Home > The Body Politic > The Politics of Power and a Very Clear Choice – Part Rua

The Politics of Power and a Very Clear Choice – Part Rua

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new zealand high electricity prices

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Continued from: The Politics of Power and a Very Clear Choice – Part Tahi

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Evidently, the sky will fall if New Zealand proceeds with Labour-Green’s NZ Power proposal…

The four Donkeys of the Fiscal Apocalypse

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  1. Lack of New Infra-structure – The argument goes that without massive profits, state owned powercos will not have sufficient funds to pay for new power production or to maintain transmission lines. Really?! In which case, how on earth did we ever build up this country’s energy infra-struction in the first place???
  2. Brown Outs – We’ve been told we’ll have brown outs (see Collin’s Tweet above).  Really?! It beggars belief how we ever got out of bed in the mornings and tied our shoelaces, prior to to introduction of neo-liberalism. What a hopeless lot we must’ve been.
  3. Share Falls – Yes, the sharemarket will fall if  the NZ Power propopsal goes ahead. In fact, they’ve already dropped (see:  Power shares keep falling). So what people like Nick Lewis, an analyst at Wellington-based brokers Woodward Partners, is telling us is that the sharemarket is dependent on the New Zealand public held to ransom by way of exorbitant power pricing? We’re subsiding the sharemarket?  I wonder what reaction the share market might have if competition really worked, and drove down power prices???
  4. Investors abandoning NZ – Yes, for a while, the jittery bastards at Boston, Beijing, or Berlin  might panic and withdraw investment funds. For about half-a-f*****g second. Then they will get over themselves and return to invest elsewhere in our economy. Such as green technology in power production – technology which can be exported overseas for a tidy profit.

The fear-mongering from National, business, conservative media commentators, and other assorted right-wing nutjobs, assumes that New Zealanders are little children who are easily frightened by shadows.

We are not (much).

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Max Bradford and That ‘Dip’

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After Bradford’s reforms, power prices went north, skyrocketing by a jaw-dropping 87%  since 2000. If food had increased that much since 2000, there’d be wide-spread starvation in this country. And wide-spread rioting that would make the 2010 London riots pale by comparison.

Bradford, though, has insisted that his “reforms” would have worked, had the new  Labour government not ‘tinkered’ with them in the early 2000s. On TV3′s “The Nation“, on 21 April, Bradford stated,

“When the competive market was allowed to work, prices fell. And, ah, between 1998 and 2002, before Labour started fiddling with the market, prices did fall. So if you let the competitive market work,  then prices will either rise more slowly than  otherise they would, or  they fall. ”

Acknowledgement:  TV3 – The Nation

On Kiwiblog, David Farrar kindly provided a graph, attempting to support  Bradford’s claims,

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Electricity-Prices-1982-2012 - ex kiwiblog

Acknowledgement:  Kiwiblog/Stats NZ

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The graph is even helpfully marked with a black line and labelled “Bradford Reforms”, between 1997 and 1998.

Unfortunately, this in itself is not quite correct.  Despite Bradford’s Electricity Industry Reform Act 1998  taking effect in mid-1998,  the electricity sector  reforms did not fully take effect until April 1999, when Contact Energy was privatised and ECNZ was split in three; Mighty River Power, Meridian, and Genesis.

In the same year – 1999 – power prices surged (see:  Power prices to rise by up to 15.1%, see; Reforms blamed for hike), as Farrar’s own graph shows  with crystal clarity.

But then, curiously, there is a considerable dip in 2000 and 2001, followed by  a sharp, massive series of rises thereafter.

So, what happened in 2000 and 2001?

The Asian Crisis is what happened, folks.

As then-governor of the RBNZ, Don Brash reported,

“In July 1997 the Thai baht fell sharply, triggering a period of turbulence in the financial markets of East Asia. Many currencies declined p re c i p i t o u s l y, along with share markets and real estate prices.

The banking sectors of the countries most affected were severely damaged, and real economic activity fell, in some cases sharply, for the first time in decades. The direct effect on the New Zealand economy was adverse and substantial, and looks likely to continue for some time. The indirect effect, through business and household sector confidence, was also significant. The impact of the Asian situation reduced inflationary p re s s u res in New Zealand markedly.

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Inflationary pressures had been slowing for some time previously, so that as far back as December 1996 monetary policy began to ease in response. Then late in 1997 and into 1998 the Asian financial crisis added to the slow-down, as growth prospects in many Asian economies, including Japan, deteriorated (see box 2). In December 1997, when easing monetary policy further, the Bank cited the likely impact of the Asian crisis on the New Zealand economy, and noted that the disinflationary impact of that crisis could become markedly worse. During 1998, this happened, and in response monetary policy was eased more aggressively still.

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For New Zealand, reduced exports to the region, which previously accounted for 36% of our merchandise exports, had a negative impact on economic activity. The likely effects of the crisis were a particular focus in each of the Bank’s quarterly Monetary Policy Statements from December 1997 onwards. In the Reserve Bank’s March 1998 projections, we judged that the severity of the crisis was being underestimated by many observers. As a result the Reserve Bank eased monetary policy by more than New Zealand markets had expected.”

Acknowledgement:  – Don Brash, Reserve Bank of New Zealand Annual Report 1997-1998

Here is the NZ Reserve Bank chart of economic growth, measuring Real Gross Domestic  Product (GDP), from 1990 to 2012,

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reserve bank of nz real gross domestic product 1990_2012

Reserve Bank of New Zealand – Real Gross Domestic  Product, 8 January 2013

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Note  the RBNZ statement, from the above  January 2013 report,

Following the 1998 “Asian crisis” New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) recovered strongly. Annual GDP growth from 2001 through to 2004 (on average) exceeded that of its major trading partners, partly as a result of strong net inward migration and associated population growth.

 

Acknowledgement: IBID

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Now let’s compare the period from 1997 to 2002, on both graphs,

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RBNZ - GDP - electricity prices

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A closer look at the 1997 – 2002 period,

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NZ GDP annual growth rate Jan 1997 - Jan 2002

Acknowledgement: Trading Economics/Stats NZ – New Zealand GDP Growth Rate

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Aside from a “dead cat” bounce in the Third Quarter of 1999, the  correlation between economic activity and power prices is self-evident. The drop in electricity prices in 2000 and 2001 followed a slump in economic activity in Asia, and it’s subsequent global flow-on effects.

As PBS Frontline reported,

The Asian financial crisis that was triggered in July 1997 was a shocker. Even two years after it ended, anxiety still loomed over global financial markets. What was at the time perceived to be a localized currency and financial crisis in Thailand, soon spread to other Southeast Asian countries–including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

By the fall of 1997, the contagion extended its reach to South Korea, Hong Kong and China.  A global financial meltdown had been ignited. In 1998, Russia and Brazil saw their economies enter a free-fall, and international stock markets, from New York to Tokyo, hit record lows as investors’ confidence was shaken by the volatility and unpredictability in the world’s financial markets.

Acknowledgement: PBS – Timeline of the Crash

As the Reserve Bank stated above, “annual GDP growth from 2001 through to 2004 (on average) exceeded that of its major trading partners” – and 2001 is when power prices started to rise again.

Also worthy of attention is  that the electricity CPI also drops in 2009 and 2011, during the latest Global Financial Crisis and resulting Great Recession.

Unfortunately, for reasons of their own (but which we can guess at), Mr Farrar and his National Party friends fail to point out this salient fact. The Right will mis-represent facts and re-write history to suit their own  narrowly-defined ideological agenda.

Labour-Green’s NZ Power is a threat to that ideologically-based agenda.

Continued at: The Politics of Power and a Very Clear Choice – Part Toru

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 25 April 2013.

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Previous Related Blogposts

History Lesson – Tahi – Electricity Sector “reforms”  (4 March 2012)

John Key: Man of Many Principles (28 Sept 2012)

Labour, Greens, NZ First, & Mana – A Bright Idea with electricity! (10 March 2013)

References

NZ History Online:  Dancing Cossacks political TV ad

NZPA: Splitting up ECNZ expected to cut wholesale power price (16 Dec 1998)

NZPA:  Reforms aimed at business – Luxton (21 April 1999)

Otago Daily Times: Power Prices Set To Soar (12 May 1999)

Otago Daily Times: No case for regulation (24 May 1999)

Otago Daily Times: Lower power prices coming says Bradford (3 June 1999)

Otago Daily Times: Power prices to rise by up to 15.1% (29 June 1999)

Otago Daily Times:  Reforms blamed for hike (13 July 1999)

Scoop: Alliance to hold Winston Peters accountable (8 Oct 1999)

NZ Herald: Peters ‘forgets’ NZ First support for power reforms (13 Aug 2008)

Fairfax: Government to seek inquiry into power price rise  (30 September 2008)

NZ Herald:  Put prices on hold, Brownlee tells power companies (21  May 2009)

NZ Herald: Mighty River directors’ 73pc pay rise realistic – Key (5 April 2013)

Scoop:  Labour-Greens to rip up the book on electricity pricing (18 April 2013)

NZ Herald:  Labour-Greens plan could work, says Vector CEO (19 April 2013)

NZ Herald:  National gobsmacked at Labour idea (19 April 2013)

NZ Herald: Power plan likened to Soviet era (19 April 2013)

NZ Herald: MRP chief slams socialist’ plan (21 April 2013)

TVNZ:  Q+A – Transcript of Steven Joyce interview (21 April 2013)

NZ Herald:  Bernard Hickey: Power barons fail to fool the public this time around (21 April 2013)

Radio NZ: Power prices nearly double since 2000 (21 April 2013)

Other blogs

Kiwiblog: Electricity Prices

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