Even English’s made-up asset sales numbers don’t add up

Written By: - Date published: 10:59 am, February 17th, 2012 - 20 comments
Categories: bill english, making shit up, privatisation - Tags:

Bill English admitted yesterday that his new estimate that asset sales will net $6b in revenue, $800m above book value, is just a guess – the midpoint of the previous guess of $5-7b. And that’s not all that’s made up. The forecast foregone profits are way under-estimated. Even with these fiscal frauds, English still can’t get asset sales to make economic sense.

Just on Tuesday, John Key was deriding the official estimates of Solid Energy’s value as “ropey”. Yesterday, English puts out numbers saying they would get 15% more than book value – $6b rather than $5.2b. A number that has been pulled literally out of thin air and over-estimated to try to make the case for asset sales stronger. If you want a real estimate of what Treasury thinks asset sales will bring in, look in the PREFU. It has the new capital spending allowance (rebranded the Future Investment Fund by National) being paid for by just $3.86b of ‘balancesheet funding’ (ie asset sales).

So, English is claiming about $2b extra in revenue in his spin piece called the Budget Policy Statement that Treasury won’t let him put in the real books.

By over-estimating the sales revenue, he also gets to over-estimate the savings in interest costs on the money that would need to be borrowed to otherwise fund new capital spending. Take it down to book value and by the end of the sales process, you’re not saving $266m a year in borrowing costs but $230m.

Then, they’ve under-estimated the dividends and retained profits, which the buyer gets in the form of a higher share price. In the past five years, the dividend flow from the shares National wants to sell has averaged $326m but they’ve only booked $200m a year in lost dividends in 2016. Now, that doesn’t make any sense – would you put money into a company for a dividend flow of 3.3% when you could lend the money risk-free to the government instead at over 4%? No. Because the real dividend flow is actually higher and, if it wasn’t, private buyers would just pay less. Even total foregone profits would be just a 6% rate of return on English’s numbers. That’s below what you expect to get in the long-term with money in the bank or by paying off your mortgage. Again, the real return for shareholders of dividends plus capital gain on the shares for these companies has been much higher – about 15%.

English has tried to over-estimate how much private buyers would pay and under-estimate how much the government would lose in foregone profits to try to make his ideological asset sales programme make sense. Even then, it doesn’t add up. The total foregone profits in 2016 on English’s numbers is $360m while the avoided borrowing costs is $266m. Even on these cooked numbers, the operating surplus (OBEGAL) is nearly $100m a year worse off because of asset sales. The reality would be much worse.

English acknowledges this but tries to fob it off saying asset sales “will be roughly neutral and we will have significantly less debt”. Well, remember last time English said something was fiscally neutral? It was the GST hike/income tax cuts. Those ended up costing $1.1b in their first nine months, well above the $400m official estimate.

In the long-run the government would end up with more debt from asset sales as it is forced to borrow more to cover the lost income from profits. And those profits will be flowing overseas, making us poorer as a country.

Is this what we want for New Zealand? To end up poorer and with reduced control over our crucial energy infrastructure?

Well, remember that it’s in the hands of one man to stop this: Peter Dunne. The rest of Parliament is split 60 v 60 on asset sales. He has the casting vote. So, what will it be, Peter?

20 comments on “Even English’s made-up asset sales numbers don’t add up”

  1. I just don’t get how anyone could be so stupid to still believe in neoliberal economic policy. Do NACT have something wrong with their brains?

    • Conal 1.1

      It’s not stupidity; it’s cupidity.

      BTW admins this site’s mobile theme is quite unusable in the default Android web browser.

      [lprent: On the list to either fix or replace this weekend. ]

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      Do NACT have something wrong with their brains?

      They’re psychopaths who believe Greed is Good and only do something if it benefits themselves and don’t care how much it costs others – that includes running the country.

      • oldstudent 1.2.1

        I presume you’re quoting JM Keynes! Of course he was right – and he was a very successful speculator on the stockmarket of the 40s in Britain as well. Even better, he was not an economist but a good mathematician. Cheers.

        • Draco T Bastard

          I presume you’re quoting JM Keynes!

          No I wasn’t.

          Even better, he was not an economist but a good mathematician.

          Keynes saw one part of the problem with capitalism – the accumulation of wealth (money really) in the hands of the few which must bring about recessions and, if not countered for, depressions. His solution, as translated into the political landscape, was for the government borrow the money, at interest, back into circulation so as to keep the economy going. This causes it’s own problem as the amount then needed to pay the loan was greater forcing a growth (growth in this case meaning getting bigger) economy and also faster accumulation of wealth into the hands of the few thus setting the conditions for the GFC and the bailouts of the banks by the taxpayers.

  2. Treetop 2

    The public of NZ deserve more than crystal ball economic forecasts.

    • Jim Nald 2.1

      The National Government is the better economic manager!


      • Treetop 2.1.1

        I have not come across “Poo-tee-weet” and I believe in not staying ignorant so I looked the phrase up on Wikipedia, (rather long so will read it later).

        About three months until the 2012 budget, see how ignorant/arrogant Key and English are then.

  3. vto 3

    John Key and Bill English are blushing and fumbling ….

  4. Treetop 4

    Dunne’s casting vote (re asset destruction) cannot jeopardise decades of debate over Transmission Gully. On 13/2/12 an independent board of inquiry hearing started in Wellington.

    Even though the board is independent the transport minister has the final say re Transmission Gully. The timing is a cunning move by Key and we have seen this before e.g. Crafar farm decision re OIO post 2011 election.

  5. hoom 5

    Show us the money son! WTF is wrong with these clowns.
    And the MSM is all about Mallards’ tickets instead.

  6. Do you really believe that English/Treasury do not have a very good idea of the value they expect for these partial shares ?
    They are not going to tell you, or me, as it could impact on their share sale value.
    Commercial sensitivity.
    I think that English dissed the media yesterday, quite cleverly. Today’s political media have russeled up to this one – see John Armstrong in the Herald.

    [ you mean the Armstrong article where he calls English naive? If you think English and Treasury are purposely putting inaccurate numbers in official forecasts, you’re accusing them of breaching the Public Finance Act. JH]

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      I think you’re just trying to defend English’s and Nationals incompetence.

    • Frank 6.2

      I think English and Key has made it crystal clear that they haven’t a clue;

      English kicked of this Pythonesque lunacy with,

      “I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.

      “That’s an honest answer.”

      Key compounded that idiocy with,

      “I think they are our best estimates”.

      “There are lots of variables in there … what we do know is the Crown will absolutely have a minimum of 51 per cent shareholding but could have more. We don’t know what price the market will pay at the time; we don’t know the exact timing of all these particular floats.”

      So let’s see. Key and English don’t know any of the following,

      * How much will be raised by the partial-privatisation?
      * Whether they will end up with 51% ownership – or more?
      * Or even the timing of the “floats” (sale of shares)?
      * Or what price the shares will be sold at???

      I’m not sure why you believe that Key and English “have a very good idea of the value they expect for these partial shares” – their comments indicate entirely the opposite.

  7. alex 7

    “Now its just a guess, it’s not our best guess…”
    Who heard that quote by English in relation to the money that could be raised? It is absolute bullshit, pure and simple. We are about to have our infrastructure sold from underneath us, again.

  8. Foreign Waka 8

    Despite so many comments before the election and many from reputable people all this goes ahead anyway?
    So what the Nats are telling us is
    1/ they are always right, 2/ they will do as they pleased 3/ the country’s interest is of no concern 4/ even less so its people and of cause most important 5/ you have voted for this so suck it up.
    None of this has any similarity with democracy. I just wonder whether any public or civil law professional will have the guts to look into the validity of the whole affair.
    Mr English is not able to guaranty that the sale of these assets will NOT BE DETRIMENTAL to the country. The point here is that he has an obligation to do just that. The public is the owner of these assets and he is a paid employee (by the same public).

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