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Ralston’s hyprocrisy hyperbole

Written By: - Date published: 2:54 pm, March 10th, 2008 - 45 comments
Categories: economy, Media - Tags: ,

In an article on the economy that would have had my high-school economics teacher in fits, Bill Ralston says that it is hypocritical of the Government to block the sale of Auckland Airport because it is a strategic asset while the Government-owned New Zealand Superannuation Fund (the Cullen Fund, as National dubbed it, I guess it was another Farrar idea) buys up strategic assets in other countries.

OK. Firstly, it’s a country’s sovereign choice to designate what assets they consider strategic and how they will protect them. If a country chooses to let assets we would consider strategic be sold, there is nothing immoral or hypocritical about buying them. Doesn’t mean we have to sell ours.

But more importantly, actually crucially to the crux of the whole argument, the Canadian Pension Fund wants to buy a controlling share of Auckland Airport but the Cullen Fund is not allowed to buy and hasn’t bought controlling shares of any company.

The Cullen Fund has not ‘bought up’ any foreign strategic assets. The Cullen Fund has a few shares in airports in other countries (and some in Auckland Airport) just as 40% of Auckland Airport is now held by a number of different foreign investors. The Cullen Fund is investing in foreign strategic assets in exactly the way we allow foreigners to invest here. Some hypocrisy, Bill.

45 comments on “Ralston’s hyprocrisy hyperbole ”

  1. This is such a poor effort, do you think that Key put out the release but under English’s name? English doesn’t usually make such fundamental errors?

  2. higherstandard 2

    Excuse me Steve but you are factually incorrect the Canadian Pension Fund does not want to buy a controlling share of Auckland Airport in their intial offer they made it clear this was not their intent and they have gone even further today.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/3/story.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10497234

  3. Chris 3

    One thing that confuses me… (not trolling, just a little clueless)

    They wanted to buy 40% of the Airport. Given that even though 40% isn’t the majority (i.e. >50%), they own the most shares of all the stakeholders.

    Is that a “controlling share” of the business? Or is a majority needed to control the direction of the company. I suspect the latter but you imply the former.

  4. Steve Pierson 4

    Mardy, sorry for the confusion, that’s Bill Ralston.

    Others. A controlling share need not be a majority share. If a holding is of sufficent size it will need only a few other small allies to get whatever it wants done. For instance, Labour has 40% of seats in Parliament but clearly controls Parliament’s legislative agenda.

    And whether the Canadians are nice guys is not the question. It’s whether control of strategic assets should be in foreign hands – its the only safe test, if you start to decide which foreigners are ‘ok’ you’ll soon have the situation the US with its ports a few years ago that turned into a nasty anti-Islamic thing.

  5. Tane 5

    Mardy, sorry for the confusion, that’s Bill Ralston.

    Yeah, I’ve changed your title Steve as it confused me at first too.

  6. insider 6

    Steve

    “Firstly, it’s a country’s sovereign choice to designate what assets they consider strategic and how they will protect them.”

    All very fine and well, but the problem is Cullen refuses to say what it is that is strategic and what makes it so…bit of a process problem there.

    He has had years to develop this policy and many months since AIA was officially in play. So why the rush and why the lack of bemchmarking? Making up your mind over a few johnny Walkers in the late of the night is not good enough.

  7. insider 7

    ALso this ignores that 40% of the AIA was already in foreign hands, so your point about deciding ‘which foreign hands’ is a bit late as that appears to be exactly what Cullen is deciding. There seems little principle in what he is doing apart from the principle that he thinks there are votes in it.

  8. Chris 8

    insider: I guess he didn’t want 80% of it to be in foreign hands?

  9. insider 9

    Chris

    According to Steve 40% is enough for ‘control’ anyway. But your point has never been made by Cullen – if it was a principled stand that would seem an obvious argument.

    But given the premium the Canadians are offering I wonder if a lot of that offshore ownership might just transfer rather than be cumulative.

  10. No apology needed – it’s me who’s misunderstood what in fact was quite clear in the article.

  11. Steve Pierson 11

    insider. its about ‘control’ not ownership. yes 40% is currently owned offhsore, but that’s different from the most powerful shareholder being offshore.

    And you, as an insider, know as well as I do that the decision was announced in the evening so that it would be after the close of play on the aussie stock-market. that’s the fair and responsible way for a government to announce changes that will affect a stock price in a market.

  12. Steve Pierson 12

    insider. nearly all countries have restrictions on their strategic assets falling under foreign control. Can you name one that lists them? No, and that’s the reason I chose the would designate, rather than name.

  13. insider 13

    Steve

    In order to designate, from a good governance POV, wouldn’t you expect some sort of criteria to be developed so that you could answer basic questions like: is this asset really strategic? Wouldn’t you expect those criteria to be publicly debated rather than done in an apparant kneejerk way? They seriously can’t argue they haven’t had the time.

    I suppose I’m just not as scared of foreign ‘control’ of these assets as you appear to be, just like I’m not scared of foreign control of banks, petrol stations, supermarkets and power stations. I’m more concerned by government ‘control’ of assets because that tends to lead to them becoming political playthings.

  14. the sprout 14

    with logic like that it’s hardly surprising One Newtwork News failed to rise from the dead under Ralston’s leadership.
    it seems he’s about as good a manager as he is a deep thinker.

  15. Santi 15

    Feeling a bit xenophobic today, uh?

    Ownership of the Auckland Airport means little. The company will continue generating money to its shareholders, so Cullen’s meddling does anybody any good.

    Why to stop at airports? Let the socialists carry on with rails (already in the offing), and continue on with Comalco, Fletcher Building, Telecom (what could be more strategic?).

    Your fear is unfounded and purely politically-motivated. Shame on Cullen for his myopic stance and on you for supporting (obbeying?) him.

  16. the sprout 16

    well being a transnational, you’re a bit disposed to a particular viewpoint too aren’t you santi?

  17. insider 17

    What would happen if the company on behalf of its owners found that they could make a lot more money converting the site into affordable housing? Talk about a dilemma for Labour…

    Serious point there about if the shareholders saw the value of the company lying in a different direction. What would the options be?

  18. Tane 18

    Feeling a bit xenophobic today, uh?

    Santi you really are tiring sometimes. There’s nothing xenophobic about a country protecting its economic sovereignty, keeping the current account deficit down and creating barriers to stop asset-strippers from running down our infrastructure.

  19. insider 19

    “creating barriers to stop asset-strippers from running down our infrastructure”

    So that’s definitely what’s going to happen is it Tane? And Cullen’s policy is based on that fear?

  20. Steve Pierson 20

    The economic effects of converting Auckland International Airport to another use or under-investing in it and ripping out as much profit as possible would be devastating for New Zealand.

    If you’re NZ-based, you’ve got a major disincentive against that kind of asset-stripping, conversion right there.
    If you’re a foreign investor who can jump ship when the time is right it doesn’t matter so much.

  21. Santi 21

    “and creating barriers to stop asset-strippers from running down our infrastructure.”

    Tane, what proof do you have the Canadian’s objective is asset- stripping”? Can you produce the supporting facts? What do you know that the media has not published to arrive at that conclusion?

    It’s facile to make such assertion under the nationalist mantra Cullen is adopting. That’s precisely what being xenophobic means.

  22. rugrat 22

    Seems as much effort went into this post as Cullens deliberations

  23. insider 23

    Steve

    You seem to be attributing a range of characteristics to NZ investors that seems more hopeful than real.

  24. Dean 24

    “If you’re NZ-based, you’ve got a major disincentive against that kind of asset-stripping, conversion right there.”

    Really. Could you please explain to me why? And don’t bother with pride of the motherland kind of dogma, because if that’s all you’ve got then I’m afraid you’re too far removed from the real situation to make any kind of sense.

  25. randal 25

    so if the canucks bought it would the airport be run by 90 year old canadians?

  26. Ari 26

    Dean: Because conceivably you might actually want to use Auckland Airport at some time, even if not in the immediate future, and you are in a much more likely position to want to use it than someone from overseas in most cases. That’s especially true given that our only timely way out of New Zealand is through air travel.

    Insisting that maintain economic independence for our key infrastructure is not a judgement on the quality of any individual investor. It’s purely a matter of national strategy: do we want to be independent, or reliant on the decisions of foreign investors for our infrastructure? Now, obviously some foreign investors will be perfectly benign, but the issue is whether there are enough people out there looking for short-term profit (like asset-stripping investments) that we should be worried. And I think we’ve been pretty vindicated with those sort of assessments in cases like Toll’s mismanagement of the rail system.

  27. “Really. Could you please explain to me why? And don’t bother with pride of the motherland kind of dogma”

    True – NZ investors aren’t necessarily more accountable than overseas ones. i.e. Fay and Richwhite. That’s why the government should own a controlling share in any critical infrastructure/strategic asset.

  28. Dean 28

    “True – NZ investors aren’t necessarily more accountable than overseas ones. i.e. Fay and Richwhite. That’s why the government should own a controlling share in any critical infrastructure/strategic asset.”

    Well Roger, I disagree with you about the government owning a controlling share, but at least you’re honest enough to put into words and present a sound argument as to why you think this should be the case. And at least you’re not silly enough to try and argue that NZers won’t asset strip whereas overseas owners will.

    Steve and Ari might want to take note and stop with the feel good xenophobia.

  29. Dean 29

    “Dean: Because conceivably you might actually want to use Auckland Airport at some time, even if not in the immediate future, and you are in a much more likely position to want to use it than someone from overseas in most cases. That’s especially true given that our only timely way out of New Zealand is through air travel.”

    Next floor, the New Zealanders never ever ever asset strip deparment. As Roger pointed out, this has happened in the past, and the kind of people who do it are too interested in the profits to worry about how it’ll affect their private or charter jet flights.

    Either you’re living in a dream world in this case, or you’re just xenophobic. And I do wonder if it’s not a case of both.

  30. IrishBill 30

    Dean kiwi investors are a lot more accountable to both the government and their communities and, if it turns pear-shaped, our courts. This tends to have a moderating influence on how things are run.

  31. There is not the slightest indication that a PRIVATE sale of 40% of Auckland airport would change its operations one iota.

    None. It is all just rhetorical scaremongering.

    Given the entire economy is dependent upon foreign (gasp) sourced energy supplies, this is a joke. Labour is pandering to the Winston voters who think anything “foreign” comes with claws, slanty eyes and a desire to pillage. Whereas destroying shareholder wealth with moves to interfere with private sales somehow isn’t.

    The asset stripping claims could apply equally to a local shareholder – of course it is xenophobic. Talk of economic sovereignty is the same rhetoric of all xenophobes – Hitler used it. “We” have no economic sovereignty when the state interferes with our private contracts to sell shares.

    Oh and if you want to look at underinvestment, try Wellington airport before it was part privatised – such a model for the world.

  32. IrishBill 32

    Hitler??? As I point out in the comment immediately before yours liberty, New Zealand-based investors are far more accountable to the laws of this country than overseas investors. When a company and its directors live and do business within the jurisdiction of a country they tend to have slightly greater incentive to get it right.

  33. ghostwhowalks 33

    Libertyscott says …”There is not the slightest indication that a PRIVATE sale of 40% of Auckland airport would change its operations one iota.”

    So they have made you their primary advisor have they… and they have billions to just sit around in NZ ..

    Look at the realities
    Air NZ , NZ Rail all run into the ground by owners who sucked all the cash out of them.
    Telecom is another example , the first US majority owners went straight into a maximum dividends policy, and forced out the CEO to get it.

    This is all what actually happened not some wishy washy guess work .
    If you were heinz buyin watties its in your interests to grow the business. The canadians have no interest in Auckland or NZ other than a monopoly cash cow. And by buying a controlling stake they get to control the dividend flows which makes it a gold mine

  34. Concerned from Tawa 34

    If foreign money is not welcome where do we get the money? We spend more than we earn. Dr Cullen?

  35. IrishBill 35

    CT, that’s an absurd point. At no time has the government said it is against foreign investment. You can surely do better than that straw man sophism?

  36. Concerned from Tawa 36

    Oh thanks for clarifying things IrishB. Straw man sophism LOL , someone still reads Readers Digest…

  37. Fred 37

    “A country’s sovereign choice” remind me again who/what our sovereign is.

  38. burt 38

    Concerned from Tawa

    That is a very valid point, but I think the issue is bigger than the foreign investment herring rouge. It’s about control, control of the hearts and minds of NZ x-Labour voters. Look these people deep down like govt ownership simply because they hate rich pricks. They probably don’t know why they hate rich pricks, but their mum and/or dad and/or caregivers also hated rich pricks – so they do as well.

    Now they can’t really help it, they don’t think they could ever own a big share of an airport so they simply don’t want other people owning it either. They don’t want to pay too much to use it so they think if the govt owns it it’s free. It’s not hard to see how these people are motivated, they are Labour supporters deep down, why – no idea it’s just what they have always been told to do. The xenophobic play on the big ‘scary foreigners’ from Labour is pretty funny really.

    On stuff: Canadians to further reduce voting rights

    We see that the Canadians are pretty motivated to buy in, and being a pension plan one must assume they have a long term outlook. Quite why the govt would turn away a long term ethical investor is beyond me, but hey it makes the swinging voters feel good.

  39. Steve, you mentioned your high school economics teacher. What a pity he is not our MOF. At least then we would have somebody with a qualification and experience in economics actually running the money!

  40. Dean 40

    “Dean kiwi investors are a lot more accountable to both the government and their communities and, if it turns pear-shaped, our courts. This tends to have a moderating influence on how things are run.”

    I’m sorry Irishbill but you’re either joking or so horribly wrong that it’s not even funny anymore. In fact it’s like youre trying to be utterly wrong. You do know what happened in the 80s and 90s don’t you? Or are you just choosing to ignore it to push a party line?

    And, no. Labour have not made any legislative changes to resolve this situation at all. In fact, they’ve left it alone.

    But by all means carry on with the “foreign owners are baddest than NZ owners because NZers are accountable” line. It’s amusing.

  41. Of course if rumours are true Cullen will not be MOF for more than another month. He will be Prime Minister, a prospect that I find particularly appealing. And one that dear leader is probably hoping for as well. I am sure she would go quietly for the guarantee of a Cullen led govt’s full support helping her get a job at the UN.

  42. burt 42

    Who cares if we sell the airport, Owen Glenn will build us a new one, right next to a new container port freeing up the central city real estate for the stadium. Who would vote against that!

  43. Funny how the UK copes with evil foreigners (Spaniards) owning London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports.

    Strategic assets if ever there were any.

    However we all know those Canadians will asset strip Auckland and leave New Zealand with an inoperable major airport. They are Canadian after all, not true blue Kiwis who we can trust.

  44. So much foolishness on one thread!

    Funny how the UK copes with evil foreigners (Spaniards) owning London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports.

    They might be a little less sanguine about it if they were in the middle of nowhere with only one decent airport.

    However we all know those Canadians will asset strip Auckland and leave New Zealand with an inoperable major airport. They are Canadian after all, not true blue Kiwis who we can trust.

    Do right-wingers have trouble with abstract concepts? Almost all of them on this thread have peddled some version of this obtuse line. It’s been explained several times on this thread that the argument is nothing to do with Canadians, and nothing to do with whether this particular investment is likely to result in asset-stripping. It’s simply about whether we impose some restrictions on foreign control of strategic assets. You may have an ideological conviction that opposes that concept, but many of us don’t.

    My favourite foolishness is this one from Insider: He has had years to develop this policy…

    We keep hearing this – they’ve been in govt 8 years, if they were serious about this they would have done something before now! Consider this scenario, Insider: you go to your boss with a proposal for some kind of action, and he says “You’ve been in this fucking job x years, why didn’t you think of this x years ago?” Not a guy you really want to take proposals too, huh? Maybe he’d be a better boss if he figured out you can’t do an entire career’s worth of work during your first year in the job?

  45. insider 45

    Psycho

    You are displaying the trademark of this site which is partial quoting and ignoring of context.

    The context was, this was not a principled decision by Labour it was pure electioneering, and so was an example of poor governance because there are so many gaps in the rationale.

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