The real reason Solid Energy is failing

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, August 4th, 2015 - 37 comments
Categories: climate change, energy, Environment, john key, Mining, national, same old national - Tags:


With Solid Energy facing liquidation no doubt there will be analysis about why this is happening and who is to blame.  I believe that blame is clear and it should be applied to the incompetence of this Government.

This is what I wrote in October 2013:

This just in from Stuff:

If Solid Energy was partly privatised, it probably would not be in the mess it is in now, Prime Minister John Key says.

Continuing to defend the Government’s sell-down of state assets, Key said today a deal to bailout Solid Energy might not have been necessary had the company been partially floated.

“My own personal view is if we’d had the mixed ownership model applied to Solid Energy, it may well not have gotten itself in the mess it did,” he told Firstline.

That’s because the external analysis would have rung a lot of bells and demanded a lot more accountability,” he said.

He also said other state-owned assets such as TVNZ and NZ Post, had proven not to be good long-term investments to hold on to.

So let me get this right.  Solid Energy is fully under Government Control, subject to Ministerial and Treasury oversight, has in the past been worth a huge dividend flow, and Key thinks that external analysis and oversight would have improved performance?

This is as damning an acknowledgement of failure as you can imagine.

Mind you given this Government’s performance I think that the acknowledgement is appropriate.

The performance has been blighted by such actions as:

Key is right and there is a problem.  The solution is not to partially float Solid Energy however.  The only solution that will directly address these problems is to change the Government and elect a group of people who are competent.

Those comments are just as valid now.  Increasing debt at a time coal prices were softening was bound to result in disaster.

The figures are daunting.  Solid Energy lost $181.9 million in the last reported financial year (2014).  For some reason the interim report on results to December of each year has not been published for 2014.  Perhaps the figures were too depressing.

Of course as Barak Obama recognises reduced coal mining is good for the planet.  But I doubt this is the motivation for National performing in the way that it has.  And a caring Government would have a plan B for the mining areas and clearly there is no plan B.

37 comments on “The real reason Solid Energy is failing”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Sell it to Tony Abbott – he believes that “coal is good for humanity”.

    And he’d likely make a more competent job of it.

    • dukeofurl 1.1

      Rubbish .Abbott cant even manage his own Mps competently.

      But back to coal, one of the largest US coal producers ( Alpha Resources) has gone in bankruptcy/restructuring as it has similar problems- borrowed more at same time as Solid Energy.

      Im surprised some think there is good CO2 and bad CO2 (from coal). Hello ?

      US coal producers have a double hit from low coal prices ( China) and low demand locally – cheap natural gas (good CO2 from fracking ???)

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        I only said Abbott would be more competent than the Nats. Not how competent. 🙂

        • dukeofurl

          Abbott makes Key positively shine, at least Key is a social progressive mostly.
          Abbott is a creature from some 1950s lagoon.

          • Ron

            Come on comparing Abbot to the creature from the Black swamp is hardly fair to the Creature

        • Stuart Munro

          The SMH reckons the Abbot government is the most incompetent ever.

  2. DH 2

    There’s a need to be careful when interpreting the financial reporting. Solid Energy’s ‘loss’ was largely write downs of capital value which are a requirement of IFRS accounting. It’s important to note that with this form of accounting assets are valued by their (potential) earnings so if the profits are down then the assets get written down as well.

    These are Solid Energy losses that exist on paper for the 2014 year;

    Depreciation $38.2 million
    Amortisation of mining assets $22.3 million
    Impairment $110.6 million

    Total $171.1 million

    When the coal price goes back up the accumulated impairments get revalued back upwards as well so it’s not as dire a situation as the Govt would have us believe. It’s main problem is the write downs have drastically reduced its capital value while the debt remained the same, wiping out the equity (on paper anyway).

    Looking at that 2014 annual report Solid Energy’s operating cashflow doesn’t actually look that bad for the circumstances, it’s not making a profit but it’s not bleeding huge sums of cash either.

    • infused 2.1

      Stop writing sense please.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        It may be how it is but that doesn’t make it ‘sense’. In fact, I’d say that DH’s explanation clearly shows the delusion that is the market system.

    • dukeofurl 2.2

      Doesnt that mean, if revenues go up so does asset values.

      Anyway national played economic idiots with ACC values 5 years ago so now they can wear the dunce cap for something of their own making.

      Where were you when the ‘ACC hole’ was revealed by Nick Smith and his clown car.
      ACC has an avalanche of cash every year to boot.

      • DH 2.2.1

        “Doesnt that mean, if revenues go up so does asset values.”

        Yes they do. IFRS requires assets to reflect ‘market values’ which for Sold Energy I’d think would largely be the value of coal in the ground.

        Their accounts do suggest this;

        “An impairment of $105.0 million was booked for Export Operations as the company has adopted lower future price assumptions, impacting the assessment of future value. Combined with a high New Zealand dollar, this has impacted the assessment of asset carrying values.”

        Worth noting the $NZD has fallen near 20% since 2014, which I’d think should recover over $20 million of that impairment.

        I am wondering why impairments are included as an operating expense in the accounts, upwards revaluations at least are normally included in comprehensive income which is separate from the day to day operation of the business.

        “Anyway national played economic idiots with ACC values 5 years ago so now they can wear the dunce cap for something of their own making.”

        I don’t think they did play idiots, I think they knew exactly what they were doing.

        • mickysavage

          In terms of trading performance revenue was about $450 mil and operating costs were $500 mil in the last financial year and I suspect that things have not improved. So the company was eating its equity. The revaluations only made things worse.

          It looks like the company may be at a stage where it is negatively valued so the directors have no choice but to pull the plug.

          • Ad

            Key will of course turn this business failure into an abject lesson on why the state should not operate businesses – apropos the speech by Minister English two weeks ago. The Opposition will need something sensible to say at that point.

            West Cast mining was the birthplace of the New Zealand labour movement.
            It’s pretty much done.

            There’s no lesson more stark for Labour’s Future of Work study than to start on New Zealand’s West Coast. To go back to its roots and figure out why things will never return, and what policies are still relevant.

            The political discourse to come in the next two weeks will be about the future role of the state in directly supporting the economy.

          • Ron

            Turn it back into a Government Department and stop worrying about a small operating loss. Then set about finding a clean use for the coal.

      • Keith 2.2.2

        ACC was and is embarrassingly awash with cash from that manufactured crisis and that vast wealth from hugely over charging was included in GDP figures if I recall correctly.

        In reality this cash bonanza was another source of revenue for the government to offset borrowing to cover the shortfall from cutting tax for the rich.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Solid Energy is failing because the Nats want it to so that they can then sell it off for cheaps to their rich mates. It’s not incompetence at all but actual real maliciousness.

  4. Keith 4

    Ah yes, National pretty much bankrupted Solid Energy by making unrealistic demands for dividends to cover their tax cut disaster policy and I recall at the time Key was overseas and front footed this collapse, which was the big arse red flag National were worried they would caught out. They need not of been concerned however as the MSM either missed this glaring fact or ignored it.

    Borrowing money to pay a dividend is the definition of what makes a shell game. The government borrows less but hides its shortfall by making a government department borrow it for them. What a fraud, what a Ponzi scheme, what a bunch of crooks running this government.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      John Key is on record as both supporting and not supporting what Solid Energy was doing. Of course, Blinglish, as Shareholding Minister, was telling Solid Energy what to do and he would have been getting his instructions from Cabinet.

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 4.2

      And don’t forget making them buy Pike River as well.

    • Ron 4.3

      Which is one of the failures of the SOE model. Bit late to be complaining about it now though as its been going on ever since the SOE model was implemented.
      Just off the top of my head RNZ was forced to sell Durham Street with the profit going to TVNZ and then back to Government as a dividend. RNZ was forced to sell their Steinways with profit swallowed up to satisfy the Government. Then look at NZ Rail all their land sold off and a few New Zealanders became very wealthy but Rail gained nothing.
      It’s time we went back to a model that worked where the Crown own assets and the departments work for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

      Borrowing money to pay a dividend is the definition of what makes a shell game. The government borrows less but hides its shortfall by making a government department borrow it for them. What a fraud, what a Ponzi scheme, what a bunch of crooks running this government.

  5. Ad 5

    Obama and Key will be rightly accused of shutting coal production down without providing economic adjustment plans for the communities that are damaged as a result.

    Real people are going to get massively damaged along the way. Coal mining no matter where it is – West Virginia or the West Coast – supports working class families getting bread on the table and keeping the wolf from the door.

    Maybe coal should be doomed, and the drift to Auckland irreversible. Maybe.

    But not even making an effort to prepare the directly impacted miners, the 170 plus Kiwirail jobs, the TranzAlpine Express, the EPMU, the contractors, and indeed the whole of the West Coast for this scale of loss is a social crime and a major failure of John Key’s leadership.

    He could generate a business plan for Sky City. Where’s the government’s transition plan for New Zealand’s West Coast?

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      What you describe is basically what’s wrong with capitalism. It’s only concerned with how well the rich are doing and everybody else will be sacrificed to keep them rich.

      • Ad 5.1.1

        What I am describing is the negative influence of specific state actions upon the economy of a real society in New Zealand.

        So far the Opposition are attacking the state’s governance problems re Solid Energy. It’s bigger and far more real than that.

        • Draco T Bastard

          What I am describing is the negative influence of specific state actions upon the economy of a real society in New Zealand.

          Yes, but you have to look to the reasons for those actions and also put those actions into the wider context of what happens in general, i.e, what happened when the GFC hit was the rich were protected, got tax cuts etc and the poor lost their jobs, homes and got tax increases in the form of raised GST.

          • Ad

            So now spell out how this is relevant either to the post or to my comments at all.

      • AmaKiwi 5.1.2

        Corporate Feudalism.

        The same underlying principle as TPPA.

    • Colonial Viper 5.2

      Obama and Key will be rightly accused of shutting coal production down without providing economic adjustment plans for the communities that are damaged as a result.

      The US has lost many millions of manufacturing and other blue collar jobs over the last 20 years. Roughly 3M of those jobs went straight to China. The elite didn’t care then; do we believe that they care now?

      • AmaKiwi 5.2.1

        The elite DO care.

        The elite care about money, which is more flexible than those troublesome homo sapiens who need constant maintenance.

  6. Pat 6

    the real reason Solid energy has failed…
    …however what the govt have done re dividends and ill conceived expansion plans certainly didnt help.

  7. keyman 7

    know the layed off will face the engineered horrors of winz

  8. Ad 8

    When Key kills Solid Energy it takes out about 1/4 of Kiwirail’s business, so he can kill Kiwirail shortly as well.

    The Government are conducting a root and branch evaluation of the Kiwirail business to consider its continued viability.

    This takes out both, and with it they get to kill fully and forever the idea that the state should ever run a business again.

    Which is fully in line with what English announced in his speech two weeks ago.

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