Contact: a model of lost Kiwi ownership

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, June 14th, 2011 - 43 comments
Categories: privatisation - Tags:

An attempt to promote asset sales in yesterday’s Dom ended up falling on its face. The author takes the government line, that Contact provides the template for ‘mum and dad’ investors buying SOEs. But the article admits the truth: only a tiny fraction of Kiwis ever invested in Contact, less own it now, and even they may soon be forced out.

Here’s what the article says about Contact:

Contact provides a blueprint of probable success. In 1999, 227,000 “mum and dad” investors rushed the issue,

227,000 – that’s less than 10% of adults at the time:

and 80,000 are still shareholders.

Wow. Less than 3% of adult New Zealanders now own shares in Contact when just 12 years ago, we all owned it in common as a public asset. Even that tiny residual Kiwi ownership is under serious threat:

They have battled hard at some contested special meetings to keep the company local by fighting takeover bids from major shareholders, the latest from Australia’s Origin which has a 51.8 per cent stake.

Even so, the locals seem to be headed for ultimate defeat in spite of showing solid support in the recent cash issue. Origin is staging a steady creeping takeover and would have taken up all its rights in this issue, and may have also bought some of the 3.8 million rights not taken up by shareholders, which were sold at 80c, a total price of $5.85, compared with the $5.05 in the rights issue.

So, Origin is forcing ‘mums and dads’ out by making Contact offer existing shareholders the opportunity to buy more shares. Origin takes up all the new shares it is entitled to. Every ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ who can’t afford to take up the issue, or isn’t aware of it, or has other priorities, sees their interest in the company diluted while Origin’s expands.

Eventually, Origin will have enough shares and enough support from instituational investors that it will be able to forcefully buy all the other shares. Contact investors have already seen off at least one attempt at this.

Now, here’s a thought. Say the worst happens and a National/ACT government gets in next term. 49% of the energy SOEs are sold.

Later the board of one of these now partially-privatised assets (perhaps at the prompting of foreign investors) decides to raise money through a rights issue. A future government suddenly has to find tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to retain its thin majority shareholding, or it will become a minority shareholder. And ‘mums and dads’ will be forced to dip into their pockets as well if they want to keep their little slice of what was once theirs as a birthright.

43 comments on “Contact: a model of lost Kiwi ownership”

  1. Jim Nald 1

    “Mum and dad” investors – yeah, right!

    That’s political fiction!

    And that will quickly degenerate into deception played on NZ folks.

  2. johnm 2

    Bankers such as John Key are loyal primarily to their own class: The World of business, profit, profit rationalisation : the neo-liberal economic social culture. Any concept of the common good and financial independence for all NZers doesn’t exist in their minds in fact they have bought the pathetic self-serving for the rich idea (propaganda) that retaining ownership for the people as a whole is not only socialist but virtually communist! This rubbish privatisation ideology has come from the now bankrupt Obanana state of the U$-which has been totally f*cked over by the rich.

  3. freedom 3

    and as power prices rise and ever increasing hardship ensues we will see a lot more of The State ‘helping’ the power companies,

    note about 2:20 in, the helpful use of a baton on a man peacefully resisting, note also there was no court order for the police presence

    • ianmac 3.1

      Since there was no context for this it is very hard to understand what it means. The Pwer companies have extensive rights to enter any property. Therefore they are entitled to police protection. So?

      • freedom 3.1.1

        i agree that the power company has many rights of access but Police assistance to a Vendor when accessing private property to maintain or disconnect essential services requires a court order.

        I got sent it earlier today and i am still trying to accurately source the story behind it but so far i understand it is about a payment dispute for installation of Utilities. I agree they should have included a clear backstory but it is the illegal use of the Police presence that is the troubling part of this video. When we look ahead to the transfer of ownership of our Assets, do we really want our Police to essentially become a Security team to enforce the word of the Corporate owners whilst the Law is left to crumble back into the dust of injustice whence it came?

        Without a Court Order where is the law, without the law where are the people?

      • felix 3.1.2

        Regardless of the context, these cops should be in fucking jail.

        They sat on a man and beat him with closed fist and baton until he bled.

  4. marsman 4

    The National spin piece was written by Terry Hall but doesn’t say who he is. Another bit of hoodwinking from the Centre for Independent Studies perhaps?

    • UncleGeoff 4.1

      In reply to marsman, Terry Hall is supposedly a business reporter for the Compost, but after reading this blatantly partisan article, I have decided that a more appropriate name for him is “Hairy Tool”. 🙂

  5. Rob A 5

    Anybody who believes that “Mum and Dad investors” are going to be buying up large are idiots.
    All our assets are going to end up overseas whilst our kids sit in the dark cursing us if the Nats get thier way.

  6. freedom 6

    and if TPP is completed we will not only have lost our most basic, our most essential and socially important infrastructures to Corporates, we will also be sued by them left right and center as soon as a kiwi tries to get ahead and is said to have caused ‘potential damage’ to a foreign Corporate’s income stream.

    All this of course whilst we watch the continual degradation of real streams by intensive Dairying, the destruction of our Tourism dollar through incorrect mining and agricultural practises and the loss of real jobs as big business builds one stop processing shops for foreign Governments using our resources.

    I guess the reality here is New Zealand’s new slogan for visitors from overseas

    Don’t leave town till you own the Country

  7. Colonial Viper 7

    Hey! The Chinese Government realises the long term strategic nature of energy production assets.

    If NZ doesn’t then they will be more than happy to purchase those assets off us. In exchage for brand new freshly printed “magicked out of thin air” USD that the Federal Reserve gave them, in fact.

    This is a deal that NZ can’t afford to turn down, surely!

    • freedom 7.1

      would rather China paid for it using all the US gold they acquired over the last fifty years of bailing out Amerika. A Clusterfuck does not even begin to explain the current International Debt structures, but we all know one thing for sure about the future of the world’s currencies…. fewer and fewer people are getting more and more whilst more and more people are getting less and less.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        Yeah payment in gold or silver is probably better. Thing is though, you can’t heat your home or cook your dinner using gold or silver, but you can using a hydrodam 🙂

        • freedom 7.1.1.1

          and NZ does Hydro pretty well. Probably why others want it, and if others want it, it must be valuable.  If something is valuable, raise the price, If they don’t want to pay that price, we still own it and as its value is so high it is a low risk for the banks so there is really no reason to sell it in the first place
          Politicians are stoooopid arrogant ignorant sycophants and if there is one positive thing we could do for Democracy it is get rid of the lot of them and hand all power over to a bowl of wax fruit.  i bet we would not notice the difference as the people who actually do all the work would carry on happy and secure knowing they can finally help their country instead of being manipulated to contribute to a culture of deceipt, corruption and despair.

          • Colonial Viper 7.1.1.1.1

            Shall we ask the Chinese if they would be willing to sell an ownership stake in the Three Gorges Dam to us?

            Wonder what they would say to foreigners wanting to own part of their strategic energy infrastructure.

            Might we even be able to guess their translated response? 😛

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.2

        Zeitgeist: Moving Forward | 2011

        It’s a documentary that everyone needs to see.

  8. john 8

    I pity the children who have a dad like that

  9. Irascible 9

    A good case study would be to examine the number of “Mum & Dad” investors who still remain after the local body utility companies were privatised by Bradford in the name of competition. The number of “gifted” shares that were on-sold by the “Mums & Dads” once the big companies began bidding was, I’d guess, pretty big so that, now, most of those local body utility companies are owned by conglomerates with a largely foreign ownership.
    All Key and his mates are doing is lining NZ up with Greece for the bargain basement sale of state assets which will mean even better pickings for the foreign multi-nationals.

  10. queenstfarmer 10

    Later the board of one of these now partially-privatised assets (perhaps at the prompting of foreign investors) decides to raise money through a rights issue. A future government suddenly has to find tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to retain its thin majority shareholding

    The point of the Govt retaining majority control is that the Govt controls the Board. As majority shareholder, if the Govt doesn’t want it to happen it can block it.

    • ron 10.1

      “The point of the Govt retaining majority control is that the Govt controls the Board. As majority shareholder, if the Govt doesn’t want it to happen it can block it.” …and if they don’t care who owns the asset?

      • felix 10.1.1

        Bingo ron.

        And as tc points out, the board is legally obligated to act at all times in the interests of the shareholders.

        I want these fuckers acting in the interests of all of us, not just a handful.

        • queenstfarmer 10.1.1.1

          “the board is legally obligated to act at all times in the interests of the shareholders”
          That is plain wrong. See sections 131 of the Companies Act, as a start.

          • Colonial Viper 10.1.1.1.1

            Well its not “plain wrong”. Perhaps a little unfocussed would be a better description.

            In the Act the focus is on directors acting in the best interests of the company.

            Since companies exist to benefit shareholders in one way or another…

  11. tc 11

    Once you introduce private owmership, be it any %, and give it a board voice then profit and return are the only outcomes they seek so when you want to divert profits for growth they’ll squeal like stuck pigs whilst demanding the max return regardless of if it’s good for the business long term benefit….a la telecom.

    Culture also changes from service, continuity, social responsibility and growth of generation capability to one of maximising return when this is an essential utility and basic requirement of society, not a soft drink or consumer good.

    Haven’t we sold enough of what our parents and granparents helped pay for to foreign owners who don’t give an F about anything other than profit….history proves we’ve never got the correct value and some things are priceless, like hydro power in a peak oil world.

    • queenstfarmer 11.1

      “profit and return are the only outcomes they seek so when you want to divert profits for growth they’ll squeal like stuck pigs ”

      My god you couldn’t be more wrong. I can only imagine you have next to no experience or knowledge of the markets. Look at the paper almost every day and you see examples of “diverting profits for growth” as you put it.

      One current example is Sky City proposing to sink hundreds of millions over many years into building a major new facility in downtown Auckland.

      The best examples, in any country, of sucking out money at the expense of growth / reinvestment / capital works, are usually SOEs. The last Govt took hundreds of millions out of the power companies, leaving them starved for capital.

  12. KJT 12

    Just as serious is that power companies have been run as corporates.
    I.E. by Managers and Directors more intent on their own remuneration than the benefit of customers and owners.

    The same problem is obvious in Ports of Auckland where managers are proliferating like fleas while frontline staff and customer service are being decimated.

    In both cases the customers and owners are the same people.

    SOE’s have Management more interested in their own gains from privatisation than best serving the customers/owners.

    The cult of Management, where Managers and directors give themselves 14% pay rises, while skilled staff are cut in numbers and pay, is one of the tenants of Neo-Liberalism responsible for rising costs and reductions in service.

    • ZeeBop 12.1

      Don’t meet the standard? Low them until you do! Leaky Homes!

      Its not just the private sector that convinced itself of its own invincibility.

      We supposed to be competing with the world but all we end up doing is
      making it easier on the managers of our economy, like they should never
      get fired.

      Now Paul Henry is back. The lock out continues, only right wing and
      neo-liberals.

      And the joke is, as you point out, it just cost more eventually.

      That is what debt is, you pay but the principle, you pay the interest,
      and you spend less.

  13. Pascal's bookie 13

    If mixed ownership is so crash hot why isn’t the government buying up shares in telecom and FCLBuilding?

    • Colonial Viper 13.1

      Why purchase what you can reacquire for free? 😛

    • queenstfarmer 13.2

      Because the Govt doesn’t want to borrow billions from the Chinese to gamble it on the stockmarket.

      The better question is why isn’t Labour announcing a policy to do what you suggest, and borrow billions of dollars from the Chinese to buy the entirie NZX, given that David Cunliffe declared that stocks must always outperform the Govt’s borrowing costs, and you can ignore factoring in risk.

  14. jackal 14

    I’m thinking there’s a few secret truckloads of used twenty dollar bills involved.

  15. Gazza 15

    As long as National is in power and Shonky is the leader the multi-national conglomerates will get control eventually as they have an inside man, Mr John(Shonky) Key himself.
    What’s the bet the longer he stays on power the larger his personal assets keep growing and selling our SOE’s had it’s plan before he entered parliament and you can bet that when NZ has gone down the drain and the Donkey retires…….he will end up sitting on some large conglomerate board.

  16. g_man 16

    In an attempt to provide some balance …

    I am one of the “mum and dad” investors who invested in Contact.

    I still own my shares – nobody has tried to force me to sell them to a big corporate (well that moron Bernard Whimp sent a letter offering to buy them for less than they were currently worth, but if you fell for that then you should be locked up for your own protection …)

    The offer made was a 1 for 9 offer – that is, for every 9 shares you own, you are offered 1. Hence, “Mum and dad investors” who invested $900 only have to find $100 to take up their entitlement. And from memory (so yes, I could be wrong here), they could choose to take up all, some or none of the offer. So it’s a bit rich to say ‘mums and dads’ are forced out when they were given a number of different opportunities.

    The shares were offered, by the way, at under the market price at the time the offer was announced.

    About 94.5% of the new shares available under the offer were taken up. Now, it would be interesting to find out what percentage of mums and dads took up the offer – I personally don’t know how to.

    Oh and if as you say “mums and dads” are not aware of it, or have other priorities, then surely that’s their problem, not Contact’s or Origin’s?

    PS you do realise, don’t you, that any mum or dad is actually allowed to buy shares? It is still legal, although you do risk being labelled a “rich prick” by some people …

  17. Gazza 17

    g_man. It is not the fact of “mums & dads” being able to purchase shares it more than likely that those “mums & dads ” will not be able to afford to buy them unless they are those “rich pricks” because you can bet that Mr Key already has them lined up.

    • g_man 17.1

      Ummm … did you not read my post?

      Contact offered several different options, which meant “mums and dads” could afford them. Like me.

      There have been several share offerings to the public in the last ten years – all have been massively over-subscribed (indicating huge interest), and the entry level has actually been pretty reasonable. There are several companies that offer an employee scheme which allows employees to deduct a certain amount from their pay and buy shares on a regular basis over time. The company I work for does this.

      Nice comment that Mr Key already has those “rich pricks” lined up to buy the shares. Tell me, is that in the same way that Helen Clark lined up the “rich pricks” in 2005 when Vector did their share offer?

      • lprent 17.1.1

        Tell me, is that in the same way that Helen Clark lined up the “rich pricks” in 2005 when Vector did their share offer?

        That is an interesting rewrite of history. The Labour affiliated members of the Auckland trustee board that owned Vector were attacked by the Act and National affiliated ones because they tried to prevent the selloff of Vector shares out of public ownership. They went so far as to take it to court.

        So no – Helen Clark wasn’t involved and only an obnoxious little ACToid like yourself would rewrite history in such a way.

        • g_man 17.1.1.1

          No, not trying to rewrite history at all. I was just repeating back gazza’s lines to him, because he did something that I know you personally have a low tolerance for, lprent – he made an accusation without any substantiation, without any facts to back it up, without any supporting links. Namely that “you can bet that Mr Key already has them lined up” (IE the rich pricks).

          I repeat it back to Gazza, and you come back with the facts to point out why it’s wrong. Fair enough. I will be interested to see if Gazza is able to substantiate his/her claims with facts also.

          Actually, I would also be interested to see if Gazza can back up the claim that a “shit-load of money” that has been “handed (to) Telecom for b/band” will mostly disappear into “probably one of Key’s offshore bank acc’s”. That’s actually quite a nasty little accusation there, and I suspect that if I had made a similar accusation against Phil Goff, for example, you or one of the other moderators would very quickly insist on me putting up or shutting up. Double-Standards?

          Anyway, I’m still waiting to see a point by point refuting of my attempt to add some balance, Gazza …

          • g_man 17.1.1.1.1

            By the way, for what it’s worth, you’re wrong about my political affiliations, lprent. I have NEVER voted ACT. Not once.

            I have voted for National previously. I have also voted for Labour previously. I tend to vote on which party will do the better job at the time, rather than voting blindly along idealogical lines. And ACT has never fulfilled my criteria, so far.

            • lprent 17.1.1.1.1.1

              My apologies for thinking that you had the randian disease of thinking that stating something with absolute confidence made it true in real life.

          • lprent 17.1.1.1.2

            Didn’t notice his as an assertion because of the “because you can bet” puts it into a probability. I don’t tend to view those as being anything more than opinion. If he’d just said “that Mr Key already has them lined up” then it would have been a assertion of present/past fact that if challenged for as link that I’d have been chasing as a moderator.

            Noticed your one because it was phrased as a statement of past fact.

            If I sound a bit like lockjaw acting as speaker, then it is for the same reasons. The exact language used is important for discerning meaning. 

  18. Gazza 18

    Tell me, is that in the same way that Helen Clark lined up the “rich pricks” in 2005 when Vector did their share offer?

    Good thinking 1prent it looks like g_man is advocating monkey see monkey do, at least Labour got Kiwi rail back & gave us a fully owned NZ bank and by now would probably sort out the telco’s fully and not handed Telecom a shit-load of money for b/band that most of will disappear into overseas pockets and probably one of Key’s offshore bank acc’s.

  19. Gazza 19

    @ g_man.If you read my comment clearly it was pertaining to probabilities as a suggestion of
    “Dont even think about it” as my guess is that the media hounds will be watching out for exactly that probability.

    As for Mr Key, he would not consider selling off the assets on the hope that all will go to the “mums & dads without having some sort of backup plan for them to be snapped up.
    Once again this is only based on probabilities as no one really knows what pie’s he has his fingers in offshore, as you well know that most financially effluent people do not keep all their eggs in one basket IE: NZ and i repeat this is only probable thoughts that in this country is democratically legal.

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