Money Editor for NZ Herald

Mighty River - a mighty boost

Publicity over the power firm's sharemarket listing is piquing the public's interest

Mighty River listing boosts public interest. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mighty River listing boosts public interest. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When Mighty River Power lists on Friday, there will be division over its perceived success but one factor can not be denied; that it has raised the talk about capital markets to a new level.

Hundreds of newspaper column inches, websites and much telly time have been dedicated to the first sharemarket listing in the Government's mixed ownership model (MOM) programme.

A record 440,000 pre-registered to buy shares, far exceeding the total of 250,000 who pre-registered for Contact Energy shares back in 1999 - and as this publication goes to print institutional investors will be placing their bids to set the final price.

The Labour/Green Parties bid to derail the process by announcing a total overhaul of the electricity sector will have dissuaded some potential investors but those more experienced will have factored it into their pricing calculations.

Shane Solly, fund manager at boutique firm Mint Asset Management, says he is definitely seeing more people interested in the capital markets.

"Whenever you have large capital raisings you will get people looking at the markets. We have also seen a pretty significant recovery in the market."

The NZX50 index is up more than 25 per cent in the past 12 months and last year was the best year for the stock market since 2003. "Private investors are more active. International investors are also showing a lot of interest in New Zealand.

"Whether it is because their local market is not so good or because ours is better - that's a grey patch. There is a widening of investment activity," says Solly.

Backing that desire to invest is the low interest rate environment and a mountain of cash that has piled up in the bank as people have sought to pay down debt and avoid more risky investments.

But despite that demand, Mighty River Power will be just the fourth company to list on the New Zealand stock exchange in the past year.

John Moore, head of equity capital markets at Craigs Investment Partners says last year panned out a lot differently from what was expected.

"At the start of 2012, many people were expecting the year to be a busy one for capital raising, as the Government started its Mixed Ownership Model. Mighty River Power was set down for September/October and a lot of other potential issuers were waiting to see how it went. Two exceptions to that, which were being worked on throughout the year, were Moa Brewing and the Fonterra Shareholders' Fund."

Then Mighty River Power was delayed by court action taken by the Maori Council over water rights.

"It was almost like a big log jam had been cleared. Other deals were organised to meet the demand for equity. That resulted in a raft of placements and block trades from Steel and Tube, Goodman Property, Trade Me, A2 and Argosy. And that has carried on this year."

In March, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp sold down its remaining stake in Sky TV.

The $815 million deal was the biggest block trade done on the NZX in a decade and it was done in little over a day.

Rob Cameron, chair of the Capital Markets Development Taskforce, says the deals are a sign that New Zealand's capital markets are starting to pick up.

Cameron, appointed to head up a major review of the markets in 2008, says the MOM programme will address the big end of the market, and the bottom end is also taking off.

"We are beginning to see interest in expansion capital. Xero's success has probably been the key."

The cloud-based accountancy software firm, headed up by tech entrepreneur Rod Drury, has experienced a soaring share price despite having yet to make a profit.

The company has attracted interest from overseas investors and was recently lauded by former Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier in Forbes magazine.

Last year Xero and fellow technology company Diligent Board Member Services were the two best performing stocks on the NZX and others are hoping to follow in their footsteps. Christchurch online search optimisation firm SLI Systems has announced plans to list.

"We are finding the technology area is providing a number of opportunities. A lot these things have stemmed from changes the Government has introduced, some direct impact from the MOM prgramme and others have come from a mixture of changes in public policy and private sector being galvanised," says Cameron.

If the investment bankers are to be believed there will be a raft of other listings to come this year outside of the MOM programme. Petrol retailer Z Energy has indicated it is considering a third quarter listing and there is talk of other technology firms also coming to the market.

Mint's Shane Solly says companies wanting to come to market have to be willing to pass the scrutiny of investors and not all are prepared to do that. "The cost of getting access to capital is to be transparent. There are certainly a lot of people out there running processes on potential listings. If we continue to see capital markets remaining firm there is potential appetite out there."

He says KiwiSaver is providing a solid underpinning to the market with regular cashflow coming in from savers. "The Australian market has done well out of having superannuation continue to come in. The demand is there - it's about finding the assets that meet the demand profile."

But Andrew Taylor, partner at Ernst & Young specialising in transaction advisory services says conditions are still challenging for those looking to come to market.

"The reality for New Zealand capital markets is we've still got economic conditions bouncing around." He says MOM is positive for activity but only time will tell if the float programme lasts longer than 12 to 24 months.

Taylor says building the capital markets is not just about new listings. "The Capital Markets Taskforce found we needed to foster an investment savings ethos." That requires more businesses and better quality businesses for people to invest in.

He says the market will go through ups and down consistent with the business cycle. "I don't think it is all about listings. It's about savings and capital market breadth and depth."

Continuous education of the public is also needed, he says. He hopes over time investors will get better at understanding their risk appetite and how growth and risk relate to each.

One of the drivers for the MOM programme has been to attract a wider group of investors to the market but some fear the Labour/Green proposal will have scared people off.

Cameron doesn't agree with that theory and says it will just lead to a repricing of the asset. "If a coalition of Greens/Labour were to come into power it would significantly change the profile of cash flows for the companies but it shouldn't change the rationale for MOM."

He says reasons for the listings include ensuring the companies are run more efficiently and gaining access to capital. He believes by the end of the MOM programme there will be much wider participation in the sharemarket from across New Zealand including those at the younger end of the spectrum.

"We are beginning to see a younger generation who probably feel differently and don't feel affected by the 1980s. They are seeing better regulation, better products and thinking why wouldn't you invest?"

Cameron says there will always be room for improvements in New Zealand's capital markets. "Some require policy changes, some require more innovation from the private sector and some government policy innovation such as the small growth market which the NZX is proposing."

He says New Zealand needs to stop benchmarking itself against the US capital market and its depth. "We will never get that in New Zealand and should not expect it. At the top end of the market we will have a small number of new listings, as we move down we become more and more reliant on domestic companies coming to market. The issue then becomes what are the pre-conditions that will enable capital to be efficiently mobilised. That is what we have to continue to work on."

But Cameron says there is now a good framework in place. "It's like a jigsaw. We've got the outline - it's now about fitting the pieces in."

- NZ Herald

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