Buying back Kiwibank
When asked in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey about the Government buying back Kiwibank to keep it fully locally owned, only 22 per cent of CEOs agree that it was the right thing to do.
"Yes, I support the move," says the head of a corporate advisory firm. "Although a state-owned enterprise/partial float scenario would have been good for capital markets and improved the bank's ability to access capital for growth."
While the head of a professional services firm disagreed with the premise of the question, noting that reporting has been misleading: "They have not bought it back — it was owned by the Crown, and is still owned by the Crown!"
Last month, the Government announced that it would acquire 100 per cent of Kiwibank's parent company Kiwi Group Holdings (KGH) for $2.1 billion from state-owned shareholders, subject to regulatory approvals from the Reserve Bank.
KGH is 53 per cent owned by New Zealand Post, 25 per cent by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and 22 per cent by the Accident Compensation Corporation.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that an ongoing shareholding in Kiwibank did not fit NZ Post's and ACC's long-term strategic and investment plans.
NZ Super Fund had been interested in purchasing a majority shareholding in KGH, but it withdrew its interest as it did not align with the Government's commitment to public and New Zealand ownership.
At the time of the announcement, Kiwibank chief executive Steve Jurkovich said the acquisition would enable Kiwibank to continue to deliver on its growth ambitions and have even more impact for its people, customers, and Aotearoa.
"We look forward to working constructively with the Government under our new ownership structure to deliver on our purpose: Kiwi making Kiwi better off," he said.
When announcing the acquisition, Robertson stressed that the Government is fully committed to supporting the bank to be a genuine competitor in the banking industry, "ensuring the bank has access to capital to continue to grow on a commercially sustainable basis and offer a viable and competitive alternative for New Zealanders".
But almost two-thirds of survey respondents — some 63 per cent — say they disagree with the move, with the remaining 15 per cent unsure.
Despite Robertson's reassurance, many are wary that Kiwibank will struggle to get the capital it needs to be successful.
"Look at its cost-to-income ratio, it is a very poor investment that will require much more taxpayer support," says a banking boss. "The Government won't have the appetite to invest the capital needed to transform Kiwibank so that it can compete with the Aussie banks."
From a tech chair: "The mixed ownership model has worked so well. Floating 49 per cent of Kiwibank and applying the discipline of the investment community while giving the bank increased capital would have been awesome."
"The Government is paranoid about foreign ownership… or thinks that the public is," says a chair in the banking sector.
When asked in the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey whether the supermarket sector shakeup will help to make grocery prices more affordable and understandable, over half of the business leaders — some 53 per cent — responded that it will not.
"Absolutely not — the sector is currently pretty efficient on a global scale," says the chair of a large tech company. "A third player might make it slightly more competitive, but only at the margins."
Earlier this year, Commerce Minister David Clark released the Government's response to the Commerce Commission's market study into New Zealand supermarkets.
The Commission made 14 recommendations, including introducing a mandatory code of conduct, establishing an industry regulator, and ensuring loyalty programmes are easy to understand and transparent.
The Government accepted 12 of the recommendations and is taking stronger action on the other two.
"The Government and New Zealanders have been very clear that the supermarket industry doesn't work. It's not competitive and shoppers aren't getting a fair deal.
"The duopoly needs to change, and we are preparing the necessary legislation to do that," said Clark.
Last month, he expanded on the Government's commitment, and outlined how it would make supermarket giants open their wholesale arms to competitors at a "fair price".
Many CEOs suggest that while it may have some impact on grocery prices, it will only be at the margins and won't be sizeable enough to make a real difference to people's pockets.
On this issue, a banking boss suggests that people have been misled. "If the so-called excess profits of $400m went away overnight, that would mean a saving of $1.50 per person per week. It is just not fair to give people an expectation of prices reducing significantly."
Whereas an advertising boss reckons that the "Government will get played by the supermarkets as usual… our food prices are almost criminally high."
Food prices have dramatically increased over the past year. Statistics NZ data shows an increase of 8.3 per cent in the year to August — the biggest increase in 13 years. Fruit and vegetable prices contributed significantly to the inflated food costs, up 15 per cent year-on-year.
One chair suggests that "the main impact on supermarket prices has been the labour shortages impacting the picking of fresh product".
But economists point out that the price escalation can also be attributed to weather conditions which impact crop yields, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine which is pushing the price of fertiliser and raising commodity prices.
Of those surveyed, 27 per cent are more optimistic that the Government shakeup to the sector will have an impact, with the remaining 20 per cent unsure.
"Information is key to transparency, and this is applied to many industries in New Zealand," responds a transportation boss.
While the head of an energy company thinks the changes will make a difference to grocery prices, they ask: "but how did the competition commission let it get to this in the first place? That is the real issue."