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Privatisation stalking-horses on the hoof

Written By: - Date published: 2:30 pm, January 17th, 2011 - 15 comments
Categories: election 2011, privatisation - Tags:

A typical stalking-horse article for privatisation of assets:

Partial listing of some state-owned enterprises deserves a closer look.

Potential benefits include better performance – it is thus an opportunity to improve New Zealand’s lacklustre growth and productivity.

Potential benefits of stabbing my hand with a pen include a leprechaun wanting trade my blood for rubies, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Where is the evidence that partial privatisation would improve performance? And what do we mean by ‘improved performance’? Is it just higher prices for the consumers (us)?

Treasury advised in 2008 that the performance of SOEs has “eroded over time” and that the model, while sound “needs to be reinvigorated”.

Treasury also advised that we should sell SOEs back in the 1980s and 1990s and that worked out just great didn’t it? Billions have flowed offshore in profits, private monopolies were created, and we’ve spent billions undoing the damage of asset-stripping.

First, partial listing of some non-essential SOEs could increase their value.

Not if the government just takes the capital raised by way of a special dividend which it uses to fund tax cuts for the rich, like it is about to force Meridian to do.

The scrutiny of the market would lead to improved monitoring of their performance. A market share price is a transparent measure of performance and value that currently does not exist for SOEs.

Yeah stock-markets are fantastic, eh? They never have bubbles or crashes, they’re just these amazing clockwork value deciders, which is really good to have for some reason.

The New Zealand share-market would benefit. At a time where there is a dearth of new listings, deepening and broadening the market by the partial listing of SOEs would clearly be welcome.

Why is that a good thing? I can see it’s good for people buying stocks to have more to buy, but why is it good for the country?

Few would disagree that the capital market in New Zealand offers limited investment options. Do we want another generation attempting to grow wealth through dubious investments or through continued reliance on bricks and mortar?

Is the alternative for us to take companies we already collectively own and sell them to stockmarket players? How does that increase New Zealand’s wealth at all? Why aren’t the vaunted ‘wealth creators’ up to creating their own companies worth investing in? Why is it that the largest company on the NZX is an ex-SOE?

I agree there needs to be more investment in New Zealand in productive assets but selling off existing assets to the rich isn’t the way. We need a New Zealand Future Fund combining Kiwisaver, the SOEs, the Cullen Fund, and private savings deposits with a mandate to invest in New Zealand innovation, economic sovereignty, and strategic assets.

Third, considering partial listing would force us to identify those businesses Government owns more through inadvertence and inertia than intention. It is the former group that could be partially listed. Examples that could be considered include Quotable Value, and Learning Media, an educational publishing business. Is either core government business? How many New Zealanders know that there is an SOE – Asure New Zealand – that provides an export red meat inspection service? The acid test may be to ask if we think the Government should buy these businesses if it did not already own them.

Quotable value provides the only non-commercial valuation of New Zealand homes, which means people can rely on its impartiality. It is utterly vital that it not fall into the hands of people with a profit motive. The Americans are already threatening to ban our meat exports because freezing companies want to do their own inspections, how do you think export markets would react to us selling of Asure?

There may be sound strategic reasons for government to hold stakes in commercial enterprises. Air New Zealand is an example: there is good evidence that national airlines provide more direct flights to their home market and invest in promoting their home country, which is important for our prosperity as a small, remote country with a large tourism sector.

And, New Zealand is enjoying those strategic benefits while holding less than a 100 per cent share in Air NZ.

Air NZ should never have been sold in the first place. Labour was forced to step in and save it when the private buyers screwed up. Hardly a poster child for asset sales.

Is the reason we hold 100 per cent of Meridian Energy – valued by its board at about $6.7 billion – security of energy supply or to subsidise consumers or for financial return or other reasons? Do any or all of these objectives require a 100 per cent stake? Clarifying what these SOEs are supposed to deliver is a prerequisite to holding them accountable for delivering it.

Just what we need, more privatisation in the energy sector – can we rename the partially privatised Meridian as Enron and save the time?

One objection even to partial privatisation of SOEs is that all New Zealanders already “invest” in SOEs through their government ownership, and that the share of SOEs partially privatised would be scooped up either by a few wealthy interests or by overseas investors.

Pretty strong objection.

A response to this objection is that if done right, partial listing of SOEs could lead to an increase in asset value of the entities – increasing the size of the pie. Some have proposed that the money raised by SOE floats could be used to inject fresh capital into other SOEs, or to fund the acquisition of stakes in new, internationalising Kiwi ventures. All New Zealanders would continue to own a share of that pie through the Government’s continued holding.

But we all know from experience that the government just uses the new capital to fund tax cuts for the rich. If there are private investors wanting to invest in growing an SOE’s business, let them crate a jointly-owned subsidiary for specific projects – this already happens.

Many New Zealanders may also end up holding stakes in these companies through their KiwiSaver scheme or through investment by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

But most of us wouldn’t and most of the profit stream would flow to a wealthy few.

Look forward to more of these stalking-horse pieces on privatistion. National has a few objectives in government: keep Labour out (that’s why it was created), reduce wage costs and other business ‘costs’ like regulation, lower taxes for the rich, fund that by cutting spending and selling assets, and divvy up the public wealth among the wealthy elite. Privatisation is a core part of its agenda and it will have to push for it in some form at the 2011 election. Articles like this one are all about softening us up for that campaign.

15 comments on “Privatisation stalking-horses on the hoof ”

  1. stever 1

    The phrase “partial listing” should always be replaced by “partial privatisation”, at least. Though, given the plans, replacing it by “privatisation” would be honest.

  2. stever 2

    Mind you, the two-and-a-half pages of comments on the Herald site so far are encouragingly clear about the dangers of all this. I guess the govt spinners haven’t got onto it yet….

  3. Pascal's bookie 3

    Some have proposed that the money raised by SOE floats could be used to inject fresh capital into other SOEs, or to fund the acquisition of stakes in new, internationalising Kiwi ventures.

    Geez, Susan Watson and Chye-Ching Huang, from the University of Auckland’s Business School, could you be a little bit more transparent.

    Thing is, when you say “Some have proposed…” you mean “Not us, we wouldn’t say that”.

    That’s ok when you are putting forward what others say in order to disagree with it. But when you pull the ‘Some reckon’ line in support of your argument, you just look more like a rhetorician trying to convince by any means necessary. Going so far as to put forward arguments that you don’t actually agree with, or think are all that smart.

    Some might say that their article is all a part of their role as being the conscience and critic of society. Not me though. I prefer less flacktackularism.

  4. Jum 4

    It is becoming more obvious, daily, that business people are lazy, selfish, greedy slobs when all they can think of to grow a business is to pinch ours. Yes OURS. Kiwis’ businesses. SOEs are ours. How dare these students, who haven’t spent enough time living to know about the betrayal of Douglas and the greed of JKeyll, now try to steal our assets for business profit.

    Did Glenn, the NAct-owned millionaire, tobacco lobbyist and political liar for NAct, put these little darlings up to this – it is his building that he ‘donated’ to Auckland University and given he lied about Winston Peters because he didn’t get some plum diplomat’s job he hadn’t been promised, he will certainly be wanting payback. Nothing better than using the new generation selfish and greedy kids that Douglas, Prebble and Caygill spawned (they’re all backing National now, funny that…) to push the spin on selling what’s left of our assets.

    So that now leaves us with two generations of greedy, selfish Kiwis and predatory foreignors and stateless business jocks like Kerr, pronounced like cur, and other business rotundtable acolytes who have no loyalty to Kiwis, only to money and power and what it can do to increase their selfish greed, and don’t even live in New Zealand, but are still allowed to vote here and lobby and spin.

    • Jan 4.1

      Yes, when are we – the people – owners of the common infrastructure that are the state owned enterprises and public assets going to have our ‘property rights’ enshrined in legislation in the way that the NACT are always demanding that personal property rights are (quite rightly) protected?

      However a National Party manifesto with lots of privatisation signalled makes for a much less attractive proposition so I guess weasel words as in the article will likely be the order of the day in any public pronouncements before the election.

      (Bill Rosenberg’s recent presentation on the Fabian’s website reviews the arguments for and against privatisation of public assets including an excellent section on the conflicts of interest and insider trading that occurred last time round) anti-spam remembering hoo hoo!;-).

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Some SoEs shouldn’t be SoEs as them operating at a profit is actually bad for the society/economy. The list includes, but is not limited to,

    Electricity (Generation and distribution)
    Ports (Air and water)
    Defence (R&D and manufacture)

    Putting SoEs on to the stock market won’t increase their value at all thinking that it will do so is purely delusional. We know this as we’ve tried it and have had to stump up the money afterwards when we’ve had to go back and fix them (AirNZ, Rail, Telecoms).

  6. David 6

    It would be nice to have something relatively safe to invest in like a power company for our retirement, there isnt a lot of choice around for us empty nesters trying to save for our golden years. As long as the government hold 51% and they offer it to us kiwis rather than some huge yankee corporation it could be good, AirNZ has worked really well for shareholders and NZ.

    • Marty G 6.1

      you already own the power SOEs as a taxpayer. The dividends go to paying for services that you would otherwise pay for via tax. There’s no free lunch here, David. Privatise the SOEs and you either get fewer government services or higher tax.

      And you can always invest in Contact.

    • Jum 6.2

      Whether the govt offers it to Kiwis or to foreigners makes no difference – foreigners or stateless marauders will end up with our assets – takeovers; NZers are totally naive about their ability to control the markets. Even financial advisers cannot be trusted to treat clients’ shares as if they were their own. The biggest fish always swallows the smallest fish. NZ is that small fish. The sharks/moneytraders are circling.

      But more importantly, we’re paying for something we already own. Whichever way we look at that no one would buy something they already owned. That’s just dumb.

      Buy the best managers but leave the ownership in our hands, where it is. Keep the profits going into our bank account. Kiwibank needs to be supported by all New Zealanders with the proviso it remains totally in New Zealand hands.

      Soft pedalling the betrayal of my country’s assets makes me angry. There is nothing honest or fair about using forked-tongue words to sell Kiwis out.

    • McFlock 6.3

      It would be nicer to have a dignified pension and affordable power bills in our “golden years”.

      • Jum 6.3.1

        It would be better still to have retained the super fund that Muldoon destroyed and now JKeyll and co are slowly dismantling the current super fund, and ACC both being assets that have helped to reduce the present recessionary difficulties. We know Australia’s respect for its unions and its Aussies’ kids’ futures that kept their super fund going and is now worth billions. What a shame the rightwing in this country can’t think outside its greed and individual selfishness.

        It would be better still to have retained all our power companies profits for Kiwi kids and just brought in dynamite managers to modernise the thinking, not privatise them.

        Unfortunately, the greed and selfishness at play in business nowadays will only end in more unemployment and greedier shareholders. Not the sort of country I ever thought New Zealand would become – nasty and brutish. If business had ethics, it would have refused the destructive 90day fire at will with no reason given, put in place by this government. Obviously, it was business that actively encouraged it.

  7. Deadly_NZ 7

    it’s more like Robbery by Stealth. Shonkey and his rich fucking mates are just ripping off the country for Millions. Whats needed is for these rich thieves to NOT be allowed to remove all their Ill gotten gains out of NZ and then let a company fail then bring back the company under a different name. And next time NO fucking grand a week NO Fucking houses and cars. Just the dole and the same hardships they cause the ordinary people. At the moment these rich fucks just asset strip companies ripping off the little person and then they fuck off to Aus . Maybe we need a professional hit man to go and get our money back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IE: repay the little man or your fucking DEAD!

    Sorry but these rich thieves piss me of, and NO-ONE will do anything about them.

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