24 Nov 2011

John Key's ownership prediction on asset sales questioned

5:51 pm on 24 November 2011

Financial market players say they are sceptical about a prediction from National Party leader John Key that partially privatised assets will stay overwhelmingly locally owned.

If re-elected, National plans to proceed with the sale of up to 49% of state-owned energy companies Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy and to reduce the Crown's shareholding in Air New Zealand.

In a Television New Zealand leaders' debate on Wednesday, Mr Key downplayed the possibility of the share of the assets his party proposes to sell ending up in foreign ownership.

During the debate, Mr Key said a maximum of 15% would go to foreign owners although he later conceded that applied only to the initial sale.

But Mr Key expressed confidence that the remaining shares would stay overwhelmingly locally owned.

He said most of the shares of partially-listed Air New Zealand that are not owned by government are in local hands and 97% of stock exchange operator NZX, which was demutualised in the early 2000s, was New Zealand-owned.

Of the 28% of Air New Zealand not owned by the government, 12% is in foreign ownership. Fund manager Mark Brighouse says overseas investors would buy more if they were made available.

Mr Brighouse says listings of 49% of big companies like Genisis, Mighty River and Meridian will be in demand with international financial institutions, which he says is no bad thing for New Zealand.

"It will make it more attractive to a whole variety of investors and that includes New Zealanders, either directly or via their KiwiSaver schemes."

Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer says freeing up shares from Crown ownership would attract more big financial institutions to buy shares in the carrier, and is one of the reasons he backs a reduction in the Government's stake.

Mark Brighouse says one of the big differences between the New Zealand and Australian economies is the size of their sharemarkets.

He says a larger sharemarket would make it easier for New Zealand firms to raise capital and invest more in expanding their businesses and creating jobs.