John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Treasury wanted more 'Mum and Dad' SOE investors

Karapiro Hydro, Mighty River Power.
Karapiro Hydro, Mighty River Power.

The Treasury would have liked more "Mum and Dad" small investors to have bought shares in electricity generators Mighty River Power and Meridian Energy. But the department believes it has otherwise satisfied Government objectives in its management of the partial asset sales programme.

Those objectives included ensuring taxpayers got value for money from the float of 49 per cent of the two former state-owned enterprises and that a high proportion of those shares remained in New Zealand hands.

In an interview with the Herald, the Secretary of the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, said it had been some time since the previous major privatisation - Contact Energy in 1999 - and his department had learned some lessons during the current series of floats.

The principal one was communication, both in dealing with stakeholders like iwi who tried to block the floats to informing potential investors of exactly what the Treasury was seeking to achieve. "You can never do too much of it."

Makhlouf said everyone involved in the partial floats had wanted greater take up of the share offers by so-called 'Mum and Dad' investors.

The floats have been deemed a failure by National's opponents because they attracted relatively few new investors into the sharemarket. Labour and the Greens went further yesterday, accusing National of deliberately cutting Mum and Dad investors from the pending Genesis Energy sale by restricting them to just 9 per cent of the shares.

Without mentioning the disincentive of the slump in the Mighty River Power share price directly, Makhlouf acknowledged those who had bought shares only to see them fall below the issue price would have been disappointed.

But what you thought of it all depended on where you stood as the post-float dip in the share price would suggest the Government actually got value for money.

"It would be hard for me to say we didn't get good value for the taxpayer ... (but) the market paid what the market wanted to pay."

Despite the Government indicating it has no plans for a further privatisation programme, Makhlouf said the Treasury would be doing a stock-take of its handling of the sales process once the partial float of Genesis Energy, the remaining fully state-owned electricity generator, had been completed next month.

- NZ Herald

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