is English and Key created the difficulties that Solid Energy now find themself in
    One would be interested how much money the Stockton mine has earned for the NZ economy since they started to export its high quality coking coal over 30 years ago
    Also how much of that wealth was reinvested in the Buller community?
    When National came to power in 2008 it would have survived and kept a community alive and the quality of the carbon could have been sold for many things rather than an energy source

    • adam 14.1

      Buller is a place, where the Wellington mob – just strip mine for the money from Rob.

      It’s full of Ghost Towns and is slowly dying.

      The Coast has once again, been sold down the river.

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  • Horticultural Ahuwhenua Trophy finalists announced
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  • Over $1 million to help Tairāwhiti youth into employment
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