Air New Zealand's share price seems to have seen little negative down-side from the political stoush between the company and NZ First MP Shane Jones this week.

Jones, who is Regional Development Minister, took aim at the airline's board and chief executive after it pulled out of flights to the Kapiti Coast.

He was quickly shot down by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and finance minister Grant Robertson, who has backed up the board's need for independence.

But the situation raises concerns about whether companies, and in particular those with the Government as a major shareholder, are at greater risk of political interference under the Labour-led Government.

Advertisement

It is not just the airline which the Government has a stake in but the listed power companies - Mercury, Genesis and Meridian Energy.

Michael Midgley, chief executive of the New Zealand Shareholders Association, says even when it has not been the responsible minister commenting the share prices of companies have been affected in the past.

He pointed to the listing of the power companies when the Government was forced to change the structure of the Meridian listing after politicians talked up changes to the sector.

Midgley said there were risks in politicians getting involved in appointing people to boards.

"When they are appointed for other reasons, particularly political ones, then history is not good."

But Grant Swanepoel, head of research at Craigs Investment Partners, said anyone that owns 51 per cent of a company has influence over it and shareholders know that.

He says the Government's 51 per cent ownership of the energy companies is no different to Infratil being the majority shareholder in Trustpower.

"I am more concerned about political interference in the whole industry," he said.

Swanepoel said Grant Robertson's views did not change his assessment of the valuation of the energy stocks and the Air New Zealand stoush was just some of the "noise" that came out all the time.

Slade Robertson, managing director at Devon Funds Management, says there is also a difference between Air New Zealand and the power companies.

"Air NZ is essentially a monopoly in NZ. It has very little or no competition on many routes and therefore it is only natural that questions are asked over the price of airfares, and decisions around routes.

"The electricity market in NZ is very different. It is highly competitive, prices are around the OECD average, and we have a high proportion of renewable carbon free electricity generation."

UDC FLOAT

A sharemarket float of UDC would likely be welcomed by New Zealand investors given the thin representation of finance companies in New Zealand.

Unlike the Australia share market which is top-heavy with banks the New Zealand market just has Tower and Heartland Bank with a heavy tilt towards energy stocks and property.

But if UDC does come to market it may not be as big as some people expect. One market player suggested ANZ could keep up to 49 per cent of the business to ensure the float is not too big and gets away successfully.

That could put the free float at around $300m to $400m which would put it in the top 50 listed companies but not too far off the smallest of the top 50.

The way the possibility of the IPO was announced makes it seem likely that the bank is also keeping the door open for a trade sale.

Given the size of the UDC business a buyer would likely come from Australia or Asia meaning it would have to go through the process of getting Overseas Investment Office approval again - a situation that may not appeal after its HNA turn-down.

It took over a year for the OIO to make a decision blocking Chinese firm HNA from buying UDC and another application would potentially take a further six months.

Going down the IPO route would avoid that wait but could mean the bank gets a lower price for selling the business.

ANZ could try to get the UDC float away as soon as July or August once its March half year accounts are made public.

SURPRISE SHOE BUY

Kathmandu's decision to buy US footwear manufacturer Oboz is a surprising move given the company is still in the midst of a turnaround, says one fund manager.

Castle Point's Stephen Bennie says the $110m acquisition is a big call and chief executive Xavier Simonet could face pressure if it doesn't pan out especially given the debt the company has taken on to do the deal.

"We do not like to see retailers taking on bank debt. There is already plenty of financial leverage in retailers given their significant store lease commitments."

Bennie says investors only have to look back to Pumpkin Patch to see the downside of too much debt.

"Remember that's what sunk Pumpkin Patch."

While the Oboz acquisition may have an upside Bennie says it has definitely made Kathmandu a riskier company.

Kathmandu shares have risen 7c since just before the announcement and closed on $2.47 yesterday.