The time may be approaching to jump into the Kiwi sharemarket - and perhaps without the risks many people associate with today's volatile market.

If the National Government returns to power it plans to sell the family silver - the state power companies that generate most of New Zealand's electricity.

The website Trade Me could also be on the block, reportedly before Christmas, as long as Europe's debt problems don't reverberate too loudly.

But are these reasonably safe shares for mum and dad investors, people who generally leave their hard-earned savings in the bank?

Advertisement

That depends. Advisers say wait and see.

Trade Me - set up by Sam Morgan in 1999, with advice from dad Gareth - is a Kiwi success story.

Australian-owned Fairfax group, then headed by former All Black captain David Kirk, bought it for $700 million in 2006, making the Morgans overnight multi-millionaires. Last year, it had more than a million customers.

Sceptics thought Fairfax paid too much but a recent report by Australian share brokers Morgan Stanley valued it at up to $1.7 billion - twice what Fairfax paid - due to expanding profits. "Our view is that Trade Me is one of Fairfax's most valuable assets," says analyst Andrew McLeod.

But can Trade Me grow forever? It dominates the online selling sector and has nearly obliterated newspaper classified ads.

"It is semi-monopolistic," says Christchurch broker, Hamilton Hindon Greene's James Smalley.

Is everything rosy? Fairfax, an Australian media company with subsidiaries in New Zealand, is reducing its high debts. But what if it needs even more cash?

Smalley argues such "parent" companies should be strong. "Fairfax's share price is not pretty," he says. "Investors should be aware there could be further chunks of the company on the way."

Advertisement

Competitors might get more serious. "If it is such a good thing, then someone else will come along," he says.

However, Trade Me is well positioned to fight off usurpers, as Air New Zealand has largely managed.

Smalley advises people to look at its prospectus and decide if the projections are reasonable.

Meanwhile, electricity will always be in demand, Smalley says. In these uncertain economic times the Government needs the cash.

The Treasury and share broker Craig's Investment Partners are researching how the big energy companies will be sold, possibly starting next year.

Energy expert Alan Jenkins says the energy SOES are so big - about $12 billion worth - that any sale process will have to be drip-fed, perhaps over years.

Because they use mostly free energy sources - water, wind or heat from the ground, Meridian Energy and Mighty River Power are cheap to run and make plenty of money.

Jenkins says Meridian is the biggest and best of the big three, owning the huge South Island hydroelectric power stations.

The one "albatross around its neck" is a long-term contract for cheap power to the Bluff aluminium smelter.

Second is Mighty River Power, which owns hydro power stations on the Waikato River, plus wind and geothermal stations.

Third is Genesis Power. Although it has its own dams and windmills, much of its power comes from the 1970s era Huntly Power Station, which has to burn coal (making less money) during cold winters or dry years.

Jenkins says Contact Energy, sold by the Government over a decade ago, is a guide on how the freshly floated power firms might do. Contact is partly owned by small shareholders and 51 per cent by Australian Origin Energy.

The stock was hit by the 2000 "dotcom" crash and the company had a PR disaster with highly paid directors. It lost customers and had its shares diluted by a rights issue.

Despite the drama, the shares sell for almost twice the listing price. Dividends are worth about 6 per cent a year, more than money in the bank.

Smalley is crossing his fingers that the Government might follow an overseas trend, pricing the shares slightly cheaper for mum and dad than for big investors.

Morgan Stanley refused further comment and Craig's did not return calls.

Stock picks for the coming months
Grant WIlliamson, Hamilton Hinden Greene
* Scott Technology
* Infratil
* Ryman Healthcare

Rob Mercer, Forsyth Barr
* Fletcher Building
* Freightways
* Sky City

Brad Gordon, Macquarie Private Wealth
* Mainfreight
* Ryman Healthcare
* Sky TV