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Economic credibility – mote and beam

Written By: - Date published: 7:11 am, November 8th, 2011 - 20 comments
Categories: economy, labour, national - Tags: , , ,

Is there an “aggressive recovery”? No. Are we “roaring out of recession”? No. Have we had a double credit downgrade from international rating agencies? Yes. So the Nats’ so called “competent economic management” was already pretty much a myth.

But now as the focus of attention moves towards costing the policies, promises and projections of the major parties moving in to the election, the Nats’ economic credibility has been further mauled. Two excellent pieces yesterday tell different parts of the tale (and how it is – or rather isn’t – being reported). Here’s Rob Salmond:

Spreadsheet Troopers: The Battle Rages On

National aggressively points the finger at Labour while admitting $2.6b in mistakes under its breath.

Did you enjoy your weekend of dorky people with dueling fiscal spreadsheets and confused reporters trying to play umpire? Me neither. The latest as at 5:46pm Sunday is that National has another, newer spreadsheet, which says the cost of Labour’s policies is $15.6b. Its earlier spreadsheet said the hole was $17.2b. Labour says $3.6b.

First, notice that National has admitted to blowing out its previous costings by billions of dollars. The total of National’s conceded mistakes is $2.6b. This is the $1.6b difference between its two overall figures, plus the $1b Labour has allocated for an as-yet unannounced policy that National did not know about when it did its first figures.

So National tacitly admits to $2.6b in mistakes. When there was a hint on Saturday that Labour’s figures had a $400m error, there were newspaper headlines specifically proclaiming it to the nation. But oddly today there are no headlines today lambasting National for mistakes totaling over six times as much. Nothing much on last night’s news, either. No doubt this is partly because of the cunning 5:46pm Sunday release of National’s new spreadsheet. Ever feel like you’re getting played, o fourth estate?

It’s worth noting that the argument over foregone dividends from asset sales doesn’t affect Labour’s numbers. It affects how much Labour wrote-down National’s forecast by as their point of comparison. It’s remarkable that so many journalists seem to be confused on this since Labour’s fiscal strategy spells it out quite clearly.

And here’s Gordon Campbell:

On National’s asset sales debacle

The concession by Finance Minister Bill English that National may not get the $5-7 billion it expected from its asset sales programme is a hammer blow to the government’s credibility. A less charitable view would be that having made an ideological commitment to the sales process, English is now talking down the likely sale price that the corporate sector will have to pay for getting their hands on them.

That’s the bind the government has always been in with this idiotic policy. For political reasons, English has to set the asking price for the assets low enough to allow a few more Kiwi contenders into the bidders circle. As soon as he does, this means that far more New Zealanders – ie, the 90% of Kiwis whodon’t invest in the sharemarket – will no longer be getting the best price for the assets they have built up over many decades. …

The admission by English is very damaging. Last week, Labour got slammed (justifiably) for its initial inability to explain how its election costings stack up. In the end, the alleged $17 billion hole in Labour’s books came down to quibbling over a $300-400 million shortfall, which is little more than a rounding error in the overall context of the government accounts. The gap between $5 billion and $7 billion however is far more serious, especially since National has already banked the likely returns in its election costings, and earmarked them for spending on new schools and hospital running costs over the next five years. All round the country, teachers and nurses should now be picketing John Key, and demanding he show them the money. …

Right now, the government is peddling a wildly unpopular asset sales policy that makes little economic sense. That’s because the proceeds won’t be used to reduce debt, but will be frittered away on daily running costs. The full dividend stream will be foregone in perpetuity, when borrowing to cover the short term need is a cheaper, more sustainable option. The selldown generates no viable economic returns – not even from the bit earmarked for irrigation, where Cabinet papers show the estimated returns to be only 6.4% – apart from oh, some spurious, ideologically based claims that the selldown will enhance economic performance. (Thanks, but the state energy companies are already performing really well, and Air New Zealand is hardly a poster child for the economic blessings of privatisation.)

To cap it off, the government is taking this suicidal route in a context of a depressed local market, and when the international scene is in turmoil – thus all but guaranteeing fire sale prices for some of the country’s blue chip assets. That’s even before we start to measure the likely impact of further privatisation of the electricity system on the voter’s power bills.

So…if English doesn’t really know what the returns will be, does he have a reserve price for these assets where he will withdraw them from the market – and if so, what is it? What’s his bottom line for say, Meridian? Just asking.

Gordon Campbell’s piece should be required reading for every so-called political and economic commentator in the country, and Rob Salmond gets right to the heart of the disparities in reporting. The Nats’ are desperate to have the media focus stay on any mote in Labour’s eye, and ignore the beam in their own.  In the interests of informed choice, let’s hear both sides of the story…

20 comments on “Economic credibility – mote and beam ”

  1. Gosman 1

    “Gordon Campbell’s piece should be required reading for every so-called political and economic commentator in the country,”

    Ummmm… why? He is a left wing political commentator. His opinion over Asset sales is no more or less valid than any othe left wing political commentator. He certainly doesn’t make any earth shattering points.

    What he fails to deal with is the fact that if the price of the SOE stake is lower it is likely the return over the next few years will be as well because that is the main driver in determining the price of the assets.

    Also when did Capital expenditure become part of daily running costs? Gordon Campbell is an economic illiterate based on this piece.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      I think people should read the Gordon Campbell piece and decide for themselves if the rationale and analysis he puts forward is worthy. I believe it to be.

      Gosman you make a Key mistake here – by implying that National should accept a lower price on the electricity company sell off because a lower price must mean that the returns from the companies will be lower (for a few years).

      Here its obvious that you are actually the real moron.

      By believing that selling the assets off for cheap, a cheaper deal for ShonKey’s investor mates must then mean that they will drop power prices and that New Zealanders will buy less power.

      Really sorta stupid. Power use is going up, not down. ShonKeys investor mates want our strategic power assets cheap, and then they will maximise power prices to us in order to maximise their returns and the flow of NZ money going overseas.

      That’s capitalism, don’t you understand that? And it’ll hurt NZ.

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        Ah Colonial Viper :).

        I notice you haven’t addressed the question I posed you yesterday about the wisdom of purchasing foreign equities with borrowed overseas funds when the World economy is about to go into a global meltdown.

        Perhaps you would like to address this issue of the Labour Party mortgaging our future to place bets in the Global Capitalist Casino economy?

        • marsman

          Ah Gosman, yawn.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Really, all that comes down to is a future government being bold enough to default on the borrowings. Same as with the massive borrowings that NAct have caused and will cause in the future if they get back in.

        • Kevin Welsh

          If the world economy is going into meltdown, then why the hell would you sell strategic assets?

        • Colonial Viper

          Gosman, speaking of mortgaging our future, you know National has added a $37B mortgage to the country’s future in less than 3 years, don’t you?

          Perhaps you would like to address this issue of the Labour Party mortgaging our future to place bets in the Global Capitalist Casino economy?

          I agree with you here and believe that we should distance ourselves from the Global Capitalist Casion economy.

          The best way to do that is to invest in NZ (not sell it off), reform the RBA, and take back control of the NZ banking system

          • Gosman

            Ummmm…. Colonial Viper the NZ Super Fund has over half it’s assets invested outside of New Zealand.

            Labour is not promising to either reform the NZ Banking system or the RBA.

            So given the demise of the Global financial system that you believe is imminent, is it really wise that Labour is going to borrow billions of dollars which will be invested offshore?

            You could perhaps take DTB’s view. That we should default on the borrowing at some stage in the future. You gotta love Left wing economic thinking sometimes.

            • Draco T Bastard

              When you loan someone nothing money, you’re taking the risk that you’re not going to get it back.

              It’s not left wing economics but standard free-market doctrine.

            • McFlock

              it’s okay – it’s short-selling them like Goldman Sachs 🙂

    • Ed 1.2

      I need your help here Gosman. I can see that political bias could be something we need to be aware of, but are you saying that any left wing or right wing political commentator automatically has no opinions more of less valid than any other? Or could you give me a list of authorised independent commentators who have more valid views?
      Gordon Campbell may have missed a recent policy announcement – interviewed on radio yesterday, Ann Tolley said that the proceeds would be used for school buildings for spending that was not already budgeted for – in particular ‘leaky home” problems that otherwise may have to be done over a much longer period. That may affect their planned goverment finances, but are you saying that we should not take any account of Tolley as she is right wing?
      Labour’s numbers show that even allowing for some borrowing to provide the money that would otherwise come from asset sales, we would be $2.6 billion better off by the time we get debt paid off – as well as still having the assets. National haven’t shown any numbers to dispute this. Perhaps you could explain why it is a good idea to sell an asset that is providing a good return to invest in investments with a lower return. I would really appreciate your help on this; I have never quite understood why National want to borrow to spend money on the Orewa highway that has a lower investment return than the cost of the borrowing – how does that work, Gosman?

    • mik e 1.3

      Gooseman you lie like PinoKeyo. The energy companies have increased returns every year since I can remember and thats a long time .
      Energy companies are one of the few better performing assets any where in the world and they are our best performing companies right across the NZ company sector other than the foreign owned banks
      More spin coming from the right even though now National may not be able to sell Assets at fire sale prices even
      these are cash flow companies as well which makes them more valuable than ordinary companies

  2. In Vino Veritas 2

    Why should this be required reading? It looks to me like a personal opinion piece with a rudimentary analysis (if it could even be called that) on asset sales. There are a dozen posters to this blog that could have written this.

    Just as a matter of interest, he says that 90% of NZ’rs don’t invest in the sharemarket. But 1.6 million are in kiwisaver. And doesnt Mr Campbell think that their Kiwisaver schemes will invest in these assets, making a great proportion of NZ’rs indirect investors?

    Mr Campbell in the article also refers to Rod Oram, who opines that it would be unwise for an investor to invest in more than one, let alone three. Best they have a look at say, Infratil, a NZ listed company that specialises in infrastructure.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Just as a matter of interest, he says that 90% of NZ’rs don’t invest in the sharemarket. But 1.6 million are in kiwisaver. And doesnt Mr Campbell think that their Kiwisaver schemes will invest in these assets, making a great proportion of NZ’rs indirect investors?

      Tiny indirect investments in ACC and the Cullen Fund don’t count the same as personal portfolios the wealthy have.

      Although in general terms I am extremely dubious about large retirement funds – many have been getting stolen and wiped out by the Financial Terrorists, of late.

      • Gosman 2.1.1

        “Although in general terms I am extremely dubious about large retirement funds – many have been getting stolen and wiped out by the Financial Terrorists, of late.”

        Do you happen to have examples of the many that have been stolen and wiped out?

        • mik e

          Brashes Huljich wealth management.

          • Colonial Viper


            Also note the charges laid against Bank of New York Mellon, accusing it of clipping the ticket on every pension fund currency transaction made for the last several decades, effectively stealing billions from retirees.

            What BNYM did was look back over each trading day, and assign the pension funds with the WORST prices of the day while the bank kept the BEST prices of the day for itself.

      • In Vino Veritas 2.1.2

        “Tiny indirect investments in ACC and the Cullen Fund don’t count the same as personal portfolios the wealthy have”.

        Colonial, this is not a rebuttal of my argument though. A good proportion of NZ’rs will in fact have an indirect shareholding in these assets via their Kiwisaver schemes. And Kiwisaver schemes will undoubtably invest in these assets. Therefore, the assertion made by the writer is incorrect.

  3. seeker 3

    “So the Nats’ so called “competent economic management” was already pretty much a myth.”

    Is this why?

    “The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

    The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

    Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out, they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.” George Monbiot U.K. Guardian 7-11-11


    Now who is “in denial” and “not focussed on reality” Mr.ChimpKey and your National party followers? (quotes by j. hartevelt this pm on stuff)

    I certainly don’t think it is Phil Goff and the many thoroughly ‘focussed on reality’ commenters on this site.

  4. anne 4

    The article should be sent to the media for printing in papers,however its very difficult to get the media to print or screen anything that critisizes key and their corrupted,negligent practices with
    tax payers money,the media in nz should not be biased,but they could have had a handout like sky tv or fonterra,meat industry,media works,yachting,bmw’s fiasco,scf etc

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