Why I think that Auckland is getting scammed

Written By: - Date published: 12:42 pm, March 12th, 2012 - 69 comments
Categories: auckland supercity - Tags: , ,

I have been looking for an online copy of a article that was in one of the sunday papers (see below), which curiously doesn’t appear to have made it online.   However the important points as far as I am concerned are:

  • It wasn’t a report commissioned by the council, its holding company for the port, or the port itself. It was done for the Hutchinson Port Holdings Trust who are presumably looking for something quite different to Auckland.

    The Group directly invests in hubs that serve large hinterlands and that either already support international trade or which have the potential to become key transport centres. Furthermore, HPH develops and manages all aspects of port operation and trade-related logistics, transferring proven operational practices to ensure an optimum environment for the development of commerce.

    And from what is reported of the report, that is what it compares against for the ‘headline’ 13% ROE. Big ports with massive hinterlands. Not exactly NZ with 4.4 million people with a lot of sheep and cows. Hutchinson do smaller investments as well, but that wasn’t what the report looked at.

  • The 12% that someone assured the council could be achieved was based purely on cherry picking from specialised ports that bear no relationship to the Ports of Auckland operations. Somehow I bet that all of the information about ports that weren’t property companies, coastal shipping ports, or in high volume sea lanes was discarded before anyone in the council saw it.
  • A more accurate comparison comparing like with like would have found that the Ports of Auckland was doing pretty well compared to its actual peers. Even in Hong Kong with one of the most heavily used ports areas in the world, and where Hutchinson seems to be largely based, the return on equity is about 7.7%, only slightly more than PoA’s 6+%.
  • But how was it that this report was being misused for analyzing what Ports of Auckland’s forward strategy?
    Well I find it interesting to look at the current chairman of the Ports of Auckland board – Richard Pearson.

    Mr Pearson has extensive experience in port operations and investment around the world.  He recently returned to New Zealand. His work overseas most recently included Hutchison Port Holdings Group managing director for Hong Kong International Terminals Ltd and managing director for the Europe division of President ECT Rotterdam.

  • A few years ago,  in about 2006, I seem to remember that Hutchinson were sniffing around various ports in NZ looking to see if they could purchase one or more of them. In 2008, they purchased a power supplier in Wellington. In NZ they have a track record of trying to purchase utilities so it isn’t a far stretch of the imagination to detect their interest in purchasing a cheap politically hot asset in Auckland.

But the timing of Richard Pearson’s chairmanship probably explains a lot about where this current obsession and the use of this report came from. Doing strange comparisons with ports that bear about as much relationship to our ports as my iPad has to other aluminium castings. The comparison is  vague and not associated with function.

Waitakerenews has a post about the article that Fairfax don’t have online – “Ports of Auckland is performing better than Auckland Council thinks”

The most important piece of this weekend’s comment on the Ports dispute was a Sunday Star Times article by Greg Ninness in the business section. For some reason it is not online as I type this.  It was also tucked away in the business section, somewhere where most good lefties would never dream of going to.

But the report is really important and raises questions about the advice that Auckland Councillors have been given.

It casts major doubts on the veracity of the analysis that suggested that Ports of Auckland could achieve a 12% return and that its performance was poor.

The SST asked for a copy of the report but states that there was an attempt to keep it secret.  Eventually it was advised that the report was a broker’s research report on Hutchison Port Holdings Trust.  I cannot find the report on the web and the contents suggest that it would not normally be available but the reported contents are fascinating.

The report compared nine different ports from around the world.  These included Ports of Tauranga but also other ports that had little similarity to Auckland.  These included Piraeus Port Authority (mainly passenger ferries, coastal shipping and cruise ships), Mundra Port in India (property development company with a port operation on the side), Oman’s Port Services Corp and International Container services that runs ports in countries such as the Philippines, Brasil, the Cayman Islands and Madagascar.  See any similarity with Auckland’s Port?

But this is the really interesting comment. Swift’s statement apparently failed to state that the report also gave performance benchmarks for groups of ports which have a lower average return on equity than 13.6%.

Chinese ports despite their lower wages return on average 10.6% and Hong Kong listed port operators returned an average of 7.7%.

The results across the ditch are apparently even worse.  Melbourne’s return on equity was 2.6%, Wellington’s was 2.9% and Sydney’s was 6.9%.

As Ninness states Auckland’s goal of a 12% return looks “particularly ambitious”.

Given these comments you have to question the advice that Auckland Council has been given suggesting that the return is poor.  Because the return appears to me to be perfectly reasonable.

The sense that the Auckland City Council and me as a ratepayer are getting scammed is fairly screaming in my mind. Quite simply the whole debacle of the management of the ports focusing on illusory labour efficiencies while ignoring the actual capital and market issues has been absurd. And we have all seen this kind of hysterical use of spurious comparisons to try to push politics to offload public assets cheaply to the private sector before.

69 comments on “Why I think that Auckland is getting scammed ”

  1. Blue 1

    Of course it’s absurd for Ports of Auckland to return 12%. How in the world can a small port in a small country, in a highly competitive environment possibly be expected to return such a ridiculously high percentage?

    The fact that Len Brown has reiterated that he expects them to do this underlines the fact that he is an idiot and not fit to hold office.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10791460

    • queenstfarmer 1.1

      Of course it’s absurd for Ports of Auckland to return 12%.

      Based on the relatively little I have read, at this stage I agree. Nothing wrong to aspire to it, and the port should constantly be on the lookout for improving its productivitiy, but if it is making massive management decisions on the directive of an unattainable goal (which it may or may not be), then that is totally unacceptable.

      The fact that Len Brown has reiterated that he expects them to do this underlines the fact that he is an idiot and not fit to hold office.

      FTA: “[Brown] reiterated the need for the port, which is 100 per cent owned by the council, to double its dividend from 6 per cent to 12 per cent within five years.”

      Is there any doubt why Brown has taken this view? He needs vast amounts of money to pay for his big spending ideas. He’s already proposed hiking GST and other taxes for Auckland, so naturally he’s going to try to crank up port returns. Just another symptom of the big tax and spend ideology.

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.1

        Just another symptom of the big tax and spend ideology.

        Nope.

        Its actually a symptom of 30 years of under taxing and under spending (on the correct things).

        • queenstfarmer 1.1.1.1

          Oh, so it’s not Len’s fault after all. Poor Len’s been forced into big tax-and-spend policies because they weren’t introduced earlier 🙂

          • ghostwhowalksnz 1.1.1.1.1

            Under Banks it was borrow and spend. The amount of borrowing was prodigous

        • mik e 1.1.1.2

          CV also John Banks Cheap sale of Auckland airport Shares at 1/5 th their true value

          • burt 1.1.1.2.1

            mik e

            Can you prove your 1/5th of their true value statement. Perhaps a link to backup that claim.

      • burt 1.1.2

        Just another symptom of the big tax and spend ideology.

        And it seems Len’s stuck between a rock and hard place. ~1m rate payers pissed off or 300 port workers and their union on the skids. He’s a socialist and clearly knows where the other peoples money is coming from for his big tax and spend future.

        I predict a stadium being built where the current container wharf is starting within 10 years. Len’s lasting legacy.

  2. More evidence of bad faith manipulating by POAL management? Could this along with the evidence suggesting that they were only interested in casualising from the get-go be enough to take them to court?

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    I have noticed that Pearson is Chairman of Wellington Electricity Network, where he is the only NZ resident director, all the others are resident in Hong Hong.
    The only shareholder is a holdings company incorporated in the Bahamas, as a shelf company. Using a Caribbean shelf company is usually for tax avoidance.

    As Pearson was appointed just a few months before the Mayoral election, it sounds like it was done under Auckland Council Transition arrangements. ie required Hides approval. he only became a director Dec 2010 again under the transitional arrangements.

    Looks clear to me POAL , along with Watercare has been set up by Hide and co for privatisation.
    You can see the noises being made by Smith the new local bodies minister about councils ‘borrowing’ is the start of a campaign to get Auckland ( and Christchurch) to sell of their holdings

  4. ghostwhowalksnz 4

    Here is a port that Hutchison can compare Auckland with
    Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa (MITT) is a multi-purpose container terminal located at Thilawa near the mouth of the Yangon River

    5 berths , sounds like a good comparison with Auckland. And its owned by HIT.
    Or the 2 berth terminal at Brisbane which they own. ( just being completed)

    Looks definitely like Hutchison is buying /building container ports in this part of the world

  5. Ahem … Waitakerenews … [Bunji: fixed] [lprent: thought it meant “in the land of the fluffy dice” 😈 ]
     
    As ianmac pointed out there was a fascinating interview this morning with Professor Nigel Haworth from Auckland University.  His take on the issue concerning return was that over the past 12 months the board of ACIL has ramped up expectations of a return.  He thought that it was because of the change in the board.  He says that a study of Australian ports show a 7 % return on equity.
     
    Auckland is ranked in the middle of an international performance ladder and was not a “basket case”.
     
    He also discussed the obligation to negotiate in good faith.  He was surprised at the suggestion that MUNZ should have accepted the first offer.  As he rightly pointed out this never happens.  He also described the mass redundancy as “going nuclear”.  It is clear he does not think good faith bargaining is happening.

  6. Sanctuary 6

    Fascinating bit of third hand news with reasonable provenance so worth repeating – one of my good friends has a neighbour who is an independent contractor with PoAL. My friend says this guy told her on the weekend that ALL the contractors have been told that PoAL plans to offer ALL workers at the port new terms and conditions that are materially worse (reduction/elimination of medical cover, etc) than the current ones.

    Third hand I know, but possibly worth following up by someone more in the know.

    • muzza 6.1

      When I was talking to warfies in Teal Park last weekend, I asked about the contractors who already worked for PoAL. One warfie I talked with said that the contractors had been told they were potentially up for the sack too (this convo was before the actual sackings).
      Your info sounds about right.

  7. Matthew Hooton 7

    Ports of Auckland makes no money once the value of land is taken into account, but don’t trust me on this, Professor Tim Hazledine wrote an excellent piece in the NBR showing it makes an economic loss – see http://voakl.net/2012/03/01/from-the-nbr-poal

    So the idea of a 12% return is ridiculous. The container terminal should be closed, the land developed and Marsden Point and Tauranga expanded, together with rail links to Auckland.

    The good news is that the Prime Minister now appears to be moving towards this position. See http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbpol/296948005-NZ-may-have-too-many-ports—Key

    • Tiger Mountain 7.1

      Well, on this rare occasion one can agree with Matthew. Rail to Marsden and hopefully beyond to Kaitaia would finally give the North some hope of economic development in coming years.

      The caveat being that ShonKey is into union busting just like complicit “night Mayor” Lennie.

    • Matthew don’t you think this insistance on the port delivering a profit is very blinkered? It is a transport hub. We don’t expect roads or motorways to make a profit but spend huge amounts of money on them because of the public good. Using your logic we should close down Spaghetti Junction and bui

      • Matthew Hooton 7.2.1

        It may be a transport hub but there is no need for it to be in the heart of the city. Auckland International Aiport started out in the heart of the city at Mechanics Bay. Then it moved to Whenuapai. Then it moved to Mangere. And there is no reason the port can’t make a profit (although not at its current location).

        • Colonial Viper 7.2.1.1

          Air transport is in its death throes. Stagnant passenger volumes with significant declines starting in the next 5-6 years.

        • ghostwhowalksnz 7.2.1.2

          Whangaparaoa sounds like good location.

          Army land isnt used …much. Hutchison could pay for it like they are building there own container terminal in Sydney.
          Even better Joyce lives in the area, so we wont have to worry about NIMBY……hahah

          There was land at Te Atatu for exactly the sort of port we have now , was given away under rogernomics

          • Adele 7.2.1.2.1

            Ghost

            Say you were joking about putting the port at Army Bay, Whangaparaoa. Its a nature reserve and Tiritiri Matangi island is its nearest neighbour.

            If the port is to be moved from the centre of Auckland. Move it to Mission Bay.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.3

      but don’t trust me on this,

      I won’t.

      The container terminal should be closed, the land developed and Marsden Point and Tauranga expanded, together with rail links to Auckland.

      That’s something I could agree with if it wasn’t for Peak Oil and it’s effects upon transport in NZ.

      The good news is that the Prime Minister now appears to be moving towards this position.

      Of course he is. It will open up more opportunities for privatisation and turning us into serfs for his foreign masters.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 7.4

      Trouble is most of the importers dont want to spend another $600 to ship their containers to Auckland.

      PoT would pay a fortune for some one ..anyone to run a PR campaign just along the lines you suggest….kachingo

    • KJT 7.5

      Shall we close all the roads to and sell them off for housing?
       
       
      Their returns are much worse than the ports.
       
       
      Another hidden subsidy for trucking.  
       
       
      Coastal shipping has absolutely none, even though NZ owned coastal ships would decrease our trade invisables deficit. And carbon footprint.
       
      It is the port that makes the city a place for people to live and work.
       
      I agree we should have one hub port in each island. Before our hub becomes Port Botany! AND. All the fake competition between ports has led to over investment in the wrong things. (One reason for low returns on capital).
       
      Even so, Auckland will still need a port. Even if just as a feeder for Marsden Point. 
       
      The logical hub port. The one which, under our present regime of fake competition, has been bought by POAL and Tauranga to make sure it does not compete with them.

  8. In Vino Veritas 8

    For a start, ROE Port of Sydney as follows:

    2005 17.8%
    2006 10.4%
    2007 9.2%
    2008 12.5%
    2009 7.1%
    2010 6.6%
    2011 7.4%

    All of these figures are based on average equity, if actual equity in each year was used, the numbers would be higher.

    And one of the main reasons ROE is down is because of the servicing costs of debt (POS was given an exemption from paying a dividend since it was considered its debt equity ration of 57.2 in 2011 was way to high.

    POAL’s ROE would have been significantly higher in 2011 for the same reasons.

    • All of these figures are based on average equity, if actual equity in each year was used, the numbers would be higher.
       
      Not necessarily.  If the actual value was higher than the book value then ROE will be down.
       
      And a question, Melbourne’s reported ROE is much lower.  Why didn’t you analyse those figures?

      • In Vino Veritas 8.1.1

        Because I have access to POS numbers.
        I don’t understand what you mean about actual value being higher than the book value. Book value is as reported in the financial statements giving the numbers used as ROE.
        Are you alluding to the revaluation of assets?

      • In Vino Veritas 8.1.2

        And I guess the critical question should be asked around use of capital. Why would, or should, a council be owner of an asset that is only returning 6% when it could be invested in a more diversified portfolio of assets, with less risk, and make the same, or better returns?
        After all, the government 10 yr bond rate over the last 10 years or so has averaged 5 – 6% with very low risk.

  9. s y d 9

    tauranga ROE 7.36 over last 5 years
    http://www.port-tauranga.co.nz/Investors/Financial-Information/Five-Year-Financial-Summary/

    I’d also think that Port of Tauranga would ‘make no money’ if cost of land was taken into account – prime harbourside real estate, ahh imagine all those apartments filled with….ah…with…ummm..yeah.

    • Matthew Hooton 9.1

      Funnily enough s y d, Tauranga values its property, plant and equipment at around $850 million while Auckland values its property, plant and equipment (including its second port at Onehunga) at just $600 million. If you really think that it is plausible the total value of POAL’s property, plant and equipment, right on the waterfront in the heart of the Auckland CDB, is worth less than Tauranga’s, tucked away in the harbour and not on the most expensive beachfront Bay of Plenty land then, well … nobody could really believe that.

      • DH 9.1.1

        That’s the problem with using ROE as a reference to returns on investment. If POAL revalued it’s land assets upwards it would result in an immediate increase in equity and a corresponding fall in the ROE. ROE is too easily manipulated by beancounters playing with the book values of assets.

        • Matthew Hooton 9.1.1.1

          Or it could revalue the property, plant and equipment downwards and claim to be making the 12% already.

          • insider 9.1.1.1.1

            Given that not much can be built anywhere without lots of consultation and largesse, and even then there would still be a big if , that’s probably not a wrong assumption.

      • McFlock 9.1.2

        Depends on how much land they own respectively.
             
        I mean, you’re only alleging systemic errors by valuers,  POAL accountants and auditors. 

        • Matthew Hooton 9.1.2.1

          No, its not an error. The POAL annual report says they value the land as “industrial land values within the wider Auckland area – $150 – $1,350 per m2”. But that is nonsense because it is not South Auckland industrial land. It is prime waterfront land. And for ratings purposes (probably below the market value), the Auckland Council (the owner of the port!) values nearby land at between $2,500 and $10,500 per m2. For example, Britomart, a block back from the waterfront, is valued by the council at $2,892.96 per m2. Portside in Halsey Street, again not as prime land as the port, is valued by the council at $2,684.61 per m2. The ferry building land, right next to the port, is valued by the council at $10,426.77 per m2. POAL’s valuation of its property, plant and equipment at just $600 million can only be achieved by assuming the land is in some South Auckland industrial estate.

  10. DH 10

    Good stuff Lynn. The ROE argument always looked a bit suspicious because it’s not the same as return on shareholder capital and yet it has been portrayed in that vein.

    I think your instincts are right, we are being scammed.

  11. prism 11

    Well This is the sort of news information that illuminates with a high powered beam. The management class screwing around their employer’s business so they can make hay out of it is a type of fraud different from the conventional.

    One comes back though to the point that the return of 12% is a high one. Why would the bums on seats on the port management company just accept this as suitably aspirational and as an appropriate reason excuse) to overturn a satisfactory, functioning labour-management system?

  12. William Joyce 12

    Appropriate response to call for 12% ROE

  13. marsman 13

    Looks like yet another NAct Scam.
    Thanks lprent, I knew there was a connection somewhere.

  14. Ad 14

    I wonder if the Minister of Local Government will start to require Councils to sell assets if holding them costs more than the cost of capital. Such as ports, both sea and air.

    We may well see the Minister acknowledge the ports dispute as one of the reasons to re-energize the local government reform process. In particular putting stronger legal constraints on the debt to equity levels that Councils and their entities are allowed to sustain. Delighted to be proven wrong.

    The Minister is clearly in high activist mode and I understand his paper went to Cabinet today for discussion.

    Will also be very interesting to see if the Prime Minister touches on local government as he launches his new model for the New Zealand public service this week, which he will launch on Thursday.

    Spectacular demonstration of the limits of the Mayor’s powers within Auckland’s corporatised model today.

  15. BLiP 15

    Nice work lprent. Thanks.

  16. prism 16

    A new law of ‘general competence’ for local bodies came in on December 2002. It sounds good in the summary below. But the democratic process did not hold Dunedin back from building their fur lined cage with optional moving roof.

    It is argued that the LGA expresses a model of collaboration between central and local government and communities embodied in the ideology of the “Third Way,” a political programme which aims to renew social democracy by including civil society as a partner in managing the economy. Therefore, it is the Act’s features of powers of general competence, participatory democracy and strategic planning that distinguish the Act from its predecessors. However, as strong as these new attributes are, they do not constitute a radical reinvention of local government in New Zealand.

    Comment from ACT about it and Sandra Lee’s enthusiasm for it.
    ACT Local Government Spokesman Gerry Eckhoff said today it appears that ‘general competence’ has arrived at the Auckland City Council – though in a form unintended by this Government.
    “Sandra Lee is determined to enforce ‘powers of general competence’ for local bodies. At the moment councils can’t do anything, or spend money on anything unless they can specifically point to a rule which lets them. The ‘powers of general competence’ will reverse this, meaning that the councils and their officials can make you do anything they want, or spend your money on any pet project – if YOU can’t point to any rule which specifically says they can’t.

    It seems that these powers have opened us up to the possibility of action referred to by Ad above.
    “However Auckland’s new Mayor John Banks is demonstrating that the right attitude is more effective than legislation.
    “His decision to cut unnecessary expenditure comes as a breath of fresh air and contrasts with an often seen attitude from councils of clamouring for more power and more authority to spend.
    “Councils throughout the country should follow Mayor Banks example of intended frugality with ratepayers’ money.
    “We all know of ratepayers’ money wasted on political vanity projects. Under Sandra Lee’s intended powers of competence we will see councillors who could never persuade investors or business people voluntarily to entrust them with management of a business, with new fields in which to squander uncontrolled borrowings and ratepayers’ savings.

  17. Jenny 17

    For those who deny the link between contracting out and privatisation: From Britain.

    This is no ordinary tale of Fat Cattery. These multi-million-pound deals are being paid to the heads of the ‘outsourcers’ – the giant private companies that say they can do a better and more efficient job collecting bins, say, or providing nursing care than the State….

    ….They are private companies but they are also the creation of the Government’s drive to outsource services. The lion’s share of their turnover – and of their executives’ enormous pay packages – comes from the public purse. But there is little in the way of public accountability.
    These outsourcers already account for £79 billion of state expenditure every year, a figure which is set to grow if the Government fulfils its pledge to put nearly all state-run services out to contract……

    ……Another big outsourcer is Serco. In some parts of Britain it has taken over so many local services it is virtually indistinguishable from the council.
    In Canterbury Serco collects rubbish, trims trees, maintains road signs, cuts grass and looks after public toilets.
    Surely a company with such close ties to the shrinking public sector is going to be feeling the effect of government spending cuts?
    Not according to the company’s chief executive Chris Hyman. Serco’s profits grew by a fifth last year, and the company reckons to have an order book of £16.5 billion……

    …….Serco’s Chris Hyman, an evangelical Christian with a penchant for racing Ferraris, received a pay package of more than £5 million.
    Paul Pindar, head of Capita, had to rub along on a deal worth a total of £1.6 million.
    But in 2008, his overall pay – including share options – was worth almost £10 million.
    The outsourcers are often criticised as parsimonious employers whose profits grow fat only because they hire staff at the minimum wage, with minimum holiday and pension entitlements.
    Indeed, Capita is involved in a pay dispute with staff who recently stood outside the company’s head office, handing out leaflets detailing their grievances and highlighting the chief executive’s pay.
    A furious Mr Pindar went out to meet them armed with an annual report. Unfortunately for him, it showed his salary was a mere £14,000 a week. That, his employees pointed out, was more than many of them receive in a year.

    The Daily Mail

    FromAustralia

    Liberal opposition leader Barry O’Farrell, the likely next premier, leads a team that openly talks about restructuring the ways in which public assets could be sold.

    It’s possible that O’Farrell will look to Western Australia for inspiration. But the Liberal government of Colin Barnett is facing public opposition to increasingly working with British multinational Serco in its plans to outsource key public services.

    • marsman 17.1

      Hasn’t Bill English just given Serco a contract to run a prison at Wiri? Didn’t Judith Collins concede that private prisons were more expensive than Govt. run ones? Prisons for profit, Serco also does Welfare for profit.

  18. Adele 18

    I agree completely with Lynne’s assessment. 12% in five years is not aspirational – its ludicrous. What metrics did they base their growth forecast on? Recession ending soon? Oil is abundant? Its peace in the middle east?

    I think POAL have also overplayed their hand.

  19. Hami Shearlie 19

    Anyone got any thoughts about using Manukau Harbour – I don’t know much about that area, but some of you may have some useful info?

    • lprent 19.1

      A shallow harbour of mudflats. Sure you can dredge. But why bother when you have a naturally deep harbour on the other side of the isthmus.

      • burt 19.1.1

        Wasn’t Owen Glenn looking at a mega transport hub there a few years back – back when he was a good guy…..

  20. DH 20

    I’ve been wondering why they used return on equity & come to the conclusion it was to intended to confuse people. Most seem to think it as return on investment or return on capital & as such the return is far too high. ROE is explained briefly & quite well here;

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

    It’s worth noting that equity is not the same as shareholder capital. Equity is the nett worth of the business at a given point in time whereas shareholder capital is the amount shareholders have invested in the business. Shareholders care more about return on capital, I don’t know why Len Brown thinks it will return 12.5% as dividends.

    • lprent 20.1

      In this worldwide industry with its mix of state/city owned (usually with little or no debt) and privately owned (usually with high debt), I suspect that they were looking for a measure that could easily be used as a comparator. However the massive variations between ports that don’t look that different at a cursory glance would tend to indicate that the financial mixes kind of hide actual productivity in a ROE. Not a particularly useful measure.

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