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Tamsyn Parker

Money Editor for NZ Herald

Meridian a big deal, but what happens next?

Government asset sales have helped make this a stellar year for the sharemarket, but who'll fill the pipeline when the big listings are done? asks markets reporter

Meridian will be the NZ sharemarket's biggest listing, and the eighth company to make its market debut this year. Photo / Richard Robinson
Meridian will be the NZ sharemarket's biggest listing, and the eighth company to make its market debut this year. Photo / Richard Robinson

On Tuesday, the New Zealand sharemarket will see its biggest listing as energy giant Meridian comes to market.

Estimated to be worth about $3.84 billion, Meridian is on a par with Telecom - New Zealand's second largest listed company.

Its inclusion on the NZX will make it the eighth company to complete an initial public offering this year - an almost unheard of number of sharemarket listings for New Zealand - and comes at a time when the benchmark share index is reaching record highs on a daily basis.

The NZX50 index is up by more than 17 per cent this year, on top of the 24 per cent rise it posted last year.

There seems no doubt that New Zealand's capital markets are open for business, but new company listings have been dominated by big players, relative minnows or industry plays.

Technology stocks have been firm favourites this year, new companies coming to market in the hope of riding on the coat-tails of star performer Xero.

But the largest of these new companies has been SLI Systems, worth about $122 million.

At the other end of the scale, there have been the power company floats, starting with Mighty River Power, which raised $1.7 billion and is valued at $3 billion.

Another big name, Z Energy, raised $870 million and has a market capitalisation of $1.5 billion.

The only middle-ground listing has been dairy firm Synlait, valued at about $500 million, which was brought to market after the success of the Fonterra Shareholders Fund.

NZX chief executive Tim Bennett has said he hopes to line up five to six companies in the $200 million to $300 million range to list next year.

Capital market participants suggest there is a strong pipeline ahead, but the challenge is maintaining the flow and attracting more mid-sized companies to list on the New Zealand market.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly says it's an issue that isn't unique to this country.

"You often find existing medium-sized businesses are under represented in listings of stock markets around the world."

O'Reilly says the main reason for a listing is to raise capital for expansion, and many mid-sized companies tend to grow either by reinvesting their profits or by borrowing money from the bank or from family and friends.

"Most of those medium-sized businesses will not have had experience of equity growth; they fund sufficient growth for their purposes in markets other than the public market."

O'Reilly says there are also cultural barriers to overcome in convincing business owners to float their companies.

"New Zealand business owners tend to be more interested in retaining significant control of their company.

"They tend to want to own 100 per cent of something themselves. There is a cultural issue in New Zealand."

He says one key to solving the issue is for people to see more successful listings.

"Part of it is to see more businesses on the stock market, more initial public offers and more quality listings that do well. Success will breed on success.

"Xero is an example of that happening. When they see more companies that look and feel like them, I think we will get more of that cultural issue overcome. Part of it is building a virtuous cycle."

O'Reilly says the other main barrier is the perception of the cost of compliance and what businesses have to do to comply with disclosure requirements.

"When they look at the income-reward matrix, often the choice is just too hard."

O'Reilly says that is why markets like the unlisted market can be helpful in moving companies to the NZX, as can having confident independent board directors.

"Often companies muddle along for years before they appoint independent directors."

JOHN MAASLAND, a long-time director, says convincing family-owned businesses to list can be a challenge.

"There are a lot of small companies - there are quite good ones out there - but some would question why they need to list."

He says education is needed to help businesses get their heads around the requirements.

"The NZX has got to get out there and help. Business New Zealand could also do more."

Maasland says many businesses also feel put off by the companies that get involved in advising on listings.

"Too many out there feel very much swept along by those organisations."

He suggests there could be a need for more specialist advisers catering to small to medium-sized businesses.

Maasland says having a private equity investor or institutional investor can also be a good stepping stone.

"Having institutional investors on board is good because it creates discipline."

Lance Jenkins, executive director at private equity firm Waterman Capital, says firms like his can be a bridge between needing some capital now, and coming to market in three to four years.

Jenkins says private markets are important because the NZX does not reflect the underlying economy in New Zealand.

Despite its growth over the past two years, the market capitalisation of the entire NZX is still only 40 per cent of New Zealand's GDP.

That's far short of Australia, where the sharemarket is worth 130 per cent of the country's GDP.

Jenkins says that leaves a large group of companies that need capital in the same way that listed companies do.

But not all companies are right for investment. Jenkins invests in only two or three of the 60 to 70 companies he looks at every year.

One of those is start-up life insurer Partners Life, which has happens next?

New Zealand business owners tend to be more interested in retaining significant control of their company.Phil O'Reilly, Business NZSmaller companies wanted, p18signalled its plans to list on the stock exchange in the next few years.

Jenkins says there is no simple answer to what makes a company ready to list on the exchange. "It can depend on what type of industry a company is in."

A company like Partners Life needs to become profitable before it lists, he says, but others, like Xero, have been successful just by showing how their business can grow.

"It's industry and company specific. People will pay a lot more for growth companies that are highly scaleable."

FRANK ALDRIDGE, managing director at Craigs Investment Partners - New Zealand's largest retail broker network - says he is cautiously optimistic about next year's pipeline.

Already lined up is energy company Genesis - the final power company being put on the block by the Government.

He says it's also important to remember that not all proposed floats come off.

Two property floats have been pulled in recent weeks, despite the market's strong performance.

Aldridge says keeping the pipeline flowing also means ensuring new floats continue to do well.

"It is important the ones in the past and Meridian do go well. That will provide momentum."

Challenges also remain in getting new investors to buy into the sharemarket.

"People are still being pretty conservative," Aldridge says.

"In our firm, we have seen a significant number of new clients but when you look at the amount of money still sitting in the bank, we have made progress but there is still a wee way to go."

He says KiwiSaver has helped a lot and, if Australia is anything to go by, it has a lot more potential.

"Look at Australia - we have only just started that journey."

New Zealand's KiwiSaver industry is worth about $16.5 billion, while Australia's superannuation market recently hit A$1.6 trillion ($1.83 trillion).

NZX boss Tim Bennett says Australia's superannuation system has been a huge help in educating people about investment, and he hopes KiwiSaver will have a similar effect in New Zealand.

"We just need to be very careful people are aware of what they are investing in."

New Zealanders remain cautious after being burned by the 1987 sharemarket crash, and the 2007 finance company collapses.

New rules and regulations have been introduced to set minimum standards for financial advisers and companies wanting to raise money from the public.

But Bennett says people can't expect New Zealand to be run as a nanny state when it comes to investing.

"We can only do so much. We need to separate out fraud and misinformation versus businesses that don't meet expectations."

David Green, ANZ head of institutional banking and chairman of INFINZ, the finance industry organisation, says the Government has certainly recognised the capital markets' importance.

"We have done a lot of work on addressing trust, identifying the rules. The framework is there.

"But we have still got to fine tune it as to how that is applied so that it is working in practical application.

"It is still early days in that."

Green says New Zealand is doing well at getting people to focus on saving. "But that doesn't really get us to where we need to be. It's not just a savings culture we need but an investment culture."

- NZ Herald

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