Finance sector blossoming but tax take drops by almost 11% as economy slows

For Finance Minister Bill English the latest Deloitte Top 200 index is in reality a game of two halves.

It is obvious the playing field for prime New Zealand companies has become tougher since 2014, judging by the results of the 2015 Deloitte Top 200 index.

But the finance sector is doing very well indeed.

Not only was the total revenue figure of $177.2 billion for the Top 200 companies just marginally ahead of the 2014 result (the increase was just 0.9 per cent,) but it came against a background of a slowing economy which has yet to feel the full flow on effect from the international dairy commodities price slump and the lower inflationary environment.

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This is not only impacting on companies' bottom lines. But also on the Government's tax take from these companies.

From English's perspective, the 10.9 per cent drop in total tax paid by the firms represented on the Top 200 Index will not present a big concern.

There are a number of one-offs which inevitably skew the total.

But last year, the companies that made the cut for the 2014 Top 200 posted total tax of $2.523 billion. The 2015 total was just $2.249 billion.

The Top 200 only accounts for a portion of the total company tax. But the Government will hope it is not a significant indicator, as if the downward trend continues apace into 2016 it will make English's aim to post a consecutive Budget surplus that much harder. Although it would take quite a sustained slump to put a political roadblock in the way of the Government's hope to foreshadow tax cuts at the 2017 election.

An indication of how tax revenues are tracking will come with the release tomorrow morning of Government financial statements for the four months ended October 31 2015.

English will follow this up one week later with further commentary around the Budget Policy Statement 2016 and the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update 2015.

The Deloitte Top 200 is a listing of New Zealand's largest organisations ranked by revenue. It includes publicly-listed companies and larger unlisted entities which are required to disclose audited financial statements, including New Zealand subsidiaries and branches of overseas companies and the commercial operations of Maori organisations.

It also includes producer boards, co-operatives, local authority trading enterprises and state-owned enterprises.

To be included in the Top 200, organisations must operate for a commercially determined profit. They will generally but not always be liable for tax on earnings. All figures are the latest available, verified and audited.

Fonterra posted the Index's biggest after tax profit of $506 million which was up by 182.7 per cent.

But the global dairy giant's revenues in the year to July, decreased by 14.6 per cent to $19.2 billion showing the impact of the decline in milk powder revenues.

The index shows Fonterra's overall return on revenue was 4.4 per cent; it posted a 17.9 per cent increase in total assets to 18.3 billion. The return on assets was 3 per cent and the return on equity was 7.7 per cent.

Since balance date, Fonterra has restructured its operations and shed staff and surplus assets.

But it still faces a trying time ahead with a sustained pick up in international dairy commodities not expected until mid-2016.

While NZ's productive sector has faced more difficult times, the financial sector goes from strength to strength.

As noted in the Herald's Dynamic Business Report, with the Global Financial Crisis now firmly in the rear-view mirror, our financial institutions will be celebrating a second consecutive banner year - with strong performances and growth in every metric across the Top 30.

Revenue for the Top 30 finance companies grew by 8.5 per cent, a noted improvement on last year's 3.7 per cent growth figure. It's noteworthy too that they far outpaced their non-financial Top 200 counterparts, which grew at 1.1 per cent - a role reversal from last year (2014: Top 200 - 6.6 per cent Top 30 - 3.7 per cent).

Perhaps more importantly for the financial sector when they judge their own performance is asset growth. Year on year, the Top 30 grew their asset bases by $26.2 billion, representing cumulative holdings of $447.6 billion. That was a 6.2 per cent improvement, far outpacing 1.9 per cent growth in 2014.

A positive year for the financial sector worked out well for the Government's bottom line, with a $2.1 billion tax contribution from the Top 30 financial institutions companies. This was up by 31.1 per cent, a half billion-dollar improvement from 2014 - and proportionally, a much higher greater growth rate than final profit.

At a time when total Top 200 company revenues are barely moving, the significantly higher performance by the financial sector suggests the economy has a long rebalancing exercise ahead.

The Top 200 Index is now into its 26th year.

Two other companies stand out.

Businessman Rod Drury, chief executive of accounting software company Xero. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Businessman Rod Drury, chief executive of accounting software company Xero. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Finally, the cloud accounting 'rockstar' Xero has made its debut on the Deloitte Top 200 list coming in at 195th place off the back of a 75.4 per cent increase in revenue.

An iwi is also represented on the Top 200 list for the first time with Ngai Tahu at 93rd place.

Xero has had a busy year. Its revenues reached $134.9 million. But while Xero turned in the most improved revenue year-on-year among all Top 200 companies it still made a $69.4 million loss - the fourth largest in the rankings of biggest losses on the Top 200 index.

Next Monday

Fran O'Sullivan digs into the story behind the agribusiness sectoral results in the Deloitte Top 200.