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John and Bill cost us $7 million in two months

Written By: - Date published: 12:00 pm, September 23rd, 2009 - 45 comments
Categories: bill english, budget 2009, economy, national/act government, superannuation - Tags:

You’ll remember that in the Budget National decided to suspend payments to the Cullen Fund, which is designed to help fund the future cost of superannuation. At the time, John Key and Bill English said we were losing money on the Fund and we couldn’t afford to borrow to put money into it. They compared borrowing to put money into the Fund to putting money on the credit card to pay for a bet. More financially intelligent people pointed out that the markets were already rising from historic lows, making it the best time in a long time to be buying. The case was more akin to putting money in a high-return, long-term investment by increasing the mortgage a little. Indeed, the Fund has grown 33% since March and is now at a record level.

A Treasury leak revealed that, by Treasury’s own numbers, the Government would lose $8 billion in lost profits to the Fund and lost tax payments from the Fund by cancelling the payments. English bare-faced denied the truth of those numbers (has anyone else noticed he’s been at the centre of nearly every bad story for National since the secret tapes?).

The Government has reduced its contributions to the Fund to $250 million this year –  according to the Fund’s formula, $1,466 million should be put in. From next year, there will be no contributions. Already the decision is costing us millions.

In July, the Fund made 6.09% above the cost of government borrowing (6.31% basic return) . In August, it made 2.56% over the cost of borrowing (2.80%). But we’re putting only $21 million of new money in the Fund each month, rather than $122 million as we would be under if National hadn’t cut the payments. As a result of investing less money we’ve lost over $7 million in Fund returns so far and that will rise, at a compounding rate, every month that the Fund makes a profit. By 2022, Treasury says they will have cost us $8 billion.

Cullen Fund lost earnings

Gee, having an ex-Treasury official and a currency speculator in charge of the nation’s finances isn’t looking so great now, eh? It’s enough to make one pine for the shear bloody competence of Cullen and Clark.

45 comments on “John and Bill cost us $7 million in two months”

  1. There was a horse I was going to back at the weekend.

    Decided not too.

    Dam, it won so it looks like I lost money even though I never had it in the first place. How stupid am I?

    Don’t worry, in the real world, no one is pining for Cullen and Clark as the polls clearly show.

    • lprent 1.1

      I seem to remember that the last Morgan poll is showing a bit of a reversal. Perhaps you should wait for the next Morgan poll to see if it looks like a trend? Otherwise it is case of “counting your chickens too early” and other overblown analogies like yours above… It almost looked like a troll line…

      • Daveski 1.1.1

        Come on LP

        As PNP below shows, the problem is with the original post which is so predictable it’s the blogging equivalent of painting by numbers.

        As for the polls, it may be too early to show what National’s future is but they certainly support the view that there is no great hankering for Cullen and Clark apart from the dispossessed here and in other isolated parts of the country.

        • lprent

          As predictable as National acting short-term. I swear that they don’t know how to count past their fingers unless they use their toes

    • Galeandra 1.2

      How stupid am I?

      Don’t really want to tell you, but it looks like a very big very.

      I think that the fund buys real equities not TAB fantasies. Do you know the difference?

  2. Marty, a man after my own heart! Good to see another supporter of the ‘think big – borrow to invest in productive assets’ approach 🙂

    Nothing wrong with borrowing to invest, what needs to be remembered with the Cullen fund however is that the money to pay the interest has to come out of general taxation and not the super fund itself. If the fund was to borrow, invest in the world markets, and then pay the interest out of its profits then I reckon a lot of people would be supportive of that. In suspending contributions, National looked at the short term accounts so the question we need to ask now is – do we want more pain now, or less benefit in the future? The Standard is constantly blogging about the hardship that is falling on lower-income workers, increased Cullen fund contributions is only going to increase that.

    You said in your previous post that this could be a w shaped recession – if it is, then the markets are likely to tank again, taking the Cullen fund with it. It is a foolish man who forgets that markets rise and fall, Treasury seems to be full of them!

  3. Marty, a man after my own heart! Good to see another supporter of the ‘think big borrow to invest in productive assets’ approach

    Nothing wrong with borrowing to invest, what needs to be remembered with the Cullen fund however is that the money to pay the interest has to come out of general taxation and not the super fund itself. If the fund was to borrow, invest in the world markets, and then pay the interest out of its profits then I reckon a lot of people would be supportive of that. In suspending contributions, National looked at the short term accounts so the question we need to ask now is do we want more pain now, or less benefit in the future? The Standard is constantly blogging about the hardship that is falling on lower-income workers, increased Cullen fund contributions is only going to increase that.

    You said in your previous post that this could be a w shaped recession if it is, then the markets are likely to tank again, taking the Cullen fund with it. It is a foolish man who forgets that markets rise and fall, Treasury seems to be full of them!

    • Bright Red 3.1

      It’s also a foolish person that forgets the markets beat the risk-free rate of return (ie the government’s borrowing rate) over the long-term.

      There will be months, like the last six, where the Fund beats the cost of borrowing by a long way. There will be months (like last year) when it loses. But over the long-haul the Cullen Fund will beat its cost of borrowing… unless we have a complete economic collapse…

  4. scotty 4

    You might be fizzing at the bung over Nationals perfomance,but where I work (62 employees) its hard to find anyone who voted for National now,I know some did but are clearly embarrassed,and wont get burnt again.

    • Daveski 4.1

      Fair call scotty but you missed my point (and LP thinks I was trolling).

      The jury is out on the Nats I am happy to agree. But there is no evidence that there is a collective pining for Clark and Cullen which is the point I was making.

      I have my own concerns about the Nats – more so their lack of policies in critical areas – which puts a twist on their current polling.

      And I don’t fizz or bung either 🙂

      • lprent 4.1.1

        I don’t think you were trolling, not after I read it and saw who’d posted it. However the phrasing raised my trolling instincts.

        That is quite a different thing – I scan for phrases and ways of thinking as I scroll through hundreds of comments a day, plus a little list of who is banned or not. I don’t really ‘read’ while moderating until I see something that looks troll-like.

        It is the frogs eyes issue….

        • felix

          Frogs eyes issue? Which issue would that be then?

          • lprent

            Detach the eyes from a frog. While still alive, the eye will send a signal down the nerves when a fly is swung past it. However if the fly is moved backwards (ie tail first) you don’t get a signal. The software for fly detection is located in the eyes.

    • gingercrush 4.2

      Oh don’t play that game, its pathetic. The idea that by talking to just a few people you can somehow get the opinions of all New Zealanders really doesn’t work. Particularly, as in some workplaces it wouldn’t surprise me if even one person voted National. Likewise, I can find you plenty of workplaces where a vote for Labour would be very small. Doesn’t actually tell us anything.


      As for polls. So Labour managed to crawl upwards a bit. It needs to happen consecutively and the TV polls need to reflect this. As when that happens, both Garner and Espiner can proclaim how Labour are making big gains.

  5. How much did Helen and Cullen cost us? I would like to see the numbers.

    • Armchair Critic 5.1

      Will just the numbers be okay, Brett, or do you need a tape recording to prove it?

    • burt 5.2

      Who knows, they validated 14 years of their own uncontrolled spending on elections and that alone could have easily been more than the $7m being talked about here. Billions and billions wasted on social polices to win votes – just like National will do when their popularity starts to flag.

      • r0b 5.2.1

        Who knows, they validated 14 years of their own uncontrolled spending on elections

        That’s right, the 14 year Labour government 1993 – 2006. I remember it well.

        I’ve got to admit, you’re as sharp as ever Burt.

      • burt 5.2.2

        OK rOb, how much was spent that was potentially illegal during the period that the Labour-led govt validated?

        You must know surely – no one who cared about govt being accountable would defend validating an unknow amount of money…

  6. Kevin Welsh 6

    Come on Brett, shouldn’t be too hard to find those numbers in big bold type over at DPF.

  7. burt 7

    Marty G

    Have you mortgaged your house to invest in this market?

    • Maynard J 7.1

      The fund managers are a bit expensive, but if I could fire some cash into it, I would.

      Oh, and I would have to be able to borrow at the rate the government does. Not so easy, that one.

      I’ve got to admit, you’re as sharp as ever Burt.

    • burt 7.2


      The same argument that growth exceeds the cost of borrowing long term also applies to real estate. Quick borrow to buy residential property… you are throwing away money every day you don’t borrow… well that is what Marty G would say.

      • Bright Red 7.2.1

        “borrow to buy real estate” – Nearly everyone does that genius

        But, as, MJ points out, we don’t have the cheap borrowing and professional fund managers that the Cullen Fund does. It’s a far safer bet for the govt than for an ordinary person, as has been borne out by the facts.

      • burt 7.2.2

        Bright Red

        So we should risk public money against an uncertain financial market…. Guess if it was OK to spend hundreds of millions more than the trains were worth to say we own them then taking wild risks with tax payers money in the name of the Cullen fund makes perfect sense.

        Now you go and 100% mortgage your house today to buy more properties – the recession is over and you will thank me for this advice in 10 years time.

  8. ieuan 8

    Surely now the decision to spend contributions for 11 years will have to be re-examined.

    A better policy would have been to suspend contributions until there is an improvement in the state of the economy and in the size of the government deficit.

    • lprent 8.1

      Ah but you’re not thinking like a short-term thinking National MP. Doing something sensible to cover medium to long term requirements wouldn’t have helped with making stupid short-term tax-cuts.

    • burt 8.2

      Was that stupid short term tax cuts announced in the 2008 budget implemented part way through a tax year or was that the short term ones implemented by the incoming Nat govt?

      Perhaps I missed that tax cuts were both good and bad depending on who was implementing them and how?

      • Lanthanide 8.2.1

        All of the tax cuts were bad, but Labour’s ones were considerably ‘less bad’ than National’s. Duh.

        • Bright Red


          Cullen knew that tax cuts were coming regardless of whether he passed them or not, at least he targeted them at the people who needed them.

          Who got anything from the National tax cuts? Only the rich. A billion dollars a year that could be reducing our debt or going in our national savings, just disappearing into a few rich people’s bank accounts.

          • burt

            OMG – people who pay the most tax got reductions in how much tax they pay. Hell no wonder you lefties didn’t like it – reducing taxes wasn’t just more redistribution by stealth.

  9. randal 9

    well both key and english know that you cant make any money if it is already in a safe place. they love uncertainty because they are of that group of people who have been trained to make money when the money market is going up or down.
    as for the rest then they can always raise taxes… and they will.

  10. Herodotus 10

    Not only must the fund cover the cost of borrowing, but the powers that be must or at least should review that with the opportunity cost/benefit that the money could be put to other uses. We may still arrive at the answer to continue to invest in the “Cullen” fund.
    Also by “borrowing” more to invest in the cullen fund or elsewhere may result in interest rates for the public, private sector or both to increase. Thus the profit may result in a greater cost to the country.
    Nothing is as simple as it seems that is why we have experts !!

  11. Herodotus 11

    re tax cuts, the people of NZ (In my mind) needed some form of cuts. With price gouging from power generator coys $4b (Over 8 years), tax creep over $1.5b/year, not to mention interest rates going through the roof. Things for low to upper middle people were struggling and seeeing diminshing returns for their efforts.

  12. burt 12

    Super fund reports massive losses for 2008/2009

    In the statement of net assets the GSF was listed as having $3.5 billion in investment assets at the end of the 2008 financial year and $2.4 billion at the end of 2009.

    Its total net assets fell from $3.5 billion to $2.8 billion

    Sure it’s not the Cullen white Elephant but this disproves the theory that there is no risk in Govt run super funds.

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