Liam Dann 's Opinion

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann: Don't let bad apples ruin new boom

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Good times are coming for the sharemarket but vigilance is needed to avoid a rerun of the disaster of 1987.

There were 65 new listings in 1987. Out of all those companies, Michael Hill is the only one to remain on the NZX. Photo / Herald archive
There were 65 new listings in 1987. Out of all those companies, Michael Hill is the only one to remain on the NZX. Photo / Herald archive

With stock exchange chief Tim Bennett talking about as many as 40 companies looking to list and brokers turning away prospective candidates, the evidence now points to a real boom for the New Zealand stock exchange.

Which means it must be time to start talking about a bust.

"Surely not," I hear you say. "We're just getting started and we're only just out of the financial crisis. We must be smarter this time."

We should hope so. But the more things boom the more we need to be regularly reminding ourselves of the risks of over-exuberance.

Nobody's talking about an imminent market bust-up - barring turmoil in China or somewhere. But now when things are looking so promising is the right time to make sure the checks and balances are in place for a long, sustainable period of growth.

One of the ever-present risks - last seen at its worst in this country before the 1987 crash - is the possibility that strength of the market creates an environment where substandard companies are allowed to list and raise money from the public.

Particularly in a financial sector as small as New Zealand's, it is possible for the market to be swamped by new listings in a way that allows some companies to avoid the analysis and scrutiny they should undergo.

Many investors and some of our financial institutions were naive in 1987. The country was new to the fully deregulated free market.

This time we have a generation of senior investment heads in our market who understand cyclical risks and ought to see them coming.

We also have a regulatory regime that recognises the need to protect investors and explicitly demand clear disclosure of risk.

So far the signs are good that the NZX and the investment banks are taking a sensible, long-term view.

Reports that companies are being turned away and told they are not ready for market listing are heartening.

Certainly there is no upside for investment banks in being associated with a turkey of a float.

Of course it is easy to take the high moral ground when you already have too much work on. After such a long period of inactivity, broking firms have downsized and are now growing again to meet demand.

The real test will come as they increase capacity to handle more of the incoming companies.

Last year when Brian Gaynor looked back on the IPO market in 1987, he noted that there were 65 new listings that year. Michael Hill is the only company that listed that year to remain on the NZX.

This year we may see about 10 new companies list. That would represent a good, steady stream of investment prospects.

Success is never guaranteed but hopefully some stringent quality control by both the NZX and the brokers involved will ensure we see only quality propositions.

That doesn't mean we should be shy of risk and there is room in the mix for growth stocks - particularly in the tech sector - but that risk needs to be well flagged.

If we can sustain this run then we will see the wider New Zealand economy start to benefit. Growing companies with access to capital means investment in new jobs and new equipment, which in turn drives the efficiency of the economy and creates more opportunity.

Meanwhile, if the profits and good growth are being delivered by listed companies rather than private companies there is opportunity for more New Zealanders to benefit as participation in KiwiSaver grows.

A long, sustained market boom can deliver the kind of economic transformation New Zealand needs to get beyond its commodity export dependency.

It is crucial that we manage this growth and don't let a few greedy operators bring it all crashing down.

- NZ Herald

Liam Dann

Business editor of the NZ Herald

Liam Dann is the Business editor of the New Zealand Herald, overseeing all our business content in print and online. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy.

Read more by Liam Dann

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