The Government has acknowledged there is a "tension" between getting the best price for the shares in state owned enterprises it intends selling and achieving the level of New Zealand ownership it is assuring voters will be maintained.
SOE Minister Tony Ryall told a high level investment conference in Wellington the combination of strong appetite for shares from New Zealanders and the fact the Government would keep a controlling 51 per cent stake in any part-privatisation would limit the role of foreign investors in the sale of shares in up to five SOEs.
"Overseas investors will play a role in helping to get a good price for taxpayers," said Ryall, in a speech delivered on Finance Minister Bill English's behalf to the Institute of Finance Professionals. "They will also help deliver a robust and liquid market for New Zealanders.
"But it's important to remember that these companies will remain firmly - and overwhelmingly - in New Zealand control. Across the programme New Zealanders will own at least 85 to 90 per cent of these companies - including the Government's cornerstone shareholding."
A maximum shareholding cap on part-privatised SOEs would also be imposed, "most likely" set at 10 per cent, said Ryall.
He later told reporters the Government would not sell the shares at the best price it could get if that meant fewer New Zealanders ended up owning them.
"You've got a tension here we have to get best price for the people who are selling because we need the money to invest in our schools and hospitals, broadband and roads. But we also have to make sure that we're having our best opportunity for New Zealanders to own these shares."
The Business Herald understands the Government is considering a three-tier framework for selling the SOE shares which will see retail investors allocated shares at a price determined in separate book builds for domestic and foreign institutional investors.
Ryall said it was possible that no foreign investors would end up with shares if retail demand was particularly strong although that was unlikely.
Labour continues to argue that while New Zealand ownership may be high immediately following the offer, retail investors are likely to sell out to foreign investors over time and leader Phil Goff yesterday said National was likely to want to sell off the remaining 51 per cent of the companies over time.
The Government's plan first requires its re-election in November and involves selling down to 51 per cent government ownership in three electricity companies: Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy and MightyRiverPower; the state coal company Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand, the last of which has been managed as a government-controlled NZX-listed company for the last decade.
The programme is intended to raise between $3 billion and $7 billion and may take five years to complete.
The Government's confidence in New Zealanders' appetites for the shares derived from a mixture of low interest rates making bank deposits less attractive, strong demand for corporate bonds in the last two years, and a growing savings culture as the lessons of the global financial crisis sink in.
Even at $7 billion, total proceeds from the proposed sales were only a small proportion of the $300 billion of investments New Zealanders already own, beyond their own homes, said Ryall.
KiwiSaver schemes managed around $9 billion in investment funds already, and that figure was predicted to double in the next four years, New Zealand financial institutions had around $59 billion of funds under management, and Crown financial institutions including the ACC and NZ Super funds had nearly $40 billion in funds under management and iwi had an estimated $10 billion of assets.
Mr Ryall said the sales were justified because of the country's wider infrastructure, social and other needs that governments would expect to fund. Partial privatisations would reduce government borrowing needs.
"We would rather pay dividends to New Zealanders than interest on rising debt to foreigners," he said, saying claims the Government was selling the family silver were "rubbish", when the Crown expected to spend $78 billion on new government-owned assets over the next five years, before depreciation.By Adam Bennett Email Adam