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Work on privatisation under way

Written By: - Date published: 9:08 am, August 23rd, 2010 - 38 comments
Categories: privatisation - Tags:

For the last few months, the Standard has been politely asking Treasury for their papers on the sale of Crown assets.  To say they weren’t keen to share would be an understatement. After several OIAs and numerous deadline extensions we’ve managed to get a few papers dating back to the early days of the National government. You can read them here(9.6mb) but these are some of the key passages:

“While recognising Government policy, and the broad political support for retaining state control and ownership of current commercial assets, we think better performance will be achieved by moving towards greater private sector involvement in SOEs. There are a range of options for achieving this while retaining 100% government ownership.”

” put pressure on SOEs to increase their gearing (which as a side-effect will result in greater dividends being paid to the Crown). The way that Ministers think about SOE gearing and special dividends may link to the wider Crown balance sheet management issues that Ministers are interested in”

“There are strong arguments for the Government to put pressure on SOEs to increase their gearing ie encouraging SOEs to borrow more from the private sector and pay special dividends to the Crown.”

“Higher debt levels put increased pressure on SOEs to perform, by committing a fixed part of their future cashflow to debt servicing”

“Higher debt levels do put SOEs under greater financial stress and increase the chance they will require additional capital from the government”

“Shareholding Ministers and SOEs are likely to have different perspectives on the appropriate balance. SOEs will favour lower than optimal gearings as that increases the SOEs operational flexibility, and reduces the likelihood of having to ask shareholders for additional capital.”

“Without sustained and effective pressure from Ministers, SOEs will tend to err on the side of having too little debt on their balance sheets . We suggest that if persuasion continues to be ineffective Ministers should consider directing an SOE or SOEs to pay a special dividend.

Ministers have never directed an SOE over dividends in the past. Such a direction could undermine the Board’s accountability.”

“Which SOES?

Genesis, Meridian, Mighty River Power, NZ Post, Landcorp, and Solid Energy. Together, these six SOEs make up about 87% of the total SOE portfolio.”

And, from the cover letter:

“There are an additional eight documents covered by your request that I have decided to withhold in full [because they are] still under active consideration“.

It’s clear that this is the first stage of the privatisation agenda others have posted about on the Standard. The Government knows it is politically impossible right now to sell public assets straight out, so it is looking at how to sell the value while retaining the company. They’re calling it “private sector ‘involvement'” but it also provides significant new cashflow to the private sector, so it is privatisation in all but name.

Forcing SOEs to fund special dividends and take on private sector debt by issuing bonds effectively privatises the profit stream of public assets, while leaving the companies nominally in public hands. It’s like selling the pearl, leaving you the oyster shell, and telling you that you’re no worse off. With that privatisation ‘private sector involvement’ comes comes an imperative to maximise short-term profits – leading to asset stripping, and the risk that SOEs will need bailouts in the future. This is just what happened in  the 1980s, when the bailouts led to outright sales.

The eight withheld papers tell us the Government is actively working on this privatisation programme right now. One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that two of those papers examine why New Zealanders are opposed to privatisation. Treasury is just telling to government how to sell our assets, they’re trying to work out the propaganda for it too.

Is this surprising? No. This is National doing what National does. But let’s not pretend their goal is not to cut the value out of our public assets and give to their wealthy mates.   National is the party of privatisation. Their branding might change but their fundamental ideology does not.

38 comments on “Work on privatisation under way ”

  1. forcing the SOEs to sell bonds is like selling the family silver but keeping the box it was stored in, and telling New Zealand we’ve lost nothing

  2. Bored 2

    You might note that every one of the SOEs mentioned were built with state raised capital. Which begs the question, if that was a good model when they were built, what has changed? If capitalists were so keen upon having these things why did they not build them in the first place?

    The answer of course is that capitalists never commit cash to major infrastructural enterprises unless any risk is taken by the public via government. Banks rarely loan developement cash to private companies to build this type of asset. Its too risky. Now what capital wants is a way to clip the ticket on SOEs as no risk rentiers. These risk averse parasites disgust me.

    • Craig Glen Eden 2.1

      Agreed Bored If they want to enter the electricity market go a head build a power station and enter the market. Na to hard why not just pay national some money for their election fund and have National sell off the Nations assets. Screw the tax payer and make out that they are so smart because they have money like they actually earn t it.

  3. Zaphod Beeblebrox 3

    Shouldn’t this cash be going into exportproducing enterprises.

    • ZB 3.1

      Look that’s how the scam works. Work harder NZ to export more, means NZ
      can carry more foriegn owners who need a profit income stream going the other way.
      Its the whole chinese finger trap, the harder you pull to get your fingers out, the
      stronger the trap is.
      We need less foreign ownership, so we don’t have to work as hard to produce
      profits to pay our debts!
      National selling assets when the government books are very rosy is blantent
      corruption in my opinion. Government should be investing in infrastructure
      while cheap oil is still with us by nudging highly indebted foreigner companies
      into bankruptcy, instend National LOWERED their taxes! So they could continue
      paying their debts (undoubtly to themselves as the creditor in the foriegn domicile).
      We should be build stronger local economies where owners live next door, or
      next town over, not in China, Japan, or Europe (US is now bankrupt thanks to neo-liberal
      policies still being employed by Key and National).

      • Bored 3.1.1

        ZB, You are quite correct in what you say, the biggest issue we face as we sell off our incomes is that we lose our freedom. We become a nation of serfs to some party we saw fit to give our assets to.

        Another problem I have with “business” here is that the infrastructural costs do not just benefit citizens, they provide the necessary things that “business” too needs to operate. What these pillocks are saying is that state assets should be privatised so they dont have to pay the taxes etc….what the fools need to realise is that they will still be asked to pay for the usage by whoever buys them, and most likely a lot more.

  4. Bright Red 4

    Raising capital with a bond issue to expand an SOE is one thing. Forcing SOEs to pay special dividends to the Crown, which they in turn fund by issuing bonds (effectively, selling off their profit stream) – that’s privatisation

  5. just saying 5

    Excellent work.

    It’s almost worse than an outright buy-out because in addition to losing the value, the public is underwriting private failure if it occurs.

  6. Bright Red 6

    Silence from the Righties.

    It’s a hard one for them. Key and co have been lying to us, they are planning privatisation.

  7. Anne 7

    “Silence from the Righties.”
    Good grief! The Tory propoganda machine has been caught by surprise. Their research capabilities are going to be streteched on this one. They’ll need a few hours at least to figure out what spin to give their online bovver boys and girls.

    • luva 7.1

      IB has banned most of them

      [lprent: Not that many – they make far more noise than their actual numbers.

      We have accumulated 16 people marked as having permanent bans, two on bans that expire next month, and one that I’m awaiting an apology from for making unfounded assertions about the authors at The Standard.

      Banning is pretty much about behaviour, and around here most of the bad behaviour comes from a small but noisy minority. ]

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    Who are the Treasury working for? Because it certainly doesn’t appear to be NZ as what they’re recommending there is no less than taxpayer subsidy of the private finance sector.

    • Tiger Mountain 8.1

      Treasury is acting like comprador capitalists as they used to be called, or more accurately the CCs representatives in Government. Dispensing corporate ‘welfare’ no less. Mr “Shithead’ and the treasury minions must be loving this. It will be interesting to see what their fanclub makes of it when they get their script together.

  9. Lanthanide 9

    So just to clarify what all this means, can someone confirm if I’ve got it right?
    – Government will ask SoE for a ‘special’ dividend, which the SoE will not have the funds to pay
    – SoE is forced to sell bonds on the private market to raise money required to return to the government
    – Private investors now own bonds in the SoE, which the SoE will have to pay out at a future date, out of their normal income stream.

    Once the bonds are paid back, the SoE would essentially be 100% government owned again, right? Of course that never happens, because like a ponzi scheme, they have to keep selling bonds to raise the money to pay back the old bonds that are maturing, not to mention fund any other additional ‘special’ dividends that the government has asked for as well.

    • Bright Red 9.1

      The key phrase is “Once the bonds are paid back”.

      When a bond matures, you have to find the cash from somewhere to pay it. Either the SOE would have to save even more for that time, or the government would have to repay its special dividend, or the SOEs would have to issue new bonds to repay the old ones – the latter would be normal practice. From the point of view of the govt’s books, you may as well consider the term of a bond indefinite unless a govt decides to pay down debt.

      • Lanthanide 9.1.1

        Right, that’s what I thought.

      • MrSmith 9.1.2

        Can’t we find a replacement for the word KEY please! I’m am sick to death of people in the MSM using it every chance they get, especially national lakys and having it mentioned here makes me feel ill.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.2

      You forgot one point – the government will be forced to loan more money at interest to keep the SoEs afloat and to put in the needed investment in infrastructure which will come from the private sector as well. As I said – nothing but taxpayer subsidy of the private finance sector. It’s nothing but a huge rort (ponzi scheme) that the Treasury is recommending.

      They should all be fired for this shit.

      • Bright Red 9.2.1

        yeah. borrowing costs money.

        you do it when there’s a good reason – like funding expansion that will give you returns greater than the cost of borrowing.

        But this is just selling off the profit-stream permanently in return for a one-off cash injection (which will probably be used for tax cuts for the rich)

  10. Zaphod Beeblebrox 10

    Don’t you see, this is about energy conservation. Shareholders demand SOE’s maximise profits, so they put up electricity prices to exhorbitant levels. Then we are all forced to freeze to death because we can’t afford the bills! Brilliant!

    Now normally you’d expect everyone to go out and put in photovoltaics- but somehow I don’t expect the SOE’s and the government to encourage that sort of individualism as it will affect the SOE’s profits.

    • DS 10.1

      To be fair, if the pensioners etc all freeze to death then you can ratchet down the Health budget as well.

      Cunning.

    • Bored 10.2

      Shareholders are dangerous creatures because they have only one goal. return on investment. Social or even national economic utility dont come into it. Therein lies the bankruptcy of the “free market” model, we can be as price effecient as sin whilst people who cant afford to be in the market freeze. Some costs we actually socialise because to not do so is highly inefficient as well as anti social.

    • loota 10.3

      I don’t get it. So SOE’s will be forced to take on more debt regardless of the business case (because more debt is the answer, uh, to what again?) and also pay the Govt more in terms of dividends. However to service that debt and to pay the Govt more, SOEs will have to extract more money from the community.

      Huh?

      So the NATs are saying forget making business decisions based on business cases; ideology will do thanks.

  11. BLiP 11

    Now we see what National Ltdâ„¢ meant when it said it was going to “deepen the markets”. And the result, sink or swim, suckers.

  12. ZB 12

    We breed the best dairy cows (invest and build core infrastructure and services) and then National
    get into power and sell the best milkers! Sorry even Fonterra isn’t that stupid. Fact is you can
    expose a market to outside investors without selling the silver. You sell a ownership right
    to the production for that year! Not the frigging dairy herd! National have no idea about
    business, only about harving them up and selling them low.

    Its the bottom of the market, why is National even considering this?

    • Bored 12.1

      Look ZB, let you into a little secret. The selling of cows on dairy farms to overseas interests is actually a smokescreen so we dont notice that the whole of the proposed John Key Memorial Cycleway falling into overseas private hands. Its a double whammy because foreign interests noticing the depletion of oil based urea fertilisers are going to mine the urea soaked soil beneath the cows. Brownlee put them onto it, hush hush. I also hear that the Cycleway will become an SOE shortly, the capital costs of construction being done with a public bond float.

  13. marsman 13

    Sneaky Nasty NACT.

  14. G Duff 14

    I believe there is a good opportunity for Local and Central Government to issue what I term “InfrastructureBonds” to help fund much needed infrastructure.

    Many retired people were badly let down by the collapse of the finance sector over the last four years and are looking for a safe place to invest their retirement savings. They want a fair return on their funds but above all want a return of their funds at the end of the investment term.
    For the SOE, or Local body, this does not require them to give up Govenment/Taxpayer or Ratepayer ownership or control of their enterprise, but allows them to raise sufficient capital for much needed expansion.
    While Rates or taxes should fund most of the budget, the local authorities from time to time require capital for new roads, sewerage works, or maybe in the case of Greater Auckland, a rail link to the Airport.
    These are the sorts of ventures which could be encouraged to the long term benefit of all.
    I prefer this option to that of Toll roads or Public-Private Partnerships. which tend to privatise the profits and socialize the losses.

    • loota 14.1

      Many retired people were badly let down by the collapse of the finance sector over the last four years and are looking for a safe place to invest their retirement savings. They want a fair return on their funds but above all want a return of their funds at the end of the investment term.

      What kind of ass-backwards capitalism is this?

      Creating an investment vehicle for the sakes of putting money into it without any plan of generating value? How do you think these bond holders are going to get paid their capital back plus interest? By SOE’s magicking $$$ out of think air?

      So lets start with answering the basic question of whether or not any SOEs actually need extra funds for investment now and what they are going to use those funds for – what ROI can they get for the funds they borrow.

      Coz if they can’t get a good ROI on the funds they are supplied with through the issuing of bonds its a very bad deal for them and a very bad deal for tax payers.

  15. tc 15

    Treasury appear to have a severe case of the double diptons.

    • Draco T Bastard 15.1

      They’ve been so well trained in the illogic of neo-liberalism that they fail to recognise when something is logically false.

  16. innocent bystander 16

    SOEs already borrow from th private sector. They also often pay dividends to the Crown. The question in relation to borrowing is one of degree ie are they incentivised to borrow at the optimum amount to deliver services to other SOEs or the public in the most efficient and effective way. The special dividend would be used to ensure the former where other incentivies haven’t worked. Read the report.

    Personally I find the selective quoting that some posters do here worrying becuase it dumbs down the debate rather than invigorating it with cogent arguments. I for one would a appreciate a well structured argument for or against Treasury’s advice rather than some half arsed political smear.

  17. David Lloyd 17

    Why don’t they privatise Treasury?

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