Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Site jams as 100,000 rush for Mighty River shares

Early fervour 'predictable' says Labour, pointing to parallels with now largely foreign-owned Contact Energy.

One hundred thousand kiwis have now pre-registered for a stake in Mighty River Power as massive public interest puts pressure on the share sale website.

Up to five would-be investors per second were signing up online to learn more about Mighty River Power's share sale yesterday after the Government announced a surprise incentive.

By 8pm yesterday about 70,000 New Zealanders had pre-registered for shares and that number had grown to 92,959 by 11:15pm.

The National Party said 100,000 New Zealanders had pre-registered as at 8.30am today.

"This compares with the ten days it took for pre-registration to reach the 100,000 mark with the Contact Energy share offer in 1999," said State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

But 14 years since its float, Contact Energy is now majority owned by a foreign company, the Labour Opposition says.

The site, where individual New Zealand investors can pre-register their interest in buying shares in the state-owned power generator, went live yesterday as the sales process was officially launched by Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

Mr Ryall announced investors who pre-registered may receive more shares than those who didn't, if demand for the shares outstripped the amount available for sale.

By early afternoon many would-be investors were experiencing difficulty getting on to the site.

Staff at the share offer's call centre advised trying again "in a few hours".

Some users who were able to access the site reported difficulties in completing the pre-registration.

Mr Ryall on Monday said the Government was "pretty confident that the website will be able to deal with a wide range of traffic".

But by late yesterday he acknowledged that "huge volumes of traffic on the website in the first few hours" were causing problems.

"Some people may have had difficulty accessing the site, and others will have noticed it was slow in processing requests for information.

"There is plenty of time before pre-registration ends on 22 March - and there is no advantage in pre-registering earlier."

But at least some would-be investors were able to pre-register before yesterday. One Auckland woman told the Herald she was able to pre-register on Monday evening by following a link contained in an emailed newsletter from National's Hunua MP, Paul Hutchinson.

The Government's $1.1 million advertising campaign for the share offer also began last night with taxpayer-funded ads on television and Trade Me. The ads had been vetted by the Auditor General to ensure they did not include political messages.

Despite strong public opposition to the Government's partial asset sales, Labour's SOE spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said early indications of keen public demand for shares were "eminently predictable". "It is very similar to Contact Energy - I think you had 220,000 Kiwi shareholders initially - and today that company is now foreign-owned and the National Government lost an election over it so it doesn't surprise me at all."

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