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Coated in privatisation pixie dust

Written By: - Date published: 5:13 pm, July 25th, 2009 - 28 comments
Categories: assets, privatisation - Tags:

I like Colin Espiner’s writing. He’s got he best of the journo blogs. He’s focussed on issues rather than politicking. But does he ever drop some clangers – saying the Chief Justice could be fired, confusing numbers on the dole with the number who are unemployed, saying the Prime Minister can’t affect wages, and this:

Actually, I think selling or part-privatising Meridian is a splendid idea. It would be a great addition to the stock exchange, which badly needs some new blue-chip listings. And everyone who moans about the obscene profits the company makes and the size of their power bill could do something about it.

Buy some shares. Not only would that put some of Meridian’s profits in your own pocket, but as a shareholder you could go along to Meridian’s AGM and give the directors what-for once a year. Brilliant.

1) Why does the stock exchange ‘need’ new blue-chip listings? We are told all the time by people with a financial interest in privatisation that it will ‘help the stock market’ but how? What good does that do the stock-market (apart from the owners of the stock-market who get more commissions)? More importantly, what good does it do for the wider economy, whether of not it helps the stock-market? In reality, doesn’t floating more huge companies into a relatively small market just mean that we won’t get a good price and the value of other shares will drop too?
 
2) Right now, I can do something (small) about Meridian’s prices, I can complain to my MP and the shareholding minister. My voice is worth as much as anyone’s. If it’s privatised, only shareholders will have a voice and that will be determined by their size. In reality, there will be one or two, probably foreign, owners and if you can afford the shares and turn up to the AGM you can yell all you like, you’ll just be ignored.
 
3) Right now, the profits that Meridian earns on my power bill come back to me and my community. They pay a dividend, that dividend pays for government expenditure on schools, hospitals, roads etc etc etc. Sell the thing, for what is bound to be a bad price (when did we ever get a good price for a privatisation?) and the profits will flow overseas while we have to cut services or find revenue from other sources.

4) Name a privatised company that has worked well. They’re rare as hen’s teeth. Why? Because most of them are in some kind of monoploy or near monoploy position. The natural inclination of a company in that position is to charge high prices, asset strip, make mega profits run the thing down, then demand a government bailout to prevent collapse.

I think that Colin’s quote shows the effectiveness of propaganda. There’s no actual argument that privatisation works for the reasons he claims. But when you hear the same endless mantra ‘privatisation is good, sharemarket needs depth, greater accountability, private pixies provide efficiency’ you start to believe it, you forget to question it.

28 comments on “Coated in privatisation pixie dust”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    Why does the stock exchange ‘need’ new blue-chip listings? We are told all the time by people with a financial interest in privatisation that it will ‘help the stock market’ but how? What good does that do the stock-market

    Interesting question Marty. It’s generally accepted that for any market to be viable, they need liquidity. They need a lot of investors constantly trading shares, investors with access to capital to trade, and a wide range of instruments to trade in. In short it needs critical mass. The ASX, which isn’t very large by world standards, is fifty times the size of the NZX.

    What does critical mass attract? Investors. More listings. Greater liquidity. More trades. Viable investment options other than residential property.

    More big listings would be good for New Zealand markets, and good for New Zealand investors.

    • RedLogix 1.1

      More big listings would be good for New Zealand markets, and good for New Zealand investors.

      Happy then for Meridian listings to be restricted to NZ resident investors only?

      • Tim Ellis 1.1.1

        Red, I don’t see the point in that. Resident and non-resident shareholders can already trade in electricity generation, through Contact shares. If there isn’t access to foreign capital then it wouldn’t enhance the liquidity of the sharemarket very much.

        It is quite common for electricity generators to offer unsecured capital instruments to New Zealand and non-resident investors. Yes, even those generators that are SOEs. In that respect the sharemarket really is only a capital-raising instrument. I don’t hear shrieks of privatisation every time Meridian offers unsecured notes to investors.

        • RedLogix 1.1.1.1

          If there isn’t access to foreign capital then it wouldn’t enhance the liquidity of the sharemarket very much.

          Well unless you are imagining that there is some means by which resident shareholders have an advantage over non-resident shareholders, then your claim ‘and good for New Zealand investors’ is pretty very much diluted.

          I don’t hear shrieks of privatisation every time Meridian offers unsecured notes to investors.

          Not unusual for public entities to raise capital in all sorts of ways, but ‘unsecured notes’ are quite different to shares that confer ownership. Indeed if one shareholder gains enough shares, they can control the company; something no amount of ‘unsecured notes’ will achieve.

        • stormspiral 1.1.1.2

          ‘I don’t hear shrieks of privatisation every time Meridian offers unsecured notes to investors.’

          No. You wouldn’t hear a thing, Tim. Most electricity and other consumers wouldn’t know one end of a sharemarket from another.

          Also, precisely what percentage of traders in NZ are represented on the sharemarket? 20? 25%?

          Seems like disproportionate power in the hands of a minority.

          Yes. I know more people than that invest in shares, but no way is this a majority.

          So why the bowed heads and hands raised in worship of what the sharemarket does? I’m talking logic here; not deep economic theory. And it is theory; not hard science.

          And it isn’t essential for NZ to follow overseas trends as far as we do. Certainly export sales are important, and what we spend overseas; in fact they are the vital ingredients, I’d have thought. As for exchange rates and such. Just who are they important to? other than the sharemarket?

          Catch 22. Just not logical.

          • Tim Ellis 1.1.1.2.1

            Yes. I know more people than that invest in shares, but no way is this a majority.

            So why the bowed heads and hands raised in worship of what the sharemarket does? I’m talking logic here; not deep economic theory. And it is theory; not hard science.

            No, I’m not raising my hands in worship of what the sharemarket does. I don’t personally invest in individual shares in the NZ sharemarket. It is too small and lacks liquidity. The reason why there aren’t many more New Zealand shareholders in the market is because there aren’t adequate levels of liquidity or stocks to make it worthwhile. That’s the whole point. If you raise liquidity levels and increase stocks and open up capital to more investors, more people will invest.

            Most New Zealanders have a lot of their savings and capital tied up either in their own homes or if they have surplus capital in investment property. Only a small number invest in shares and other investment instruments. As an economy we need real liquidity in productive assets.

            Why is a liquid market important? Because a liquid market is dynamic and innovative. It provides capital to invest in productive businesses. Productive businesses with access to easy capital creates economic growth and jobs.

            Investors receiving an economic return from productive assets become much more financially literate.

            • Pascal's bookie 1.1.1.2.1.1

              “Why is a liquid market important? Because a liquid market is dynamic and innovative. It provides capital to invest in productive businesses.”

              http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/24/business/24trading.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

            • BLiP 1.1.1.2.1.2

              Far out – that’s spooky! Who in their right mind would trust the infrastructure of the nation to the manipulators of the stock market!

            • stormspiral 1.1.1.2.1.3

              Really?

              Where is your hard evidence for your statements about market liquidity?

              You know what you are saying is simply based on theory, on what you learned at varsity or wherever. And that doesn’t make you accurate nor claircoyant.

            • RedLogix 1.1.1.2.1.4

              PB.

              Yeah I read that NYT article and shook my head.

              I always thought that ‘high frequency’ automated trading was sort of dodgy, but these supercomputers running ultra-high speed access directly into the SE systems… is really just a licence to steal from ordinary investors.

              Really it has to be the end of the market. Why any sane person would invest so much as one red cent into such a corrupt den of thieves is completely beyond me.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.2.1.5

              Far out that’s spooky! Who in their right mind would trust the infrastructure of the nation to the manipulators of the stock market!

              Only the delusional BLiP, only the delusional. The people who think that buying a share and then selling it for more has actually produced something.

    • Marty G 1.2

      So, we should sell one of our largest assets to some foreign company so that a few of the shares can be traded on our stockmarket? And that’s some how meant to make us better off as a country?

      Sounds like it would be good for the select few who can afford to get in at the listing then sell off at a profit to large foreign owners when the price leaps up (as it did with Contact, Auckland Airport). Don’t see any advantage for the country.

      • Tim Ellis 1.2.1

        No I don’t think anybody’s really seriously suggesting that Marty. But it would be good if the Super Fund had more large investment vehicles locally in New Zealand to invest in, for example, instead of having to invest off shore all the time because there aren’t the investment vehicles locally. Likewise with other large mutual funds.

    • Zaphod Beeblebrox 1.3

      If NZ’s no 1 economic problem is our current account deficit (does any economist dispute this?), how could sending profits offshore be justified?
      NZ’s trade deficit has been holding up pretty well over the past year or so. What is pushing up our current account are profits repatriated off shore.

  2. stormspiral 2

    ‘…generally accepted’. Tim, doesn’t mean it’s true.

    Seems to me that ‘critical mass’ could just as easily attract rogues and schills, robbers and cheats aka our electricity industry, big banks. It depends how you play with the numbers. ‘Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics’, and all that.

    • Tim Ellis 2.1

      Interesting, Storm. If you think the “rogues and schills” are more common at Contact Energy than at Meridian or Mighty River or Genesis, or more common at TV3 than TVNZ, then you need to cut down on your pessimism pills.

      • Pascal's bookie 2.1.1

        It’s an unknowable Tim. In the private sector there is much less transparency than there is in the public sector for starters.

        Large bureaucracies have their benefits and their downsides. The public sector ones get a pretty good workout and are watched quite closely, all things considered.

        The large private sector ones are much less accountable if you look at it properly, particularly listed companies, ironically enough. Institutional investors dominate the shareholdings, and those investors themselves are controlled by their bureaucrats. Most of the ‘owners’ of the shares in a unit trust don’t even know what they own. The notion of shareholder control through the AGM is quaint. It’s the ‘management’ that control the company and their own remuneration and ability to exert further control, these bureaucrats, (and don’t kid yourself that management is anything but), have captured their domains far more than their public sector equivalents.

        Given that, where would you predict “rogues and schills’ to hunt?

        You should read J.K. Galbraith’s “The Economics of innocent fraud”. Short and cheap, there’s no excuse, and he might just retune those rose tinted glasses a bit..

      • stormspiral 2.1.2

        You know I never said that. and if I had meant it I would have said it clearly. As I’m sure you do, I believe that the rogues et al are divided among the whole of society.

        No no, Tim. Critique and comment are part of any discourse, and need not be pessimistic. But I have been speaking about things that need to be said.

        I’m sorry if I upset your economics mind. Sad that you haven’t chosen to comment on the points I have raised re economies and economists.

        However answering comment and question by denigrating the the comment author is hardly constructive economics..

        Finally, it’s about timw economists started to really question what they say and their methodology, and their accuracy based on unfudged results.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    The stock market, like any capitalist endeavor, is delusional. It doesn’t have correct prices and it doesn’t deliver value to the community. It’s just another bubble waiting to burst.

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2009/07/anti-ecology-of-money.html

    Anti-Spam: difficultys – yeah, it seems it can’t spell

  4. stormspiral 4

    It seems so self-evident. Why do you think I’ve called JK a gambler?

  5. Galeandra 5

    stormspiral says ‘It seems so self-evident. Why do you think I’ve called JK a gambler?’

    Interesting too to hear Key on Friday ( or was it Tweedledee, Mr Spin-glish?) espousing the relaxation of foreign investment control as a way of bridging the capital shortage we apparently suffer from. It seems unlikely to me that selling assets will necessarily produce genuine investment in development of the asset, if the past is any indication.

    Fay Richwhite’s ownership of NZ Rail, for example, and the follow-up by Toll; Telecom had capital invested but a lot more stripped out in the form of repatriated profit. How does our electricity generation &distribution network as it is today stack up against the decades when it ran as a purely state owned investment?

    What I really liked about Contact for example was
    a) paying for the initial state development through my taxes;
    b) paying again for the assets through price increases when the SOE’s had to generate profit on the assets to repay the “purchase price” and
    c) paying yet again for the asset when private owners finally took over and profits covered purchase price.

    It’s not a cheerful prospect for the average taxpayer when he looks back at all the stuff he helped pay for so that others could ‘buy’ it from him.

    That aside, I do agree that we need mechanisms to raise capital for enterprise development and NZX is at least an alternative to “investing” in houses.
    But
    I’d be concerned to see minority investors shoved out by large players once their holdings fell below a particular threshold. This has happened often enough in the past ( as per Skellerup, for example).

    I’d like NannyState to protect NZ enterprise and ingenuity against the rapacity of large foreign capital conglomerates with some sort of kiwi share mechanism. I guess that suggestion would make all the monetarists and pure marketeers howl.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Foreign investment hurts the local economy. That includes NZ investment in other, smaller, economies.

      These are the graphs that prove it. It’s interesting. Global economy is up, rich economy financial capital is up, rich economy wages are down, small economy financial capital is down and small economy wages are up. In theory.

      Fisher and Paykel will probably tell you that the small economies (NZ) wages are down as well as the financial capital.

      • Tim Ellis 5.1.1

        DTB, again those graphs don’t prove anything of the sort. You have found some graphs that are consistent with your hypothesis, but they don’t prove your hypohesis because there you haven’t established causation.

        The general rule is that no underdeveloped nation has acheived developed status in modern economic history without access to foreign capital. The only exceptions have been when underdeveloped nations strike an oil field. We don’t have many oil fields.

        Secondly, if foreign investment is harmful to New Zealand, then isn’t New Zealand investment in foreign countries harmful to other countries’ economies? To be consistent shouldn’t you be arguing that New Zealand companies and crown organisations shouldn’t invest overseas? How do you feel about the Super Fund placing the large majority of its investment offshore?

        • RedLogix 5.1.1.1

          Again you are resorting to the “I don’t like the data, therefore I’m sticking my fingers in my ears” defence. What you really want to do is to shift the debate away from the discipline of hard facts to specualtive discussion where you can make any unprovable assertion you like.

          Draco has given you some information, from which he has drawn a strong and reasonable hypothesis. Now if you want to debate this with any credibility you will need to propose an alternative hypothesis (ie come up with some other ‘causation’ ) that fits the data.

        • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.2

          The graphs are a result of current economic theory explaining that foreign investment makes the global economy larger and therefore make everyone better off. The graphs also show that the smaller economy will be worse off though as it’s return to capital (profits) is reduced as they’re now repatriated back to the larger economy.

          The general rule is that no underdeveloped nation has acheived developed status in modern economic history without access to foreign capital.

          Perhaps because they weren’t given a chance. As I said in another thread – those communities weren’t poor until we screwed things up for them.

          Secondly, if foreign investment is harmful to New Zealand, then isn’t New Zealand investment in foreign countries harmful to other countries’ economies?

          Yes Tim, it is and yes, I think NZ companies and crown organizations should be prevented from investing overseas.

    • Tim Ellis 5.2

      Galeandra, if a kiwishare mechanism can be established that doesn’t diminish companies’ access to capital, invites more retail investors into the market and increases New Zealanders’ financial literacy and investment options, I’m all for it.

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