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Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

26 February 2014 Leave a comment

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corporate welfare 1

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Timeline

3 October 2007: Meridian and NZAS/Rio Tinto sign agreement for the continuous supply of 572 megawatts of power to the Tiwai Point smelter for 2013 to 2030.

30 October 2011: National government announces partial asset sales, of Genesis, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand.

9 August 2012: Meridian Energy (electricity supplier to Rio Tinto) announces that Rio Tinto/Pacific Aluminium is demanding to renegotiate its electricity supply contract between the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and Meridian.

10 August 2012: Rio Tinto CEO, Tom Albanese, warns that the smelter will be closed “if they cannot be viable, we have difficult decisions to make”.

7 September 2012:  Rio Tinto/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters  announces it will  make 100 workers redundant by November 2012.

7 August 2013: Rio Tinto/New Zealand Aluminium Smelters  announces 30 maintenance workers to be made redundant at the Tiwai Point smelter.

8 August 2013: National government announces agreement to give cash subsidy of  $30 million  to Rio Tinto, and Meridian Energy to supply the smelter with cheaper (price undisclosed) electricity than agreed in 2007.

9 August 2013: Bill English confirms that he has not sought a guarantee from Rio Tinto that jobs will not be lost at the smelter.

20 August 2013: National government announces details to sell 49% of Meridian Energy.

14/15 February 2014: Rio Tinto announces a   $4.43 billion ($US3.7 billion) annual after-tax profit. Rio Tinto shareholders recieve a 15% increase in dividends.

An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

We were conned.

There is no other way to describe events between October 2007 and February this year; we were conned by a multi-national mining/metals giant that exploited National’s core-policies, for their own gain.

How else to describe the above events?

Once National announced their intention to partially-privatise Meridian Energy and float it on the New Zealand  (and Australian) stock exchanges – Rio Tinto realised that the price of Meridian shares would be determined by the income they derived from selling electricity.

As Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman stated,

”Rio Tinto took advantage of Mr Key’s obsession with asset sales by threatening to derail the sale of Meridian by closing the Tiwai smelter, so Mr Key gave them $30 million of public money.”

Rio Tinto was Meridian’s biggest customer, supplying  Tiwai Point  with approximately 15% of New Zealand’s total  electricity output. As such, Rio Tinto had Meridian  (and by proxy, the National Government) by the balls. And on 7 September 2012 and 7 August 2013, Rio Tinto squeezed.

By making  130 workers redundant, it sent National, and it’s compliant  leader, a clear message; “Don’t f**k with us, Johnny-boy. These 130 plebes are an example of what we can do to screw you over“.

Had Rio Tinto followed through on it’s threats (and make no mistake – they were threats), it would have brought down the government. That would have ended Key’s career and his reputation would have been in tatters. No Knighthood or beersies for Johnny-boy!

Key had no choice but to capitulate. Key admitted as such when he said on 14 February,

“At the end of the day I think the Government took a modest step to ensure there was a smooth potential transition there – that we didn’t have a glut of electricity we couldn’t use or that thousands and thousands of Southland jobs are out at risk.”

The resulting loss of 700 jobs at the smelter,  and a further 2,500 downstream throughout Southland, would certainly have been embarrassing for Key and damaging to National .  But this is a government that has overseen the sacking of approximately 3,000 state sector workers (up to August 2012) and 29,472 few jobs in the manufacturing sector, since 2006 (2013 Census results), so unemployment per se is not a problem that overly concerns right-wing government ministers.

What really threatened this government was Key’s reference to a “glut of electricity” – note the words. A glut of electricity would have de-railed the entire asset sales programme. Result; end of National; end of asset sales programme (and the neo-liberal agenda on the whole), and the end of Key’s career.

This shabby, self-serving, politically-expedient exercise, has cost us – the tax-payer – $30 million, plus an even cheaper electricity deal than probably anyone else in this country gets. No wonder the contract price is even more uber secret than the goings-on at the GCSB – the public would erupt in fury if they came to know what our electricity was being sold for, whilst the rest of us have mounting power prices, year after year after year.

Meanwhile, the lowest paid workers in New Zealand’s rest homes are paid just barely above the minimum wage;

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Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

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To which our well-heeled Prime Minister responded thusly,

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PM  No money for aged care workers

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To quote Dear Leader,

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash.”

Interesting. Key and his Cabinet cronies found $30 million to throw at a multi-national corporation – which only six months later posted a $4.43 billion ($US3.7 billion) annual after-tax profit.

But no money for the lowest paid, hardest-working people (predominantly women) in our community. Key responded to Russell Norman’s criticism of the $30 million welfare handout,

“If Tiwai Point had closed straight away then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of jobs would have disappeared and the Greens would have said the Government doesn’t care about those workers and is turning their back on them so they really can’t have it both ways.”

If only we could believe Key. But considering that thousands  lost their jobs since the Global Financial Crisis, and National has not bailed out any other company, the Prime Minister’s protestations ring hollow.

In fact, it’s fairly well obvious that the taxpayer-funded payout to Rio Tinto had nothing to do with jobs or the Southland economy – and everything to do with the state assets sales. As David Hargreaves wrote on Interest.co.nz,

“So, it will cost you, I and him and her a combined NZ$30 million of our hard-earned to keep the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter open just long enough so that the Government can flog off 49% of Meridian Energy.

That’s about the size of the deal struck between Meridian and the company controlled by global giant Rio Tinto, with additional sugar coating supplied by the Government, courtesy of us.

From the point the Government first stepped in earlier this year in an attempt to ‘help out’ it was always obvious tax payers were going to be forced to front up with some readies for the pleasure of keeping the always controversial smelter running for a while longer.

I have no doubt that the smelter will be closed in 2017, which is now when the owners get the first chance to pull the plug.”

The most asinine aspect to this deal (and there are many) is that Finance Minister,  Bill English, told Radio New Zealand on 9 August 2013 that “ensuring the safety of those jobs was not part of the deal and no undertakings were sought on the operation of the company”.

No guarantee for preserving jobs?!

Question: So what, precisely, did $30 million buy?

Answer: Rio Tinto not rocking the boat and upsetting National’s asset-sales programme.

This was a most odious, repugnant deal.

Every New Zealander contributed some of their hard-earned cash, which ended up in Rio Tinto’s shareholder’s pockets.

All done to achieve the sale of state assets which we own.

John Key gave away our money; which ended up in shareholder’s pockets; to sell assets we own; to other share investors.

This is the crazy side of National’s economic policy. This is  corporate welfare and crony capitalism rolled into one. Which begs the question to National’s supporters; is this what they see as “prudent fiscal management”?

How “prudent” is it to pay a subsidy to a multi-national corporation, that posted a multi-billion dollar after-tax profit,  that will most likely close the smelter regardless in some near future date (2017?)?

And why was that $30 million not invested in other job creation industries in Southland, so that a multi-national corporation could not hold this country to ransom? After Rio Tinto and Warner Bros – who is next to hold a gun to our collective head demanding a taxpayer subsidy/payout?

This was an odious, repugnant and wasteful deal.

This should not be allowed to be forgotten this election.

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John Key says I'd like to raise wages but I can't

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References

NZ Herald:  Meridian boss hails deal with smelter

Radio NZ: Details of Meridian share offer announced

Radio NZ: National announces plans for asset sale profits

TV3: Rio Tinto seeks new Bluff smelter terms

TV3: Rio Tinto eyeing smelter closures

Australia Mining: Rio Tinto’s New Zealand smelter to axe jobs

Fairfax Media: More jobs to go in smelter revamp

Interest.co.nz: Govt pays NZ$30 mln to smelter owners in a deal that will clear the way for the float of Meridian Energy

Radio NZ: No job guarantees sought in smelter deal

Otago Daily Times: Rio Tinto profit more than $4.4b

NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

NZ Statistics: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights

Dominion Post: 555 jobs gone from public sector

Fairfax media: Resthome spy hails saint-like workers

Fairfax media: PM – No money for aged care workers

Interest.co.nz:  Opinion: There was a certain inevitability the long-suffering taxpayer would be ‘invited’ to cough up for the pleasure of keeping the Tiwai Point smelter open

Previous related blogposts

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash”

2013 – Ongoing jobless talley

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The Cost of Living

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 February 2014.

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Radio NZ: Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams – 9 December 2013

10 December 2013 Leave a comment

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– Politics on Nine To Noon –

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– Monday 9 December 2013 –

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– Kathryn Ryan, with Matthew Hooton & Mike Williams –

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Today on Politics on Nine To Noon,

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radio-nz-logo-politics-on-nine-to-noon

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Click to Listen: Politics with Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams ( 25′ 53″  )

This week:

  • The political ramifications of Nelson Mandela’s death and the NZ delegation travelling to South Africa,
  • the Green Party’s new policy for the Meridian share float,
  • and leadership changes within New Zealand’s smaller political parties.

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Meridian Power?

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Meridian_Energy_logo

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Our household is with Meridian Energy.

If that’s the next “on the block” to be part-privatised, I’ll be on the phone within sixty seconds to change to Genesis.

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Blogger lays complaint with Commerce Commission

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Commerce commission logo

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As of today,  1 April 2013, this blogger has laid a complaint with the Commerce Commission regarding National minister’s questionable dealings with Rio Tinto and proposed subsidies for electricity prices,

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contact@comcom.govt.nz
2:20 PM

 
to me

Your details

Your address

Your complaint

  • Business you are complaining about: New Zealand Government
  • Street: Molesworth St
  • Suburb: Thorndon
  • City/Region: Wellington
  • Post code: 6160
  • Business Contact Number/ Mobile number: (4) 817 9999

Description of complaint

What happened?
Tony Ryall has recently announced that the NZ Government is intervening directly in negotiations between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto (which is 80% owner of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter).

Mr Ryall has said,

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.

“In the meantime, we understand Meridian’s existing contract with Pacific Aluminium remains in place at least until 1 January 2016 with significant financial and other obligations beyond that.”

Ryall added that “all relevant information – including about the smelter electricity contract – will be reflected in the Mighty River Power offer document which is currently being finalised”.

Source: NZ Herald, Govt steps in to sort out stalled Tiwai power deal ( http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10874174)

I therefore submit the following;

(1) This appears to be a prima facie case of the NZ Government manipulating the future stock price of Mighty River Power (and other state owned powercos), by offering a subsidy to Rio Tinto.

(2) This subsidy is not available to any other company nor individual.

(3) As such, I submit that the NZ Government’s intention to subsidise electricity that is provided to Rio Tinto is done with a view to reduce competition in the market.

Specifically, I draw the Commission’s attention to the Commerce Act 1986; sections 27, 30, and related clauses.

(4) Furthermore, I submit that if any other corporation, company, institution, or individual attempted such an act, that they would be deemed to be guilty of price fixing and manipulation of the market.

I await your response and thank you for your consideration of my complaint.

-Frank Macskasy

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I will keep readers posted as to what, if anything results from this complaint.

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Relevant sections

Section 27: Restrictive trade practices

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commerce act 1986 section 27

Source

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Section 30: Price fixing

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commerce act 19868 section 30

Source

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What’ve you been smoking, Mr Roughan?

1 April 2013 3 comments

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Perfect chance to can Tiwai

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Perfect chance to can Tiwai

There’s nothing quite like a threat to the New Right economic theory to bring the apologists slip-sliding out of the wood-work.

Case in point: John Roughan’s column in the NZ Herald on 30 March. According to Mr Roughan, the ‘blame’ for this latest fiasco can be sheeted home to John Maynard Keynes and our  post-War desire for full employment.

Because, as we (except for neo-liberals)  all know, full employment is a good thing for society.

First of all, read Mr Roughan’s article. Then come back to this blogpost, and scroll down…

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Ok, read it?

Now who spotted the outrageous piece of delusional rubbish  that Mr Roughan wrote in his column?

Let me quote;

“The price of most things at that time was controlled or subsidised and nobody knew or cared that prices didn’t align the item’s cost of production to its value in a competitive market. The economy was a job-creation scheme that ended with double-digit unemployment in the 1970s.”

Acknowledgement: IBID

Either Mr Roughan doesn’t know his history – or he is being wilfully mendacious to promote his rather obvious neo-liberal views.

Let’s have a look at unemployment in the 1970s though to the 1990s,

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unemployment - new zealand - 1960s - 1970s - 1980s - 1990s -

Acknowledgement:  Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment  – How bad is the Current Recession? Labour Market Downturns since the 1960s

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And to put that graph into actual stats,

Date Unemployment rate
Mar-56 0.6
Jun-56 0.6
Sep-56 0.6
Dec-56 0.6
Mar-57 0.6
Jun-57 0.6
Sep-57 0.6
Dec-57 0.6
Mar-58 0.6
Jun-58 0.6
Sep-58 0.6
Dec-58 0.6
Mar-59 0.6
Jun-59 0.6
Sep-59 0.6
Dec-59 0.6
Mar-60 0.6
Jun-60 0.5
Sep-60 0.5
Dec-60 0.5
Mar-61 0.5
Jun-61 0.5
Sep-61 0.5
Dec-61 0.5
Mar-62 0.5
Jun-62 0.5
Sep-62 0.5
Dec-62 0.6
Mar-63 0.5
Jun-63 0.5
Sep-63 0.5
Dec-63 0.5
Mar-64 0.5
Jun-64 0.5
Sep-64 0.5
Dec-64 0.5
Mar-65 0.5
Jun-65 0.5
Sep-65 0.5
Dec-65 0.5
Mar-66 0.5
Jun-66 0.5
Sep-66 0.5
Dec-66 0.5
Mar-67 0.6
Jun-67 0.7
Sep-67 1.0
Dec-67 1.2
Mar-68 1.3
Jun-68 1.2
Sep-68 1.1
Dec-68 1.1
Mar-69 1.0
Jun-69 0.9
Sep-69 0.8
Dec-69 0.8
Mar-70 0.8
Jun-70 0.8
Sep-70 0.8
Dec-70 0.8
Mar-71 0.8
Jun-71 0.9
Sep-71 1.0
Dec-71 1.2
Mar-72 1.3
Jun-72 1.3
Sep-72 1.3
Dec-72 1.3
Mar-73 1.2
Jun-73 1.1
Sep-73 1.1
Dec-73 1.0
Mar-74 1.0
Jun-74 1.0
Sep-74 1.0
Dec-74 1.0
Mar-75 1.1
Jun-75 1.2
Sep-75 1.2
Dec-75 1.2
Mar-76 1.2
Jun-76 1.1
Sep-76 1.0
Dec-76 0.9
Mar-77 0.8
Jun-77 0.8
Sep-77 0.8
Dec-77 1.2
Mar-78 1.5
Jun-78 1.7
Sep-78 1.7
Dec-78 1.4
Mar-79 1.4
Jun-79 1.5
Sep-79 1.4
Dec-79 1.3
Mar-80 1.4
Jun-80 1.6
Sep-80 2.2
Dec-80 2.5
Mar-81 2.6
Jun-81 2.6
Sep-81 2.6
Dec-81 2.7
Mar-82 2.6
Jun-82 2.7
Sep-82 3.0
Dec-82 3.6
Mar-83 4.4
Jun-83 5.0
Sep-83 5.1
Dec-83 4.8
Mar-84 4.7
Jun-84 4.4
Sep-84 4.3
Dec-84 3.9
Mar-85 3.7
Jun-85 3.6
Sep-85 3.6
Dec-85 3.9
Mar-86 4.2
Jun-86 4.1
Sep-86 4.1
Dec-86 4.2
Mar-87 4.0
Jun-87 4.2
Sep-87 4.2
Dec-87 4.4
Mar-88 4.9
Jun-88 5.4
Sep-88 6.4
Dec-88 6.3
Mar-89 7.1
Jun-89 7.5
Sep-89 7.4
Dec-89 7.3
Mar-90 7.2
Jun-90 7.7
Sep-90 8.1
Dec-90 8.9
Mar-91 9.8
Jun-91 10.5
Sep-91 11.2
Dec-91 11.0
Mar-92 10.9
Jun-92 10.4
Sep-92 10.6
Dec-92 10.6
Mar-93 10.1
Jun-93 10.1
Sep-93 9.5
Dec-93 9.4
Mar-94 9.3
Jun-94 8.5
Sep-94 8.0
Dec-94 7.6
Mar-95 6.8
Jun-95 6.4
Sep-95 6.2
Dec-95 6.4
Mar-96 6.4
Jun-96 6.2
Sep-96 6.4
Dec-96 6.2
Mar-97 6.7
Jun-97 6.8
Sep-97 7.0
Dec-97 7.0
Mar-98 7.4
Jun-98 7.9
Sep-98 7.7
Dec-98 7.9
Mar-99 7.5
Jun-99 7.3
Sep-99 7.0
Dec-99 6.4
Mar-00 6.5
Jun-00 6.3
Sep-00 6.0
Dec-00 5.8
Mar-01 5.5
Jun-01 5.4
Sep-01 5.4
Dec-01 5.6
Mar-02 5.3
Jun-02 5.3
Sep-02 5.5
Dec-02 5.1
Mar-03 5.0
Jun-03 4.8
Sep-03 4.5
Dec-03 4.7
Mar-04 4.3
Jun-04 4.2
Sep-04 3.9
Dec-04 3.8
Mar-05 3.9
Jun-05 3.8
Sep-05 3.8
Dec-05 3.8
Mar-06 4.0
Jun-06 3.7
Sep-06 3.9
Dec-06 3.8
Mar-07 3.8
Jun-07 3.7
Sep-07 3.6
Dec-07 3.5
Mar-08 3.8
Jun-08 4.0
Sep-08 4.3
Dec-08 4.7
Mar-09 5.0

Source: NZIER, Statistics NZ.

Acknowledgement:  Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment  – How bad is the Current Recession? Labour Market Downturns since the 1960s – Data Table Figure 1: Unemployment Rate

At no point in the 1970s did unemployment ever rise above 1.7%. Hardly the “double-digit unemployment in the 1970s” that Mr Roughan presented as the unvarnished truth.

In fact, if we look at the actual stats, the only time unemployment rose into double-digit figures was from Jun-91 to Jun-93, when National implemented it’s infamous “Mother of all Budgets”. That Budget, written by arch-neo liberal Ruth Richardson, sent businesses to the wall as well as unemployment skyrocketing,

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Bolger and Richardson 1991

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John Roughan then attempts to use his bogus “facts” to push the typical New Right line,

“Pacific Aluminium asked Meridian to renegotiate a price that was set just before the world economy went sour in 2007 and demand for aluminium dropped. Meridian agreed to a lower price until 2016 but would not commit to a lower price beyond that.

Last week the Government intervened. Some of your taxes and mine are going to be promised to a global mining conglomerate that wants to sell its New Zealand smelter but cannot find a buyer.

The Government could not have better demonstrated the pitfalls of public ownership if it had tried.”

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Perfect chance to can Tiwai

“The Government could not have better demonstrated the pitfalls of public ownership if it had tried”, wrote Roughan.

Based on – – – ?

Falsities?

Ideology?

Whimsy?

Or just plain bullshit.

The stoush between Rio Tinto and Meridian Energy does not “demonstrate[d] the pitfalls of public ownership” at all.

What it demonstrates is that Rio Tinto has seized the main chance to re-negotiate it’s contract. Does anyone who is not on hallucinogenic drugs not believe even for a moment that Rio Tinto wouldf not try it on with Meridian even if that powerco was 100% privately owned?

Does Mr Roughan honestly believe, with hand-on-heart, that Rio Tinto would behave differently if Meridian was a private company, like Contact Energy?

How f*****g naive can some commentators get, for gods-sakes?

John Roughan’s column is nothing less than neo-liberal propaganda. It is a blatant attempt to twist the current situation, and mis-represent the facts.  It is a deflection. It is an acolyte of neo-liberalism trying to white-wash his failed dogma and blame everyone else except his own failed system for this total screw-up.

As if the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis wasn’t enough to show us that neo-liberal capitalism is a failed ideology. (Who would Mr Roughan blame for that collapse, I wonder? Solo-mums in South Auckland?)

But then, we all know how well Right Wingers take responsibility, don’t we?

Not very well.

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tiwai point - meridian energy - rio tinto

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Hat-tip

Chris Trotter

References

NZ Herald: NZ Herald – Perfect chance to can Tiwai (30 March 2013)

The Daily Blog: Chris Trotter, Lying For The Revolution: John Roughan Defends Neoliberalism (1 April 2013)

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A Clear Warning to Investors in SOEs…

11 March 2013 12 comments

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soe powercos

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The recent financial crisis and near-collapse of Solid Energy – one of the five, state owned enterprises planned for partial-privatisation – should serve as a warning for those investor-vultures circling to buy shares in any of the SOEs.

In fact, recent history regarding Air New Zealand, Kiwiwail, and (non-privatised) BNZ in 1991,  are indicators that privatisation of state assets is not a guaranteed roadmap to wealth,

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The Air New Zealand crash

Source

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It is noteworthy that one of the cause of Air New Zealand’s collapse was it’s foolhardy buy-out of Australian airline, Ansett,

First, the decision by Air New Zealand to pay dividends and second, the decision to buy the second half of Ansett. Both moves turned out to be considerably more beneficial to the interests of Brierleys than those of Air New Zealand.

Take the Ansett purchase. In early 1999, Cushing announced that Air New Zealand was vetoing Singapore Airline’s bid to buy News Corp’s 50% of Ansett Holdings (Air New Zealand had held the other 50% of Ansett since September 1996). Instead, it decided to pay News Corp $A580 million and get 100% control.

It’s most likely true that Air New Zealand paid too much for the stake and that directors had too little information about Ansett’s financial and engineering state. These are well-aired opinions, but are secondary to the main question that should be asked: Why did Air New Zealand buy the second half of Ansett at all? It’s not just that it was hopelessly out of its depth buying an airline twice its size. It’s just hard to see any benefits – to Air New Zealand, that is.

Source: IBID

On top of that were big dividend demands from one of Air Zealand’s major shareholders, Brierley’s,

The at times cash-strapped investment company held between 30% and 47% of shares over the period so, based on the total dividend of $765 million, Brierley reaped an estimated $250 million to $380 million from the airline. And Air New Zealand’s decision to buy the second half of Ansett, cutting Singapore Airlines out of the deal, contributed to Brierleys being able to do its own deal with Singapore.

In April last year, two months after Air New Zealand bought Ansett, Brierleys sold Singapore Airlines all its Air New Zealand “B” shares for $285 million, or $3 a share. It was arguably the last exit option for Brierleys from these shares, and, apart from a spike at the end of last year, Air New Zealand shares have largely tracked downwards ever since – they were trading around 30 cents as Unlimited went to press.

Source: IBID

In other words, Air New Zealand had over-extended in unwise investments (as has Solid Energy), and was bled dry by rapacious demands for dividends (as did Faye Richwhite in NZ Rail in the early 1990s).

How does this relate to the upcoming partial-sale of Mighty River Power?

Recent revelations that Mighty River Power has shaky investments on Chile, should cause potential investors to pause for thought,

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Key struggles to push Chilean investments

Source

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According to the TV3 story above, “Mighty River Power has spent $250 million at the geothermal plant in southern Chile, but has just written off $89 million as the investments struggle“.

To which Key responded casually,

There is always risk.”

Dear Leader  seems somewhat blase about investors’ risks? Of course he is. It’s not his money.

The Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) reported,

Impairments

During the period, the Company recognised $91.4 million of impairments principally reflecting its investment in the GeoGlobal Partners I Fund (GGE Fund), and its greenfield explorations for potential developments in Chile and Germany.

This impairment followed higher than expected costs at the Tolhuaca project in Chile due to the worst winter in 40 years adversely affecting drilling performance and only one of the two wells having proven production capacity. The value of GGE’s investment at Weiheim in Germany, has been impacted by increased costs due to required changes in the drilling location following the 3D seismic surveys and delays from environmental court challenges which have been resolved post balance date.

The GGE Fund had not raised capital from other investors by the end of the 2012 and Mighty River Power made the decision not to invest further capital into the existing structure. Overall, the impairment charge of $88.9 million for the German and Tolhuaca assets and the management company of GGE LLC leaves a residual book value of $91.8 million.

Source: Mighty River Power LtdResults for Announcement to the Market

On top of  Mighty River Power’s dodgy investment in Chile, New Zealand is now experiencing what is being called the worst drought in seven decades  (see:  North Island’s worst drought in 70 years). As Climate scientist Jim Salinger said about New Zealand’s current weather patterns continuing, and becoming  similar to the Mediterranean,

What it means is that if it just doesn’t rain for at least four months of the year, it means you have to bring in your water from elsewhere.”

Source: IBID

As all investors should bear in mind; most of our power generation is generated from  hydro stations. Mighty River Power, especially, derives most of its electricity from eight  hydro-electric stations on the Waikato River.

Mighty River Power CEO, Doug Heffernan has given a clear warning,

Following the lower than average inflows into the Waikato catchment during the last quarter [to December 31], Mighty River ended the half year at just 69 per cent of historical average [hydro storage].”

And Equity analyst Phillip Anderson of Devon Funds stated,

The same period last year they got really strong inflows, and this is the exact opposite . . .

In the second half of this reporting year they’re going to have to buy a lot more electricity to feed their customers, either on the spot market at a lot higher cost or use their [Southdown] gas plant.

We expect the second half of this year is going to be a lot tougher for them, they should get their margins squeezed if that all plays out.”

Source: Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power

The equation is blindingly simple,

Less rain = less water = less electricity generation

The question that begs to be asked is; where does the risk of investing in SOEs fall – private investors, or the State?

The answer I submit to the reader is, that like Air New Zealand, it will be private investors who bear the brunt of all risk. The State will simply pick up the pieces,  buying up shares at bargain basement prices, should anything go wrong.

Electricity generators like Mighty River Power will simply never be allowed to fail. Had the Labour government in 2001 allowed Air New Zealand to collapse, the fall-out to the rest of the reconomy would have been too horrendous to contemplate, and flow-on effects to other businesses (eg; exporters and tourism) and the economy would have been worse than any bail-out.

But any bailout will involve a massive loss for investors, as their share-value plummets. Again, Air New Zealand was an example to us all.

As the impact of climate change creates more uncertainly for our state power companies, investors need to think carefully before committing one single dollar toward buying shares,

Do I really want to bear all the risk?

Those who lost out on their investments in Air New Zealand in the 1990s will probably answer,

No.

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References

The Air New Zealand crash (1 November 2001)

A history of bailouts (7 April 2011)

Foreigners important for SOE sell-downs: Treasury (30 June 2011)

No law stopping foreign investors (16 Dec 2011)

Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power (22 Feb 2013)

Mighty River Power shares float mid-May (4 March 2013)

Taking the plunge in Mighty River (9 March 2013)

Key struggles to push Chilean investments (9 March 2013)

North Island’s worst drought in 70 years (10 March 2013)

Other blogs

Seemorerocks: An Appeal for a New Zealand Risk Assessment

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319 million reasons not to part-privatise our power companies

26 February 2013 9 comments

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SOEs

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There are at least 319 million reason why it is sheer madness for National to be considering part-privatisation of  state-owned power companies,

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Half year profit jump for Meridian Energy

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Genesis Energy half-year profit

Source

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Mighty River Power profit quadruples

Source

Acknowledgement for above media reports: Radio New Zealand

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The half year (not even a fullyear!) profit for the above three power SOEs is: $319.5 million.

Combined dividends paid the the government will be: $224 million.

If 49% of all three SOEs is sold to private investors, the State (ie, You and Me) will lose out on approximatelt $110  million.

That will be $110 going into bank accounts of  institutional investors, or the pockets of wealthy New Zealanders with sufficient income to buy shares.

It will mean a drop in government income.

Worse still, going by historic events in the late 1990s when the  ECNZ (Electricity Corporatrion of NZ)  was split up, and the newly formed Contact Energy was split off and fully privatised, power prices will continue to skyrocket,

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power-prices-set-to-soar

National-led government – NZPA – 12 May 1999

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Privatisation will not mean competition resulting in cheaper power prices any more than competing fuel companies are giving us cheaper petrol prices.

In fact, as Economics Professor, Geoff Bertram said on 13 February 2013, at an anti-asset sales rally in Wellington,

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“… It’s my view that probably the  most important political consequence of the part-privatisation of SOEs is to place private investors in those enterprises  and thereby immunise them against possible future policy that might reduce their value.

And since  I think an important part of an improved government policy would indeed reduce their value, I am opposed to the asset sales…

…The companies have a very high valuation. The reason why they have a very high valuation  is that they have successfully participated in a long-running rort to extract cash from residential electricity consumers by the inexorable driving up of prices of electricity.

That rort, has been possible, because government policy has allowed and has indeed supported the emergeance of a cartel of five, large, vertically-integrated, generator-retailers – three of whom are SOEs  – which have been able to operate without any effective regulation, at the expense of  consumers who were too vulnerable to protect their interests against price hikes.

And if you looked at the tracks of electricity prices over the last 20, 30 years you will have noticed that large industry has protected itself very successfully; commercial electricity buyers have done fine; residential who are the dis-organised, unrepresented, undefended, captive group of customers have seen their prices go up in real terms 100% since 1986.

And the main consequence of the electricity reforms has indeed been that doubling of the cost of electricity to ordinary  households. 

That’s a major cause of energy poverty; it’s been an important part in the growing  inequality of income and wealth in this country; and it’s something that a socially responsible government would,  in my view,  be taking serious action to reverse.”

Geoff Bertram continued,

“Just to put that doubling of the residential price in context. New Zealand’s pretty much on it’s own in the OECD and if you look at  the figures for other countries around the OECD, from 1986 to the present, the price of electricity to residential consumers  in OECD Europe, in Australia, and in the United Kingdom, is still the same as it was in 1986. In the United States, Japan, and France, prices are down 25% , compared to where they were in 1986, in real terms.  In South Korea they’re down 50%, compared to where they were in 1986.

New Zealand is the only only OECD country that has gone out there and driven up electricity prices 50%. We’re also pretty much the only country that doesn’t have a regulator in place, and where government doesn’t have any particular social policy relating to the pricing of essential services to the public.”

Prof Bertram explained,

And here’s how it works.

You take a bunch of assets with a given value, and you look at the existing price, to consumers of the product, and you say “well look, we can get the price up”; so you project  that higher price; you capitalise that; and then if you can get the price up the asset will be worth more; so then you re-value the asset; and then you go and use the higher value of the asset to justify raising the prices, and then you repeat.

And this is the circular process which has been going on in New Zealand now, in electricity, for more than a decade. It is completely legal under New Zealand law.

It is not illegal to profiteer or  to gauge captive customers in this country. [In] very few countries is that true.

And it’s consistant with New Zealand’s generally accepted accounting practice which basically tells you that there’s a rotteness at the core of accounting practices in this country.”

And added this shocking insight,

Here’s the problem. Electricity was once an essential service provided to households at the lowest price, consistent with covering the industry’s costs. 

Since 1986 the sector has been corporatised and part-privatised, and it’s pricing has been driven by the quest for profit by giant companies that have the market power to gouge their consumers.

As the owner of three of those companies, the New Zealand government has therefore become a predator. And now the Treasury wants to cash in on that rort by selling out half the government’s stake.

What that means in terms of the options for the future for government to turn around and come back from the predator model and return to a social service approach  for energy supply, is being closed off.”

Concluding with,

But if you want to deal with energy poverty and get kids out of hospitals with asthma and other respiratory diseases and so on, one of the really good  things that you can do is get cheap energy into New Zealand households and that would be sustainable on the basis of the current government owned assets.

About 300 kwh free. [But if] you sell Mighty River and what’s feasible comes down to 200 [kwh]. You sell Genesis and what’s feasible comes down to 100 [kwh]. You sell Meridian and it’s gone…

What I’m saying is the contract  that supplies the Rio Tinto smelter down at Bluff, the old Comalco contract, is the contract New  Zealand households should have had from the start.

And it still could be done.”

See previous blogpost: Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua)

As Radio NZ reported on 21 February,

“Electricity prices paid by Mighty River customers rose 2% over the period while costs fell 22%.”

See: Mighty River Power profit quadruples

Which leads us to these points to consider,

  1. Despite a glut of electricity, prices continue to rise. There is price-gouging going on by all power companies, whether State Owned or by privately-owned Contact Energy.  There is no competitive force driving prices down. There is no indication that part-privatisation will create any competition.
  2. At least state ownership means that most electricity profits stay in New Zealand and contribute to the State, to pay for health, education, roading, etc. However, one wonders if this sort of punitive,  indirect-taxation, on low income families is fair, whilst more affluent households can afford insulaion, solar power, and other energy-saving strategies.
  3. As Prof Bertram maintains, partial privation will most likely close off future progessive governments’ abilities to reform  the electricity industry and return to a  social service approach.

See also previous related blogpost – with Max Bradford’s response on this issue: History Lesson – Tahi – Electricity Sector “reforms”

Meanwhile, some of our past political leaders are waking up to the realities of historical state asset privatisations,

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Bolger -Telecom sale a mistake

See: Bolger – Telecom sale a mistake

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Better late than never?

Nah. Better now than later.

These mistakes are too expensive and we all end up paying.

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