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Chorus insider trading?

Written By: - Date published: 8:40 am, December 17th, 2013 - 35 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, john key, telecommunications - Tags: ,

Chorus insider trading

The issues surrounding Chorus get murkier and murkier.

I posted about this issue earlier and thought that if anyone should take a haircut it should be Chorus and its shareholders.  It was aware that the review of copper broadband charges could result in a reduction in copper broadband charges.  It also looks like it undercooked its tender deliberately so that it could maintain its market dominant position but now wants the good old taxpayer to give it more money so that it can continue to pay large dividends to shareholders many of who are from overseas.

But the Government blew the opportunity of dealing with this issue properly when John Key created something of a panic by saying that Chorus may go broke.  The Government commissioned a report to check on Chorus’s viability.

The Ernst & Young report has now been released, on a balmy Saturday afternoon 11 days before Christmas.  David Cunliffe thought that it was going to be released yesterday and the choice of Saturday was a cynical attempt to hide it behind the news of the no asset sales referendum.

It took me a bit of time to find a copy of the report.  The Minister’s tweet announcing its release did not have a link to it and you would think that the Minister of Information and Technology would understand those linky things.  A link did go up on the Beehive website but interestingly although it was dated December 14 it appears to have gone live on December 16.  Amy may need a few lessons with the technology.

The report itself is somewhat dry but the politics behind it are interesting.  The Government appears to be softening us up for a further grant of some sort of $250 million to Chorus.

The report accepts at face value Chorus’s announced one billion dollar funding gap.  This is defined as the “cash flow required to maintain a net interest bearing debt to EBITDA target ration of 3.5 times over the period FY15 to FY20.”

Basically this reflects the reduction in charges by $11 per month of 1.1 million customers for a period of six years plus an allowance for interest.  The phrasing is complex to a non economist like myself but the calculation seems straight forward.

It is not as if this should have been a surprise.  The law changes were designed to change the pricing of copper broadband to a “cost plus” basis so a change was inevitable.  The coming into effect of the decision was delayed to December 2014 so that Chorus could get ready for it.  Even Amy Adams says that the Commerce Commission followed the statutory formula so the cries of panic seemed rather too strained.

Chorus basically does not want to wear the loss the Commerce Commission decision will cause.  And despite John Key’s statement that it may go broke it seems that Chorus will be fine.  It may have to cut back on dividend payments but that is life in the big city.  The EY proposal is that a two year dividend holiday be instituted and this will save $290 million.  If this was extended over the 6 years then the problem would be solved.

There are other proposals that EY has suggested.  $400 to $450 million could be saved by “cash-flow savings initiatives”.  There is debt headroom of $130 million that could be utilised.  Chorus could also adopt the radical notion of changing its business model.

The report also comments on Chorus’s dividend policy.  The current return on equity is 29.7%.  The comparable figure for selected New Zealand infrastructure companies is 12.5% and for selected Australian infrastructure companies 11.2%.  Its dividend yield was also significantly higher than that for comparable companies.  The need for some reduction appears strong and this will not sell the company broke, despite Key’s assertions to the contrary.

There have been some worrying aspects about the release of the report.  It was dated December 12 and was presumably delivered to the Minister that day.  Chorus’s share price had taken a hammering during the axe the copper tax campaign.  Its shares were worth $3.03 each in August but this price sank to $1.33 on December 11.  Its price surged to $1.47 on December 12 and with 3 million shares being traded there was a lot of activity.  The phrase insider trading has been used to describe this activity.  Although Milford Asset Management had publicly recommended Chorus shares you do get a sneaky feeling that someone in the Beehive may have had a peek at the report and then mentioned it to someone.

TUANZ certainly smells a rat.  TVNZ reports:

NZX, the stock exchange operator, is declining comment on a claim by telecommunications lobbyists that there’s an emerging pattern of spikes in the Chorus share price ahead of the release of market-sensitive information from the government.  The chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, Paul Brislen, cited two incidents, in August and in the last five days, where an imminent announcement from Communications Minister Amy Adams and a price spike in the telecommunications infrastructure provider’s shares were linked.

“It seems when Ms Adams makes a market-sensitive announcement, shares in Chorus move significantly beforehand but not after,” said Brislen in a statement.

The report notes that the eventual cost of copper broadband, at $34.44 per month would be lower than that for fibre optic cable which will be $37.50.  Given that fibre is considerably superior to copper this is not unusual.

The earlier incident was in August when during the 7 days leading up to the Government’s announcement of a discussion paper suggesting changes to the law to help Chorus the share price went from $2.70 to $3.03.  Movement in the share price after the announcement of a very generous package would have been understandable but movement before is rather odd to put it mildly.

So in typical style the Government appears to be readying itself for some more corporate largesse to a company that does not need it.  And you have to wonder if TUANZ is right in its concern that some insider trading has occurred.

35 comments on “Chorus insider trading? ”

  1. philj 1

    What’s a mere billion over 10 years for a Telecom like Chorus? Let’s not forget the 2 billion loss in their ‘investment’ fire sale in AAPT in Australia last week. This government is a corporate in drag.

    • alwyn 1.1

      You are aware I hope, that Telecom, which recently sold the remainder of their holding in AAPT, is NOT the same company as Chorus? Actually reading your comment again I don’t think you are.

  2. Tracey 2

    Will follow with interest

  3. tricledrown 3

    Telecom has lost way more than $2 billion in various investments in Australia over many years.
    AAPT is the latest foray fuckup.
    Their should be some sory of enquiry as a lot of super investments have lost big money in Telecon.
    Now chorus is in trouble Joyce was warned not to allow a monopoly to take control of UFB
    after it took so long to break Telecon Vodafone monopoly.
    Joyce ignored labours complaints .
    Nactional the socold party of private enterprise/competition is good.
    Corporate welfare picking loosers/ winners Keys promise
    Hollow words from Hollow men

    • alwyn 3.1

      Another person who doesn’t seem to realise that Telecom and Chorus aren’t the same company.

      • red blooded 3.1.1

        Read these two comments again, alwyn. The article “a” in front of “Telecom” makes it a reference to a company in the communications business, not one particular company (and yes, I know the capital letter was confusing, but if you look in context it’s perfectly clear what philj was saying). Similarly, when I look at the comment from trickledown I see a list of instances of corporate muck-ups. Of course, these companies have been structurally linked in the past, but there is nothing in the comment to suggest that trickledown believes them to be linked now.

        Plus, who cares? The issue being discussed here is taxpayer-corporate largess, not the structure of the NZ/Aus telecommunications industries.

        • alwyn 3.1.1.1

          Good try, but no cigar, at least on the comment by Philj.

          If the “a” in front of Telecom merely “makes this a reference to etc” then you have to agree that the only company mentioned is Chorus. If that is the case then when he talks about “Their ‘investment’ fire sale in AAPT” the “Their” can only logically be referring to Chorus. Since it was Telecom and not Chorus who had an interest in AAPT my comment stands.
          Sorry but you can’t have it both ways.

          The comment by trickledown is debatable as to interpretation.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    Amy Adam’s ridiculous response to TUANZ is that they shouldn’t be making these allegations unless they have proof.

    Well hello, TUANZ isn’t in a position to prove insider trading. The whole point of making public allegations is so that the institutions and people who are in positions where they can investigate insider trading (eg, NZX, potentially the government) can start the investigations.

    Twit.

  5. karol 5

    Very good research & analysis, micky.

    This needs wide coverage, rather than letting the NActs slip it under the radar.

  6. Ant 6

    Looks like business as usual…

  7. tc 7

    On top of the deliberately under done bid Chorus still haven’t invested in the required systems to be truly separated from telecom for UFB.

    So probably a fair chunk of the ‘grant’ will be poured down the big4/IBM/assorted hangers on throats etc to do what should have been done before Ratcliffe and Reynolds got any bonuses for successful separation.

    They’re separated by a logo and some office space, same people same behaviour same antiquated way of doing business with legacy systems. Way to go Joyce.

  8. Skinny 8

    I caught the late news on tv, seeing Key & Joyce making their Avatar funding announcement struck me as odd timing. They appeared rattled like damage control beyond the bad taste referendum result. 

    Someone close to perhaps Adams maybe passing on information & whoever is getting the heads up is cleaning up through illicit trading. 

    Any link back to National would rightfully anger the masses, and further erode public confidence in the former money trading shyster John Key leading the nation.

  9. Tracey 9

    Amy adams needs to understand that unusual spikes prior to publically issued reports is prima facie proof from which nzx has power to act. Did adams say she would be concerned if there were?

  10. ropata 10

    National: Selling your assets to pay out movie moguls and foreign shareholders

  11. tricledrown 11

    The Asset sales slush fund is being disbursed to a wealthy few.
    What’s the next payout of the slush fund maybe we should have a sweepstake and guess what the next corporate hand out is going to be $250 million to chorus .
    $500million to avatah very much.
    Who ‘s next.

  12. Not a PS Staffer 12

    It is interesting to note that this strong attack by Paul Breslin on Amy Adams would have very likely been “socialised” with his Chairman and some board members.

    https://tuanz.squarespace.com/tuanz-board

    In addition Breslin would not have made such a direct hit on a Government Minister without the support of significant members. Vodafone, his former employer, would be a major funder.

    I suspect that their frustration is with Key and Joyce. Their attack on Adams is a shot across the bow of Key & Joyce as part of the bigger game.

  13. chrissy 13

    Just because I can.

    Lament of our so called pm.

    “they’re gonna put me in the movies
    they’re gonna make a big FOOL outta me
    gonna make a scene about a man who’s sad and lonely.
    And, all I gotta do is act natuarally”

  14. tricledrown 14

    Alwynger
    The culture at Chorus hasn’t changed since spin off.
    Behaving like an unaccountable monopoly.
    Thanks to joyce who was warned by many experts not just the labour party.
    Telecon stiffled competition with the aid of rod dean Act.
    Now we have joyce repeating the same BS with chorus.
    Telecon and Now chorus are stiffling the NZ economy
    And all you right wingers are defending nepotistic monopolism.
    Chorus should have been owned by the govt and band width leased by telcos.
    Now we are back in the 90s .

  15. Will@Welly 15

    The timing of the Avatar announcement, and any other announcements are planned to deflect away any embarrassment/cringe over the referendum – notice Key’s attack on Hone – and also subterfuge, over the likes of Chorus announcements, which tend to take place at this time of year, need a good smokescreen. Today Bill English stated that we can expect to see inflation begin to increase – when hasn’t it – but ordinary wage and salary earners can expect only minimal growth in earnings – so what’s new? Almost 6 years of austerity, and the ones getting rich are the wealthy.
    Muldoon at least had the decency to call his wage and price freezes for what they were. We know that the price freezes then didn’t work, now for most people we have been stuck in a wage freeze for 6 years. Key just keep chucking money at the corporates. Where is this “brighter future” ?
    Maybe while Key’s away, we could have a reality show, and vote him off these islands ?

  16. dave 16

    my greatest fear is when we win the election and we will we open the books there is going to be alot of book cooking hidden shit in there! ie dept is twice what slippery and co say it is

    • tracey 16.1

      dont books get opened pre-election? i have no time for them but i doubt even they would cook the books… spin the numbers yes… like key saying the books were a mess when he became PM but he has turned them around.

      • Matthew Hooton 16.1.1

        Tracey, yes, under the Public Finance Act a PREFU must be published – see http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0044/latest/DLM161698.html

        It has to be signed off as accurate by both the minister of finance and the secretary of the Treasury.

        This is the provision that embarrassed Michael Cullen in 2008 – see http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/forecasts/prefu2008

        The requirement was put into law in 1994 after Muldoon had lied to the public about the state of the books in 1984 and then Caygill did similar in 1990 (said there was a surplus when there wasn’t).

        Since the disclosure rule has been in place, the Shipley govt lost power to Clark and the Clark govt to Key but it turned out that English and Cullen had told the truth on those occasions, so the law worked.

        • geoff 16.1.1.1

          So Matthew, how is your summer of reflection going?
          You often emphasise the importance of unfettered markets and you have publically expressed disappointment in the cronyism of National.
          If you become the leader of an ACT like party then your likely financial backers are probably going to be people who expect that you do them political favours, if you managed to get into parliament.
          How would navigate that situation?

        • tracey 16.1.1.2

          Thanks Matthew. It’s good to know there is one thing Key can’t lie about, although he doesnt sign it off so he probably will. 😉

          • David H 16.1.1.2.1

            But will he remember is he signed it? And will he remember what was in it, if he can remember reading it at all. That is if he can remember what he was reading, he could, but he just forgot.

        • David H 16.1.1.3

          Is this the same Labour Govt that English said had been saving for a rainy day, just after the Earthquakes?

          And what will the 2014 prefu show? that Shonky and co have been fast and lose with the truth and our money.

  17. Bob 17

    I do like a good conspiracy theory, although with this one, like most, there is generally a much simpler answer:
    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/chorus-shares-rally-after-vote-confidence-milford-acc-ups-stake-dc-150031

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