How to sabotage the asset sales…
Something I blogged on 25 June 2012, and now more appropriate than ever…
On last weekends’ (23/24 June 2012) “The Nation“, the issue of asset sales was discussed with NZ First leader, Winston Peters; Green Party MP, Gareth Hughes; and Labour MP, Clayton Cosgrove,
Whilst all three parties are staunchly opposed to state asset sales, NZ First leader, Winston Peters went one step further, promising that his Party would buy back the assets.
Gareth Hughes and Clayton Cosgrove were luke-warm on the idea, quite rightly stating that there were simply too many variables involved in committing to a buy-back two and a half years out from the next election. (And Peters never followed through on his election pledge in 1996 to buy back NZ Forestry – “to hand back the envelope”, as he put it - after National had privatised it.) There was simply no way of knowing what state National would leave the economy.
Considering National’s tragically incompetant economic mismanagement thus far, the outlook for New Zealand is not good. We can look forward to more of the usual,
- More migration to Australia
- More low growth
- More high unemployment
- More deficits
- More skewed taxation/investment policies
- Still more deficits
- More cuts to state services
- And did I mention more deficits?
By 2014, National will have frittered away most (if not all) of the proceeds from the sale of Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand.
In such an environment, it is difficult to sound plausible when promising to buy back multi-billion dollar corporations.
Not to be thwarted, Peters replied to a question by Rachel Smalley, stating adamantly,
” The market needs to know that Winston Peters and a future government is going to take back those assets. By that I mean pay no greater price than their first offering price. This is, if they transfer to seven or eight people, it doesn’t matter, we’ll pay the first price or less. “
It remains to be seen if Peters will carry out that threat – especially if a number of his shareholders are retired Kiwi superannuitants?
When further questioned by Rachel Smalley, Peters offered specific ideas how a buy-back might be funded,
” Why can’t we borrow from the super fund, for example? And pay that back over time? And why can’t we borrow from Kiwisaver for example, and pay that back over time…”
The answer is that governments are sovereign and can make whatever laws they deem fit. That includes buying back assets at market value; at original sale price; or simple expropriation without compensation. (The latter would probably be unacceptable to 99% of New Zealanders and would play havoc with our economy.)
Peters is correct; funding per se is not an issue. In fact, money could be borrowed from any number of sources, including overseas lenders. The gains from all five SOEs – especially the power companies – would outweigh the cost of any borrowings.
- Cost of borrowing from overseas: 2% interest
- Returns from SOEs: 17%
- Profit to NZ: 15%
We make on the deal.
The question is, can an incoming Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana government accomplish such a plan?
Should such a radical policy be presented to the public at an election, the National Party would go into Warp Drive with a mass panic-attack.
But it’s not National that would be panicked.
It would be National going hard-out to panic the public.
National’s scare-campaign would promise the voters economic collapse; investors deserting the country; a crashed share-market; cows drying up; a plague of locusts; the Waikato River turning to blood; hordes of zombie-dead rising up…
And as we all know, most low-information voters are highly susceptible to such fear-campaigns. The result would be predictable:
But let’s try that again…
A more plausible scenario would have the leadership of Labour, NZ First, the Greens, and Mana, meeting at a secluded retreat for a high-level, cross-party strategy conference.
At the conclusion of said conference, the Leaders emerge, with an “understanding”, of recognising each others’ differing policies,
- Winston Peters presents a plan to the public, promoting NZF policy to buy-back the five SOEs. As per his original proposals, all shares will be repurchased at original offer-price.
- The Mana Party buy-in to NZ First’s plan and pledge their support.
- Labour and the Greens release the joint-Party declaration stating that whilst they do not pledge support to NZ First/Mana’s proposal – neither do they discount it. At this point, say Labour and the Greens, all options are on the table.
That scenario creates considerable uncertainty and anxiety in the minds of potential share-purchasers. Whilst they know that they will be recompensed in any buy-back scheme – they are effectively stymied in on-selling the shares for gain. Because no new investor in their right mind would want to buy shares that (a) probably no one else will want to buy and (b) once the buy-back begins, they would lose out.
Eg; Peter buys 1,000 shares at original offer price of $2 per share. Cost to Peter: $2,000.
Peter then on-sells shares to Paul at $2.50 per share. Cost to Paul: $2,500. Profit to Peter: $500.
Paul then cannot on-sell his shares – no one else is buying. Once elected, a new centre-left government implements a buy back of shares at original offer-price @ $2 per share. Price paid to Paul: $2,000. Loss to Paul: $500.
Such a strategy is high-stakes politics at it’s riskiest. Even if Labour and the Greens do not commit to a specific buy-back plan, and “left their options open” - would the public wear it?
The certainty in any such grand strategy is that the asset sale would be effectively sabotaged. No individual or corporate buyer would want to become involved in this kind of uncertainty.
Of less certainty is how the public would perceive a situation (even if Labour and the Greens remained staunchly adamant that they were not committed to any buy-back plan) of political Parties engaging in such a deliberate scheme of de-stabilisation of a current government’s policies.
The asset sales programme would most likely fail, for sure.
But at what cost? Labour and the centre-left losing the next election?
We may well end up winning the war to save our SOEs – but end up a casualty of the battle.
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