Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Drop in coal triggers Solid Energy rain check

The falling demand for steel in China is helping drive down prices for coking coal. Photo / Greg Bowker
The falling demand for steel in China is helping drive down prices for coking coal. Photo / Greg Bowker

The partial privatisation of state-owned coal company Solid Energy has been put on the back burner after falling global coal prices forced a review of the company's operations.

Solid Energy last week warned that low coal prices were taking a toll on its revenues but chief executive Don Elder said work would continue on readying the company for sale.

"There are investors around the world who are snapping coal companies up," he said.

But Finance Minister Bill English yesterday said the company was in no shape to be floated and wouldn't be sold any time soon.

Prime Minister John Key indicated the sale of the company was unlikely before 2014.

"I'm not sure it will go ahead this term. It's always been likely to be one of the last cabs off the rank and as you've seen by the public statements made by the company last week, they are obviously suffering under a depressed coal price.

"They are certainly not going to be ahead of Genesis and Meridian in terms of order of events."

The exact timing of the Solid Energy float depended on a number of factors, "not least of them being our ability to ensure that we would get the best price for that company".

Solid Energy's board has valued the company at about $2.8 billion but private sector bankers have valued it at just $1.7 billion, with the gap explained by differing views on coal prices.

Mr English said the company's plans to diversify into other projects such as a $5 billion lignite to diesel conversion project in Southland were now subject to discussions between its board and the Crown.

"Until the coal price started falling it looked like a company that was able to run its core business plus its research and development activities," he said.

Dr Elder said last week the company was reviewing its operations, and scaling back mining and delaying investment in new projects and research and development were possibilities.

Solid Energy's sound performance until the coal price fell was reflected in Dr Elder's salary package.

He was the second highest paid SOE boss last year with total remuneration of $1.4 million.

Meanwhile, Mr English said yesterday the Government was still considering the timetable for its "mixed ownership model" programme.

"We make decisions about that as we go. You can see the complexities that have arisen around the Mighty River float and over the next month or so we'll be making the relevant decisions there. We don't want to pre-judge a timetable to try and give any more certainty than there is."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 01 Oct 2014 03:57:35 Processing Time: 740ms