If the NZX-50 were a football league table, who'd be looking most likely to take home the silverware this year?

Turns out it would be NZX, the company. The listed entity that owns and runs the stock market, headed by high-profile chief executive Mark Weldon, has made gains of 56 per cent this year, according to Bloomberg.

Okay, doing the league tables by calendar year is pretty arbitrary. In the real world performance is measured from when you bought to when you sell.

But the results make interesting reading and offer some context for how the current economic conditions are treating each company.


Take number two and three spots on the list: Port of Tauranga and Mainfreight - up 32 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.

Both companies are well run and growing but, as transport and freight companies, they have fair winds provided by the commodity export boom.

But back to the NZX. For the last several years it has been written off by many as being in its death throes. Too many important stocks have been snapped up by foreign buyers and delisted, not enough new stocks of any size have listed.

Suddenly, it looks as though the market is going to be gifted greater depth and liquidity thanks to the partial float of the three state-owned power companies and a coal company, the remaining 75 per cent state-owned stake in Air New Zealand, the split of Telecom into two separate listed entities and now the float of about one third of TradeMe.

The Crown has estimated the state asset sales with the Air New Zealand stake may be worth up to $7 billion on the market.

The split of Telecom may also add some value but the real upside is that it opens up the share register of the once dominant local stock and greatly increases the liquidity of the market.

TradeMe will likely add more than $400 million in market capitalisation to the NZX-50 and will also be a high- profile stock attracting plenty of retail investor attention.

Things are looking up for the market. This has been reflected in the NZX share price which really started to surge in March after the Government put the asset sales on the agenda.


But who cares? Most New Zealanders are not shareholders in the NZX. Well, the point is that a strong capital market is going to be vital if New Zealand is to make some gains on those other important league tables - the ones that the OECD uses to measure economic growth and standards of living.

We need more New Zealanders to feel comfortable investing in productive businesses via the NZX and we need more local businesses to feel comfortable listing on the market to raise capital for expansion.

For several years issues with supply of companies and demand from investors have combined to shrink the market.

But this upcoming flurry of activity could be the circuit breaker.

A thriving local market will get noticed by investors further afield. In Australia, dual listing of TradeMe is likely to garner some media attention. Once you increase the attention on the New Zealand market and improve its credibility you increase the chances that investors will look closer at up-and-coming companies like Xero.

That is the sort of smart technology company that New Zealand needs to see kick on into the big league. If it can get enough capital to do it via the NZX then it will provide a role model for other start-ups. Momentum can build.

Let's not lose sight of the real world here. What do growing profitable companies do? They employ people. They pay good money for the talent they need. Of course it is important that they stay in New Zealand to do that. Being listed locally provides another incentive to keep the head office here.

Big listings will bring big challenges for the NZX in the next year or two. If investors get burned it could all backfire. But these are the right sort of challenges, the ones the market has been waiting for.

* twitter.com/liamdann