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Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy

Written By: - Date published: 7:05 am, February 22nd, 2013 - 164 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, class war - Tags:

A look at Solid Energy’s books highlights the diseased culture of the corporate elite in this country and National’s failed bet on fossil fuels. The blistering pace that executives’ ridiculous paypackets rose at shows a culture of pocket-lining in the company. The massive expansion of liabilities in the lignite bet, which has crippled the company, was part of National’s fossil fuels strategy.

In a decade, the board’s pay rose from $200,000 to $360,000 – a 80% increase, twice the increase in household incomes over the period. The CEO is worse: with pay rising from $380,000 in 2002 to $1,350,000 in 2012 – a 255% increase.

The number of Solid Energy employees earning more than a Cabinet Minister rose from 6 in 2002 to 39 in 2012 (a further 250 were paid more than an ordinary MP). Just those 39 and the board were paid $15.5m a year – the equivalent of 310 average wages.

It’s evident that this culture of excess really took off in the past four years under National. In 2008, the CEO earned half what he did in 2012 and there were 9 people on more than a Cabinet Minister’s pay, not 39.

And the debt, Jesus, the debt. Governments encouraged SOEs to have a more ‘active’ balancesheet – ie. to take on more debt and use that money to pay larger dividends, rather than have reserves of cash – and Solid Energy happily complied. It’s that crazy capitalist thinking that the golden days will last forever. Solid Energy’s liabilities rose from $88m in 2002 to $743m in 2012 – a 744% increase.

Nearly half a billion dollars of debt was taken on in the past four years as National cheered on Solid Energy’s crazy (economically and environmentally) plans to turn lignite into diesel, briquettes, and fertiliser. Hey, times were good for coal, and the Nats wanted to see more fossil fuel exports. And if there was one lesson any businessperson should have taken from the Global Financial Crisis, including the CEO of a public asset getting paid over a million bucks a year, it’s that good times never end.

Of course, the good times did end. The price of coal has collapsed, the exchange rate went up, the lignite dream is dashed, hundreds of jobs are on the line, and the taxpayer is left holding the sooty baby while Don Elder and all the wide boys stroll off with millions of dollars of our money in their pockets.

The massive bet on fossil fuels that National has made by placing them at the heart of its economic agenda has failed to deliver once again only this time it’s not a matter of foreign oil companies wasting their money and walking away, it’s one of our SOEs up to its eyeballs in debt.

(btw, why the fuck is Solid Energy’s website coalnz.com? What a pretentious, confusing thing to do)

164 comments on “Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy ”

  1. This is yet another ‘told ya so’ moment for Afew and I

    • ropata 1.1

      if/when we do run out of oil, coal prices will shoot up and the steam engine will make a big comeback..

      • Robert Atack 1.1.1

        Yeah and we will be able to transport it all over the world with coal fired ships, it will take half the cargo to deliver it )

      • Afewknowthetruth 1.1.2

        Widespread use of coal-fired steam engines = largely uninhabitable planet by 2030 instead of by 2060.

        • Lanthanide 1.1.2.1

          The planet will be plenty habitable by 2060 on our current trajectory.

          • Bill 1.1.2.1.1

            Might I suggest you give up on the faith based assertions and go read the science Lanth? Try the recent report put out by that esteemed conservative institution the World Bank. Even their report summarises into three words should we continue on our present trajectory – “We’re fucked”.

            Seriously. Go read it. And when you’ve done that, try Pricewaterhousecoopers…or the International Energy Authority. Both conservative institutions. Then read the scientific prognosis for civilisation in a world with surface temperatures elevated by 4 degrees C.

            Will the world be habitable? Yes. But then, it’s been habitable in all types of conditions – just not necessarily habitable for us. Or for mammals in general. But hey. Oh. And last time CO2 levels were what they are at present (with the concommitant surface temperatures that have yet to feed through)? Humanity didn’t exist. And only very small mammals existed – something to do with the ability to regulate body heat.

            • Bill 1.1.2.1.1.1

              Bloody edit function. International Energy Agency – not ‘Authority’.

            • McFlock 1.1.2.1.1.2

              But then, it’s been habitable in all types of conditions – just not necessarily habitable for us.
              So when do you predict human extinction will occur?

              • Bill

                So when do you predict human extinction will occur?

                That’s really infantile McFlock. Fuck off if you’re unable to make meaningful contributions to the discussion.

                • Rogue Trooper

                  + Lynn (and BLiP) have compiled comprehensive CC Posts for TS

                • McFlock

                  Your fiddling over the definition of “habitable” pissed me off equally.

                  • Colonial Weka

                    Lanth says “plenty habitable”, Bill says not very habitable if at all, and backs it up with lots and varied support. How is that fiddling?

                    • McFlock

                      well, he didn’t back it up. He name-dropped and said to do your own research. And he seemed to intentionally used “habitable” in a different meaning to that used by lanth, but without flagging it or even saying why or what his specific meaning applied to – amoeba? But he was apparently implying that human extinction was likely sometime in the nearish future. And he didn’t even bother to say what definition he thought would apply in 2060.

                      Yeah, and my question about what Bill actually thought wasn’t a “meaningful contribution”.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      So we’re all clear an 80% reduction in the human population does not mean we’ll be extinct.

                      It’ll mean we’re totally fucked as a civilisation and a culture, but you pedants can be self-satisfied that you are quite right: we won’t be extinct, and the earth won’t be “uninhabitable”.

                    • McFlock

                      80% by when? 2060?

                      Then yeah, we’re all fucked. Might as well eat, drink and be merry.

                    • Colonial Viper

                      And I believe that is exactly the observation that others have made.

                      What is the moral imperative however? What is our duty? Is it truly to keep ordering cocktails even as the bow begins to slide into the Atlantic? In her own way, I believe that is what Jenny has actually been asking.

                      What is our moral imperative and duty as citizens, and of our political “leaders”.

                    • McFlock

                      Depends if you’re a consequentialist or not.
                      If we’re all fucked, it’s a zip game. Business as usual is as good as any other option.

                      If, on the other hand, we’re prepared to take a punt on it not being so catastrophic (probably at this stage due to a massive tech step-change), then we might as well work to change society in the ways that we can towards more sustainable living (food and energy are still issues even if climate change is addressed, and that’s without factoring a midrange “solution” that addresses warming but not the wider carbon-cycle issues) and removing inequality.

                      80% is still a big call. And even then, it’s not the end of history. Pandemics have literally decimated (and worse) regional and global populations in the past, and low-tech humans who blamed devils, humours and bad air still recovered within a century or two.

                      We still need to change, but my position is that those who suggest not bringing children into the world miss the primary lesson from history: humanity works to survive. And is good at it. We adapt to changing environments, and tool on again. It isn’t pretty, but it’s not the end of history.

            • Lanthanide 1.1.2.1.1.3

              If the earth is truly going to be “uninhabitable by mammals in 2060” due to climate change, most of which we’ve already committed, then there doesn’t seem to be any reason to change what we’re doing because we’re already fucked.

              • Wow we agree .. we are fucked no mater what we do…..
                That is why I keep on about not having children, if we are screwed so are the bloody kids.
                And also how much BS Kiwi Saver is, and that every politician that stands by the KS scam is full of shit. Which seems like all of them.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Given the major issues of human civilisation as we know it ending in less than 100 years (through a combination of climate change and energy depletion), maybe you could give the ‘Kiwi Saver is a political scam’ thing a break as there appears to be far bigger coming crises to deal with.

                  • Yes CV
                    But all you fools keep backing the liars that bought you this BS scam, if they can’t come clean on this they will not come clean on what truly matters.
                    KS is the smoking gun and shows what utter scum we have as so called leaders, and how stupid ‘the people’ are … well 2 million of them anyway.

          • McFlock 1.1.2.1.2

            not after the catastrophic economic collapse into a pre-industrial condition we’ll experience in 2012 – oh, wait…

            • Ennui in Requiem 1.1.2.1.2.1

              Flocko, Im with Bill on your contribution to climate, and on finance ditto.

              • McFlock

                It was more a contribution on the reliability of AFKTT predictions, if they were the commenter who a year or two back predicted the complete collapse of the global economy in 2012.

                Premature doomsayers do as much to muddy the waters and delay action on climate change as much as the Koch brothers do, in my opinion.

                We are headed for famine and water wars, food source depletion and increased severity and frequency of catastrophic weather events, as well as longer term threats from ocean acidification and stagnation. Human extinction because the planet is “uninhabitable” is not very likely.

                • Ennui in Requiem

                  Fair enough, I don’t do deadlines much either. Having said that the likelihood this year of catastrophic collapse is high for the world banking system, the only thing holding it together is the preference of the populace for believing in smoke and mirrors as opposed to reality. And sentiment is everything with money.

                  • McFlock

                    That’s been capitalism for the last 200 years, though. It’s a pyramid scheme that periodically collapses as a result of a panic. But that’s a design feature, not a fault, because it starts up again and slowly recovers.

                    Now, the more [i.e. cheaper] energy into the system, the quicker it recovers and overtakes its previous point. Our economic trouble is a hit in the cost of energy into the system, particularly regarding transportation energy. But that just means the we could well end up in an ever-decreasing cycle of production, like storms will be ever-increasing in severity.

                    We won’t get a massive collapse mad-max style (barring a decent nuclear war). But we might be gobsmacked at what our great-grandchildren are prepared to put up with, just as we look at 19thC folk and wonder why they didn’t just whack themselves. But a large chunk of people will just put up with it, because the alternative is even more work (even though the outcome might be better).

                    • Colonial Viper

                      But a large chunk of people will just put up with it,

                      Yes, certainly, the lucky ones in selected places will be able to put up with it, Children of Man style. The others in less fortunate locales will die.

                      We won’t get a massive collapse mad-max style (barring a decent nuclear war).

                      Well, the Mad Max scenerio does require a nuclear war IIRC

                      Greer believes that de-industrialisation will be gradual as well. However, there will be massive dead zones across the planet. A combination of climate change and a couple of hundred nuclear reactors (or their spent fuel) going out of control.

                    • McFlock

                      dead zones?

                      Sterile, or just no humans because we’re worried about cancer?
                      The latter is actually good for trees & wildlife.

  2. It blows a rather big hole in the Government’s books because apart from the bail outs there is no way that Solid Energy could now be partially privatised for the price they expected.

    And there is no way the books are going to be balanced by 2015.

    • saarbo 2.1

      Yes, I suspect that National were relaxed about Solid Energy and its huge growth in overheads due to the fact that it formed a cornerstone of their mining policy.

      Commodity businesses turn, I witnessed this when I worked for Tasman Pulp and Paper in the mid 90’s, from 1996 to 1997 its profit turned south by around $200m to 250m, from an exceptional profit to an exceptional loss, I learned an important lesson…treat commodity businesses with real care and caution. That is the nature of commodity businesses, you have zero control over the sale price.

      I suspect that Joyce, English and Key took the huge profits that SE was making at the top of the cycle and extrapolated them out, thinking they could grow the business by X% and thought they were onto a winner.

      Amateurs!!!

    • McFlock 2.2

      ah, but they weren’t going to sell solid energy, were they (or was it just UF against it)?

      So they have a big company with massive debt but ongoing assets (aka “coal mines”). Asset stripping, not asset sales, is the name of the game. Hillside was the first – who really thinks it’ll be the only one?

      • Draco T Bastard 2.2.1

        Yep, we’ll see asset stripping from this government to try and fill the holes in the budget that their policies have created.

    • That’s the national accounts.
      But its a way of avoiding the whole partial asset sale swamp and setting a precedent for the other SOEs.
      A bankrupt Solid Energy assets will be stripped by the private sector.
      This is the rip, shit, bust method in operation.

    • xtasy 2.4

      Quote from the above story:
      “And the debt, Jesus, the debt. Governments encouraged SOEs to have a more ‘active’ balancesheet – ie. to take on more debt and use that money to pay larger dividends, rather than have reserves of cash – and Solid Energy happily complied. It’s that crazy capitalist thinking that the golden days will last forever. Solid Energy’s liabilities rose from $88m in 2002 to $743m in 2012 – a 744% increase.”

      I am not so sure whether it can simply be blamed on “capitalist thinking”. It rather sounds like governments made sure to get the dividends they wanted, for investment, for paying other expenditure, for filling other gaping holes, or whatever.

      So Solid Energy being state owned, this is just a diversion tactic, to make the state’s books look better, while the SOEs perhaps carry more debt than was good to let them carry.

      The main issue for Solid Energy was investments in new ventures, that cost more than expected and returned little or nothing (so far at least).

      What all this shows, how vulnerable a very commodity export dependent economy is! With primary products making up nearly two thirds of exports, NZ as an economy is living a life like a door to door salesman.

    • AmaKiwi 2.5

      As if they ever gave a sh*t.

      I’ll be they are more worried about how to find cushy jobs for their overpaid mates who used to work there.

    • It appears that part of the problem was National’s demands for dividends – $129.5 million since 2009 – on TOP of company tax paid by Soild Energy. Plus add $23.5 million in bonuses paid over the past two years to 950 employees, and we’re starting to see a corporate culture and excessive bleeding of cash, resulting in the inevitable…

  3. ropata 3

    more proof that privatisation and even the SOE business model is crap.
    SOE’s need more than a board of directors, they need regular reviews by the State Services Commission

    oh thats right the nats got rid of the SSC

  4. Ennui in Requiem 4

    WTF, Performance bonuses paid when making a loss. My wages come out of profit, when we make a loss I have e no wages. It is a pretty simple principle, yet the Nats, champions of free enterprise seem to think otherwise. And Labour are not clean here either, half the damage was on their watch.

    • AAMC 4.1

      Can we all come to the realization please that The Nat’s are not pro free enterprise, they’re Statists who favor Crony Capitalism but sell it as the Invisible Hand. Their hands are all over everything!

      Clever of them to have put an Authoritarian Tory at the helm of ACT eh. Shouldn’t Rodney be writing op-ed’s berating the Nanny State picking winners.

      • aerobubble 4.1.1

        Worse. Key delusion. That the market would turn upwards again.

        That coal was ever a long term prospect not dependent on sequestration tech.

        That demand would crash as people go energy efficient to cover their petrol costs and/or debt.

        And what’s worse. The same small minded denialistic National party rump still thinks
        selling dams is a good idea, when investors will rightly be wondering where’s the
        loses and debt hidden they will be buying into. Key can’t believe that wishfully
        selling a company that comes up a giant dub doesn’t reflect on his ability as a trustworthy
        seller of state assets.

        National wishful exterior is once against exposed for the reckless disregard of basic common
        sense business and economic analysis that it is.

  5. Grumpy 5

    When a CEO is paid such a huge amount he should accept ultimate responsibility, but it never happens.

    Obscene remuneration and an obscene result. Reflects badly on any company stupid enough to give him a directorship.

    Where the fuck was the oversight???

  6. …so let me get this clear:

    While those without employment & their partners are being expected to be increasingly accountable, (“we are in a Global Financial crises after-all”),

    …it is perfectly o.k for others in better circumstances -whom have employment-

    …to be doing their jobs so ineffectively that a large business will go bankrupt if it doesn’t receive a bail-out and such people walk off with millions leaving a large debt in the taxpayers name (& more for the bailout)?

    What happened to “we have to tighten our belts”?

    Or was that only a message for those who can least afford to do so?

    (Yeah, that makes sense )

    What terrific double-standards laid out for all to see.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      What happened to “we have to tighten our belts”?

      Or was that only a message for those who can least afford to do so?

      That’s only a message for the majority of people. The ones at the top of the pyramid will always be rewarded even when they screw up – as we’ve seen across the world after the GFC.

  7. Salsy 7

    But how about each company getting broken up and sold by National? Perhaps Shanxi Coal (bidders on the sensitive asset Pike River) and the Quinghua group (who apparently had 10 billion to spend on lignite in 2011) finally get what they have been patiently waiting for…

    Perhaps this was the plan all along..

    • vto 7.1

      Yep, watch it happen.

      There are major assets in Solid Energy. The company is just topsy turvy due to mismanagement and the dumb-arse debt countering those assets.

      Wait for the split.

      This leads to another suggestion I often make …… why don’t all the greenies and those opposed get hold of those assets themselves and then not use them, or somehow lock them up? Buy the mining permits and leave them dormant. Buy the land, or the access, and lock it up forever. Get hold of something that will thwart ‘them’. Play their own game straight back at them.

      Same can be done for rivers – apply for a resource consent to leave all water in the river before someone applies for a resource consent to take all the water from the river. Voila!

      • geoff 7.1.1

        why don’t all the greenies and those opposed get hold of those assets themselves and then not use them, or somehow lock them up?

        Where would they get the money to do that?

      • Peter 7.1.2

        It’s a nice theory, and I actually know some people who do aspects of that with mining permits to stop the damming of wild rivers for hydroelectricity, but it’s a marginal game at best. Most resource consents have use it or lose it clauses, so that approach doesn’t really work in the long run.

        There is a better way – it’s called a Water Conservation Order. Start applying for more of those around NZ if you are worried about rivers, or pour the money into planning processes and court action, as is the current strategy by environmental groups (hint, it works).

        • vto 7.1.2.1

          Hi Peter, yes I am aware of those issues and have some secrety ways of dealing with them ……. if I ever get around to it.

          As for water conservation orders, this current treacherous government unilaterally altered the Rakaia Water Conservation Order just a couple of weeks ago to allow more exploitation, as I understand it.

          And geoff above; that is never the way to approach these things. The right answers need matching to the right questions,otherwise one never gets anywhere. Asking “where is the money” at the start of anything is entirely the wrong approach. Sure, it is a legit question but only at a certain stage. Not this stage.

          • Peter 7.1.2.1.1

            It wasn’t unilateral actually, the affected parties actually settled without taking the thing to the Environment Court. There was a clear threat over it though that legal action wouldn’t be favourably looked on by the govt. The current WCO will be reworked to allow for more use of Lake Coleridge as a water storage reservoir for irrigation (assuming that a smaller version of the Central Plains scheme goes ahead).

            In other areas, such as the Nevis River, legal action on WCOs is (so far) delivering positive results, but the final decisions haven’t come out yet.

            My answer to the question of getting plans right is quite simple. We need to resource the NGOs to have the fights when needed, and power up DOC’s advocacy capacity again. I work in this field professionally, and there aren’t very many of us.

    • yeshe 7.2

      Jenny Shipley must be thrilled ….. how will we charge her with treason ?

      • Trickledrown 7.2.1

        old fossil Shipley should be exported as everything she has anything to do with has the stench of corruption or goes belly up!

  8. tracey 8

    Remember Paul Collins? Ran Brierley’s down to about .27c a share, got paid about $4m to go and now taxpayers pay him to be on numerous boards as directors.

    Didn’t Joyce say again only recently that we need mining to thrive as a nation, to get jobs etc?

    “More than 200 mining jobs could be created on the West Coast if opponents to the Bathurst Resources’ escarpment mine withdrew their court action, says the Economic Development Minister. ”

    So Bathurst Resources can “do” coal mining but solid energy can’t make a go of it because coal prices have dropped by 40%.

    • Afewknowthetruth 8.1

      Economic Development = euphemism for Loot and Pollute.

      Ministry of Economic Development = Ministry for the promotion of Looting and Polluting

    • geoff 8.2

      There needs to be an internet database of all the rent seeking parasites in NZ and details of their dirty deeds.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1

        +1

        But you won’t get it as they’d all scream about breach of privacy despite the fact that it needs to be done to protect everyone else from their deprivations.

      • Colonial Viper 8.2.2

        There needs to be an internet database of all the rent seeking parasites in NZ and details of their dirty deeds.

        Buy a copy of the NBR

    • xtasy 8.3

      More mining, more drilling, more intensive primary production and exports of minerals, raw materials and low or no value-added products, yes, NZ is racing fast towards joining other so-called “developing” countries, formerly known as “3rd World countries”.

      While some of Asia is moving in the other direction, NZ is moving towards a more “basic” form of economic activity.

      To console the hearts: I hear the Flight Centre has some real good specials on at present, for flights overseas!

  9. AAMC 9

    And I wonder how demand will look if China enacts this Carbon Tax?!

     http://qz.com/55276/china-worlds-largest-emitter-of-greenhouse-gasses-will-tax-carbon/

    • Bill 9.1

      Nice to see from that link the admission that carbon trading isn’t working and that a tax is back on the agenda in Europe too.

  10. Afewknowthetruth 10

    It’s been loot-the-till-and-run since the turn of the century, along with bugger the long term chances of survival for the next generation. Greed, greed, greed, greed.

    Of course we were told that ‘Greed is good’.

    I might add stupidity, stupidity, stupidity, since everything in this insane economic system is about short term gain and long term loss.

  11. tracey 11

    Perhaps Denniston Plateau has a chance to survive yet…

    • It must seem so, Tracey.

      After all, if Solid Energy can’t sell it’s coal, it’s hard to see how Bathurst can do any better.

      Unless they’re planning on some accounting trick to offset losses against some other Bathurst asset?

      • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1

        How much subsidy are they counting on from the government? is the question that needs to be asked.

        • tracey 11.1.1.1

          well, the starting point is Warner Bros and after that the Sky is the limit I would think 😉

  12. karol 12

    Relevant Simon Caulkin article from November 2012, on how management theory was hi-jacked by the Chicago School in the 1980s, and we are still suffering because of it:

    The irony is that we know what makes companies prosper in the long term. They manage themselves as whole systems, look after their people, use targets and incentives with extreme caution, keep pay differentials narrow (we really are in this together) and treat profits as the score rather than the game. And it’s a given that in the long term companies can’t thrive unless they have society’s interests at heart along with their own.

    So why do so many boards and managers, supported by politicians, systematically do the opposite – run companies as top-down dictatorships, pursue growth by merger, destroy teamwork with runaway incentives, attack employment rights and conditions, outsource customer service, treat their stakeholders as resources to be exploited, and refuse wider responsibilities to society?

    The answer is that management in the 1980s was subject to an ideological hijack by Chicago economics that put at the heart of governance a reductive “economic man” view of human nature needing to be bribed or whipped to do their exclusive job of maximising shareholder returns. Embedded in the codes, these assumptions now have the status of unchallenged truths.

    And it sounds very much like part of a “Bully camp” culture.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Yep its the hyper-financialisation of the economy away from real productive activities. The M&A craze of the 1980’s, followed closely by the S&L scandal, massively pumped tech bubble circa 2000, and the financial derivatives/securitised debt bubble of 2007.

    • Poission 12.2

      The overlying problem with the Chicago Biz theory and its prodigy is it invokes a command and control structure.ie top down where decision making is made on the basis of too little information ie risk.

      The bottom up approach which is deeply enriched in some organizations works far better as the flow of information is in an inverted hierarchical pyramid eg Kaizen

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen

      The SOE model is broken in sofar as it does not identify the real reason for their implementation (usually natural monopolies) and their ROI can be less as there is NO benefit in rearranging the deckchairs persistently to avoid tax liabilities ie they can pay a maximum corporate tax and the real ROI is unchanged.to the shareholders (us)

      • Gosman 12.2.1

        Why is coal mining a natural monopoly?

        • RJL 12.2.1.1

          Small country, fixed number of commercially viable sites for mines (i.e. you can’t just mine anywhere), high capital cost to build a mine, and small number of customers for coal (mostly power stations and some big industry).

          • Gosman 12.2.1.1.1

            All you have highlighted is some difficulties of the Coal industry in NZ. It is hardly unique and doesn’t mean a natural monopoly exists. The fact that other players can and do exist in NZ and the largest player has failed would support the view that a natural monopoly doesn’t exist.

            • geoff 12.2.1.1.1.1

              What a load of hooey. I don;t know about coal but many industries in NZ are dominanted by a small number of producers who have captured the market and can overcharge.
              Supermarkets, electricity, petrol etc.
              Which is exactly why NZ needs strong and transparent regulation to stop these pricks having us over a barrel.

            • Poission 12.2.1.1.1.2

              Usually means just that.The SOE models are based on that they require a greater ROI of Revalued assets not historical values ie a bookkeeping goal.This has required SOE to pay a higher dividend and accumulate greater debt to pay the dividends.This is not unusual Rio Tinto has to borrow to pay dividends whilst writing off the values of recent acquisitions.or to put it another way the debt fueled growth model.

              The NZ pension fund does not include taxation in its ROI as they state it is a zero sum game for a GVT org.

            • RJL 12.2.1.1.1.3

              No, those are the reasons why there is a natural monopoly in coal, and Solid Energy is (as you say) the monopoly player. The existence of a few smaller players doesn’t really mean anything. 59% of NZ coal comes from one of two mines, 82% comes from Solid Energy mines.

              The failure of Solid Energy has nothing to do with whether or not it is in a monopoly position (natural or otherwise). It is about mismanagement of the company (by a combination of its executive, board, and shareholder), in the entirely predictable context of a fluctuating coal price. Which flucutates because while Solid Energy has a monopoly in NZ it does not have a monopoly over the global coal trade.

        • Rusty Shackleford 12.2.1.2

          “Natural Monopoly” is a good thing to yell if you believe a certain sector of the economy should be controlled by your favorite politicians. The problem with it is you can apply the natural monopoly definition to every sector of the economy and to every industry. It fits them all.

  13. infused 13

    [sorry you’re on a one week ban. r0b]]

  14. clashman 14

    I can see the nats using this as a justification to continue with asset sales;
    a) we dont have the money to cover the losses the only way we can get it is to monetize some assets
    b) We can halve the countries exposure to this type of risk by selling 49% of as many state owned assets as possible
    c) Govts shouldn’t be in business, this would have never happened if solid energy was privately owned.
    And the sheeple will lap it up.

    • muzza 14.1

      Thinking Clash!

      You gotta crash the lot, so the remains can be hoovered up cheap, then when the real global suck does come about, anything which is necessary to provide life sustainging requirements, will be owned by very few entities.

      Own the debt, own the stuff, thats the way its playing out!

  15. Skinny 15

    The excessively overpaid Don Elder & his  Management team have benefited nicely out of all this & have been paid handsomely on their way out the door. Meanwhile the blue collars & the taxpayer are paying the price as a result. Now National will mothball most of the mines, cutting hundreds of more jobs pretty quickly. This is the corporate model, introduce mechanization improvements so the business runs leaner, with a quarter of the previous workforce. Do this while the coal price cycle is down, never mind the years of record profits or the social costs to small communities. The flow on will be savage cuts elsewhere health, education, public service etc, we all know what’s coming as National head towards a ‘landslide’ loss ( and it will be a landslide) at the next election.

    • tracey 15.1

      and all those hankering to breathe the rarefied air of the $1m earners stand by and vote for the continuance of this appalling state of affairs. God how the top earners must laugh at how others enable and protect them.

  16. Bill 16

    At the risk of being slammed as being naive….why bail it out? If bailing it involves clearing 3/4 Billion of debt, why not just shut it all down? Why not spend time on some lateral thinking and some money on creating infrastructure and jobs for Solid Energy employees and their families/communities?

    Fossil industry has no future – cannot be allowed a future according to the best science we have. (That’s that 4 degrees C warming by 2040-50 again. Minor detail…a mere annoyance, I know).

    But anyway, why not grasp this as an opportunity to begin the fundamental and radical shift we urgently need to make with regards our economy and the way our society interacts with it?

    • AAMC 16.1

      Exactly, this is an interesting dilemma for both Left and Right no?

      Perhaps we should listen to the market and instead of spending money on bailing out a dying and destructive industry, put that money into some forward thinking / green infrastructure. The rest of the world is adding renewable capacity at an increasing pace, why not follow suit, utilize the high dollar and China’s solar trade war.

      But likely, the Left will want to save the jobs to prevent the short term pain, and the Nat’s’ll prove that really they don’t believe in creative destruction when their mates are involved.

      And both will prove themselves worthy of the dictionary definition of Conservative.

      • blue leopard 16.1.1

        This is interesting. Seems to be illustrative as to why none of the main issues that need addressing ever do.

        • Colonial Viper 16.1.1.1

          So Jenny gets her wish after all.

          Good on ya Jenny.

          btw every single coal mine in this country will be open and pumping coal out at max rate again within 10 years.

        • Andre 16.1.1.2

          Coal Is Dead…. The idea was carbon sequestration Clean coal the 10 year plan .. Well who thought that would work? 1200 men with a pick and shovel . Labour needs a plan for them..

          • Frank Macskasy 16.1.1.2.1

            “Labour needs a plan for them..”

            I concur, Andre.

            If employees from a SOE are made redundant, I believe the State must show moral leadership in assisting workers to re-train and if necessary, assist financially to re-locate.

            It’s an ongoing problem that in good times, private (and State) enterprises get the benefits/profits from the productivity of the emnployees.

            But in bad times, those employees are shed as ‘surplus to requirement’, and the cost of assisting unemployed workers is socialised. Ie, welfare.

            Privatised profits; socialised losses
            .

            That’s becoming a common refrain these days…

            • AmaKiwi 16.1.1.2.1.1

              “the State must show moral leadership”

              In on Planet Key “moral leadership” means I continue to prosper unobstructed by competition, taxes, and regulations.

          • Tim 16.1.1.2.2

            Perhaps tunnel building in various places? Metropolitan and rural tunnels with the medium to long term goal of decent rail/commuter transport

      • Gosman 16.1.2

        Scary. I agree in principle with both Bill and AAMC. What is happening to the world?

        • AAMC 16.1.2.1

          You’ve realized your Free Marketeers are really just using Austrian arguments to help them plunder and concentrate and that they too are Central Planners?

    • Afewknowthetruth 16.2

      Bill, I think you are being naĂŻve.

      The world is run by corporations and money-lenders for the short term benefit of corporations and money-lenders. their forward thinking extends 2 years into the future at best.

      The entire economic system is predicated on looting and polluting, and transferring the costs to coming generations. When the world population was relatively small and the industrial economy was relatively small compared to the natural economy ‘they’ could get away with it, because there were plenty of fossil fuels with high EROEI available and cumulative environmental damage had not accumulated much.

      Now that world population has exploded and the industrial economy dominates the planet the old paradigms (which will render the Earth largely uninhabitable over the coming decades, despite what Lanthanide thinks because she has done NO research) are as firmly entrenched as ever. The system REWARDS looting polluting, so that’s what we will endure until it all collapses. Indeed, the worse matters get, the greater the incentive for the Orcs to loot and pollute: just look at what is happening in Athabasca!

  17. Rogue Trooper 17

    talk about the pits!
    RNZ et al; 18000 manufacturing jobs bled in Five years (now there is a Five Year Plan), flowing into 60,000 capillary jobs (High Track); 23000 jobs lost in construction ’till now, but not to worry, there is life to be squeezed and pumped in insurance, financial and property services roles as

    Solid Energy begin to exit from “non-core” rails like lignite (tf)

    “boards in expansion mode slow to react to world context’ (stockpiles for eg.)
    “the International commentary signaled a cyclical downturn up to a year ago”
    “In NZ, the bigger companies get, the slower they are to change”
    “Don Elder stuffed up, anticipating carbon-capture technology not available and there is apparently a pessimistic outlook for sequestration developments”
    “MRP displays the same expansion pathology
    -“speculative investments, siphoned funds from core business”
    -“write-offs”
    -“U.S tax-dodge incentives”, eg, California Dreaming
    -“following a herd mentality”
    -“highly paid executives and glossy brochures”

    -Bertram

    (and as for the “phosphorescent green Canterbury rivers? your descendents thank you very freakin much!) 🙁

  18. NoseViper (The Nose knows) 18

    I heard on radio someone saying that making pellets for pellet burners is not profitable and that gave me a bad moment as like many I have installed one of these, as demanded by the country’s air pollution clean-up legislation.

    Then I heard Solid Energy is involved in this seemingly wise forward looking and ongoing business.
    Today I heard the Mayor Tony Kopsthorn from the west coast talking about how they should stick to coal their core business. Sounds like a voice from the 19th century. What’s going on? They are losing money.
    http://solidenergy.co.nz/index.cfm/1,234,0,0/Renewables.html

    Then you read about the salaries that the business has to bear on its shoulders, the weight would stagger any business. And I think it is largely a result of a stupid, sneering attitude to fully government-run businesses by business people who want to be tycoons. They are sure they can run things exponentially more profitably, and then give themselves the salaries set on some supra-government scale, nothing tied in with their actual achievements of good business outcomes.

  19. Treetop 19

    I would like to know how viable it is to keep Solid Energy?

    The outcome may be death by a thousand cuts.

    Ongoing for the Pike River families in having any hope of the mine ever being entered.

  20. Gosman 20

    “In a decade, the board’s pay rose from $200,000 to $360,000 – a 80% increase”

    Does anybody else see a problem with this comment in relation to tying the problems at Solid energy to National?

    • vto 20.1

      It is not being tied wholly to National, clearly

      • Gosman 20.1.1

        And there I was thinking that the title of the piece “Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy” somehow did.

        Where does the article mention the previous administration?

        • Frank Macskasy 20.1.1.1

          “And there I was thinking that the title of the piece “Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy” somehow did.”

          No, but excessive demand by National for dividends might not have helped.

          • Gosman 20.1.1.1.1

            I think you will find the previous Labour led government was just as greedy when it came to demanding dividends from SOE’s. Or do you have evidence to the contrary Frank?

            • freedom 20.1.1.1.1.1

              yes, but the scale of the largesse is somewhat obviously tilted one way, to the Nacts

        • vto 20.1.1.2

          It ties it to National and the corporate culture. Re-read the headline and the first sentence silly.

          What has the previous admin got to do with your point? Or anything? Is it a “they did it too” argument you are putting up?

          • Gosman 20.1.1.2.1

            No, the point I am making is that the problems with Solid Energy are hardly related to National. Trying to tie it to them is silly. Any policies that contributed to the current problems have been followed for longer than 4 years. The issue is really the fact that Government has no business owning coal mines in the first place.

            • RedLogix 20.1.1.2.1.1

              While Pike River Coal Ltd did?

            • vto 20.1.1.2.1.2

              That’s one way of viewing it sure, if it helps people feel better about the useless Nats currently in power.

              As for being in the business of owning coal mines – that is an entirely different issue and a very big one. The way you frame it is simplistic in the extreme.

              How should New Zealanders as a whole (via government in this instance) provide for the well-being of NZers? Should it own some fundamentals, like water supplies so everyone has unrestricted access to water for drinking? Should it own undies factories so everyone has a clean pair of undies each week? Should it provide for a communcal form of power such as electricity so that everyone can be assured of heaters to keep them warm at night? Should it provide for health care to all?

              Once you have answered those big questions gosman, then you can answer a specific question within that, such as energy supply and natural resources (here coal).

              • RedLogix

                I’ve generally found that the simplest way to answer that question vto is to ask another one …”what happens if this enterprise fails in any way?”

                If the answer is that the government would have to bail it out, for whatever reason, then it should have always been a public entity. This tells us that the water supply should be public, while the underwear factories can be private.

                Solid Energy is a marginal case. It could be allowed to fail, but the government may decide to bail it out for political reasons.

                • vto

                  Yes, well put. Solid Energy fits within the energy supply question partly though too. This makes it a more difficult one as you say.

                  If the energy supply fails then old people die from cold, hence it should be owned by the public, as you say. Coal is an energy supply.

                  What say thee gosman to RL’s “what happens if this enteprise fails in any way?” and its relation to ownership of assets in the wider context?

                • RJL

                  RedLogix, I agree with vto, that is very well put.

                  vto, coal’s use as an energy source is not critical. Good old Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_New_Zealand ) tells us that 7% of energy and 18% of electricity is coal sourced. It wouldn’t be a massive crisis to shift out of coal entirely.

                  Also, the financial situation of Solid Energy (or whomever controls the mines)doesn’t change the amount of coal in the mine, or the state of the mining systems. If Solid Energy collapsed, the government could easily continue to mine and gradually phase out production.

              • Draco T Bastard

                I prefer the question: What is the purpose of the economy?

                Answer that question and we can then start questioning what should be done by government and what should be done by the private sector. I tend to think that all those things that everyone needs (Demand monopoly) should be done by government so that they will always be available and to prevent private monopolies from developing.

              • Gosman

                The state owning commercial enterprises is no guarantee that people will access a good or service any better than if they were all provided by the private sector. There is a multitude of examples from history, and currently, that provides evidence for this.

                • Bill

                  So develop a non-ownership economy that is run by a democratic interaction between those providing goods and services and those using them. (note those are overlapping groups and not distinct – ie, users of goods and services are also providers of goods and services)

                • RJL

                  Gossman: state owning commercial enterprises

                  The idea is that they shouldn’t be run as commercial enterprises…

                  Anyway, of course, the state doing something is no guarantee of access or success.

                  However, that’s not the point. The point is to remove some of the risks associated with commerical enterprises, removing some of the costs that commerical enterprises impose (i.e. private profit) and removing some of the barriers to access that commerical enterprises create. You do, of course, end up trading these problems for a different set of problems faced by state run sectors. The argument is that for some services/industries the problems of a state run sector are preferred to those of a commerical one.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  The private sector owning commercial enterprises is no guarantee that people will access a good or service any better than if they were all provided by the state. There is a multitude of examples from history, and currently, that provides evidence for this.

                  FIFY

        • geoff 20.1.1.3

          The last Labour government is partially to blame for this, Gosman. Is that what you wanted to hear? Helen Clark’s government did pursue some stupid rightwing policies. But let’s be clear, it is the stupid rightwing policies that are to blame so don’t feel too smug because, as more and more of this sham economy collapses, actual leftwing policies will eventually be implemented. Much to your chagrin, I am sure.

          • Gosman 20.1.1.3.1

            I very much doubt it. In the short term I would love more actual left wing policies. When they fail miserably they are unlikely to ever be repeated for a long time.

            • geoff 20.1.1.3.1.1

              Great so you’ll be voting for the Green party?
              I really don’t get rightwing trolls. They must either be very stupid or getting paid to type their dreck.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Research shows that they’re very stupid.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Correct. You could not pay for this level of stupidity, even if you wanted to.

                  • You could not pay for this level of stupidity, even if you wanted to.

                    …Ouch… pretty strange thing to say while we have this current Government, please remember we are paying* for their level of stupidity and still polling them highly to boot.

                    *(in both senses of the word)

                    🙂

            • tracey 20.1.1.3.1.2

              and yet the opposite seems true of right wing policies, probably because they dont fail for the 1% at the top… and so many more seem to hanker to be in the top 1% so they are happy to be thoroughly fucked in the hope of a chance of a fleeting glimpse while the 1% laugh

          • tracey 20.1.1.3.2

            agreed. Continuing the right wing mistakes of its predecessor doesn’t make the policies right or workable

    • marsman 20.2

      @ Gosman. From the above post:

      ‘It’s evident that this culture of excess really took off in the past four years under National. In 2008, the CEO earned half what he did in 2012 and there were 9 people on more than a Cabinet Minister’s pay, not 39.’

  21. vto 21

    This whole suggestion of a bailout proves completely the fallacy that SOE’s operate on a free market commercial model. If they did then the company would be left to sink as shareholders would not put any more money in. Government shareholders however operate under a completely different game-plan and abnormal parameters.

    Private owners would let the banks get what they could and not give a shit if the bank risk materialised. Government owners on the other hand never let the bank risk materialise.

    The same with local government. Christchurch City Council ceo Tony Maryatt said, of Council-owned event centre operator V-Base, “we cannot let one of our companies fail”, so of course they get the little old lady ratepayers to cough up to cover up the incompetence.

    This fact means that SOE’s should abandon their current stated approach and amend it to better reflect the reality. That reality being that the shareholder will always put more money in. They has substantial and very material implications, especially in the way SOE’s are owned, oeprated and managed for the benefit of NZ.

    • Draco T Bastard 21.1

      This whole suggestion of a bailout proves completely the fallacy that SOE’s operate on a free market commercial model.

      South Canterbury Finance.

      Actually, the actions of the governments around the world and especially the EU and US proves that the entire capitalist system doesn’t work on the free market commercial model. If it did then all those banks would have collapsed.

  22. vto 22

    sheesh, the failing edit function leaves posts looking shoddy and ungrammatical….

  23. DH 23

    I had a look through the 2012 accounts and it doesn’t look that bad to me. The loss was due to writing down the value of assets according to IFRS rules(*), to the tune of $150million. That looks bad on the books but if coal prices go back up those writedowns will be reversed and turn into a profit in future years. It’s paper losses & gains.

    It made a reasonable trading profit of over $100million. What is a concern is the amount of financing and accounting profits & losses, the accountants seem to have more of an impact on the business than the mining operations. Another concern is the payment of a $30million dividend to the Crown that left only $2million cash in the bank.

    (*) IFRS requires assets to be in the books at ‘fair market value’. The earnings potential of the asset affects the market value so when coal prices drop the value of the mine gets written down. Opposite happens too, they hike up the value on good years & call it profit.

  24. tracey 24

    “Telecom says there will be job cuts “well into the hundreds” this year as it seeks to reduce costs across its business.

    The company this morning reported adjusted net profits of $156 million for the six months to December 31, up 57.6 per cent from the year before.”

    So, even though they still made a profit this year… they have to sack hundreds of people. Unless they are doing a Steven Joyce and saying well into the hundreds so that 150 or 200 will seem “better”?

    • Colonial Viper 24.1

      It’s about reducing the share of money which goes to labour (yes you idiot white colour managers, you too are ‘labour’) in order to increase even further the share of money which goes to capital (i.e. shareholders).

      $156M in Telecom profit is sufficient to hire a couple of thousand workers on $60K pa salaries.

  25. Afewknowthetruth 25

    Solid Energy sounds too dull for the times we live in. When the revamped company resumes looting and polluting the planet it should have a new name suited to the Orwellian times we live in: Clean Energy, Green Energy, Progress Energy etc. After all, a few years ago we were told there would be a big movement towards ‘Clean Coal’, whatever that might be -something to do with changing the laws of chemistry and physics, I believe.

    • xtasy 25.1

      What about “Power Glow” or “Ener-shine”?

    • johnm 25.2

      Hi AFKTT
      When someone replies to your comment you should put aside your pathetic arrogance and give them a reply otherwise you are just another piece of internet fluff. Get It! F.U.

      • xtasy 25.2.1

        To be fair, if every commenter would comment back on every comment made that follows their own, this would somehow lead to a fair bit of endless “chain reactions”, which seems to happen in some threads, where the limited “reply” options soon get used up, so it is hard to keep track on who commented on what previous comment.

        So perhaps take it a bit easy on certain commenters not responding all too much.

        I feel that some may just wish to say their bit, and do not necessarily want to engage in lengthy exchanges. Others do, so it is a bit live and let live, I suppose.

        To some degree I can share the grim views of AFKTT, but I am trying to still search for some constructive solutions to the challenges humans face, be this the looming energy crisis, or whatever.

        • Murray Olsen 25.2.1.1

          Some of us only come here once a day and don’t even know whether we’ve had any replies or not. Internet fluff? I’ve been called worse.

          • NoseViper (The Nose knows) 25.2.1.1.1

            Murray Olsen
            I think it would be more efficient of and for commenters if the persona they are replyiing to is referred to in the first few words. Then abuse advice additions agreement etc can be picked up by doing a search on one’s pseudonym. And sometimes it’s helpful, because of the way that time sequence of comments is pushed to a distance, by a thread that takes precedence (pushy so.s) there may be eventually twenty comments between the initial one and the reply comment.

  26. ianmac 26

    On Campbell Live last night, first item, John had OIA notes which said that $12million was paid out in bonuses in the year before last and last year $12million in bonuses. Justified in hindsight or in foresight or just no-sight?

  27. NoseViper (The Nose knows) 27

    Don Elder and all the wide boys stroll off with millions of dollars of our money in their pockets.
    I haven’t read all the comments yet so someone might have supplied the names of these so often reclusive directors and consultant helpers who manage to channel cash and assets to destinations that are not helpful to the company they ostensibly serve.

  28. NoseViper (The Nose knows) 28

    10.12 am comment locked in moderation. Why?
    Edit function still supplies box empty of text.

  29. Colonial Viper 29

    Nearly half a billion dollars of debt was taken on in the past four years as National cheered on Solid Energy’s crazy (economically and environmentally) plans to turn lignite into diesel, briquettes, and fertiliser. Hey, times were good for coal, and the Nats wanted to see more fossil fuel exports.

    When was hundreds of hectares of that lignite containing farm land purchased? Ah yes, during a Labour Government.

    And I’d say that it was the right move then, and remains the right move now, as a long term store of energy for the country not for short term utilisation.

  30. Rusty Shackleford 30

    “The massive expansion of liabilities in the lignite bet, which has crippled the company, was part of National’s fossil fuels strategy.”

    This pretty much demonstrates the moral hazard of govt owned businesses. They can make bets like this because they are doing it with other peoples money.

  31. Rich 31

    In that capitalist haven the United States, the Vice President’s salary (USD 230k) sets a cap on public sector pay. http://www.chcoc.gov/transmittals/TransmittalDetails.aspx?TransmittalID=4499

    Nobody is allowed more, including people like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

  32. Afewknowthetruth 32

    The COEs of councils in NZ are given more than $230k a year (note I did not say they earn more than that) for producing dysfunctional community plans full of mutually exclusive statements and fabrications that destroy local and global environments, and for organising meeting that promote dysfunction. .

    And people talk of there being hope. NZ society is well and truly fucked. It’s just that most people still haven’t realised because the shit has only just begun to hit the fan in large amounts.

    I see that US oil consumption is down to 18 million barrels a day, from a peak of 21 barrels a day, despite a significant increase in population …… a sure sign collapse of the sick and evil dominant culture is underway. Shame about all that radioactivity leaking into the Columbia River. .

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