Overseas investment in Air New Zealand has soared since the government sold off part of the airline but the listed power companies remain tightly held by Kiwi investors.

In 2013 and 2014 the government floated Mercury New Zealand, Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy on the share market, selling off 49 per cent of each company.

It also sold down a chunk of Air New Zealand shares, reducing its stake from around 76 per cent to 53 per cent.

At the time of the sales the government had a goal of New Zealanders owning 85 to 90 per cent of the companies.


But research shows Air New Zealand's local ownership has plummeted since then.

After the Air New Zealand sell-down about 12 per cent of the company was owned by overseas investors but by March this year - the latest data available from the airline - that had risen to 39 per cent.

Outside of the government's 52 per cent stake just 9 per cent of Air New Zealand is now owned by individual and institutional Kiwi investors.

At the same time its share price has risen significantly. In the sell-down shares were sold for $1.65 a piece.

On Friday Air New Zealand's shares closed at $3.55 - a record high for the stock.

Rickey Ward, head of equities at JBWere - a sharebroking and investment advice firm which carries out an annual stock take of foreign ownership in NZX-listed companies - said Air New Zealand had proved popular with overseas investors because of its strong performance compared with other airlines around the world.

Before the sell-down of the shares in 2013 the airline was more than 80 per cent owned by either the government or ACC after being bailed out in the early 2000s, he said.

"There was limited ability for offshore owners to get access."


While local fund managers did buy shares in the sell-down Ward said many had subsequently sold them.

"A lot of local fund managers don't like Air New Zealand," he said.

But Andrew Thompson, an associate at JBWere who puts together its annual report on foreign investment on the NZX, said from a global perspective Air New Zealand was seen as a well-run and respected airline.

Air New Zealand's overseas ownership is now higher than the average across the share market which was found to be 36.3 per cent in September last year.

But the listed power companies remain well below the average.

Mercury New Zealand - which was originally listed as Mighty River Power - is now about 20 per cent owned by overseas investors, up from 13.5 per cent.

Meridian Energy, the largest of the power companies, is 16 per cent foreign owned, up from 13.5 per cent.

Genesis Energy, which owns the coal-fired Huntly Power Station, has the lowest level of overseas investment at 15 per cent, up from 12 per cent.

Ward said foreign ownership of the power companies had been limited because of the way they were structured when the government sold off the 51 per cent stakes.

The directive from government was to give New Zealanders the greatest opportunity to participate, he said.

He said retail investors were more likely to have held on to their shares while local institutional investors were more open to selling them - opening the door to more overseas ownership.

"Mum and dad investors tend to buy and hold."

Ward said the power companies had strong appeal because they had good dividend yields in what had been a very low interest rate environment.

"That is why they have been quite good performers."

Despite interest rates beginning to rise he said the companies remained appealing but he doubted overseas investment levels would rise much because of the limited access to the shares.

New Zealands' listed overseas investment remains lower than ownership of the Australian share market which JBWere put at 45 per cent last year.

Thompson said the New Zealand share market was always going to appeal to investors globally because it was seen as a well-run market with quality companies.

But rising interest rates meant he did not expect the level of overseas ownership to jump up more than its current level.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see it drop back this year."

Ward said low liquidity was always going to make it harder for overseas investors to own large parts of New Zealand companies.

"It is very difficult for people to get meaningful stakes."

He doubted New Zealand would ever get above 40 per cent foreign ownership of listed companies.

Ward said New Zealand needed offshore investment because there was not enough capital in New Zealand to grow companies.

It gave advantages like having more experienced governance and a broader capital base should the company need to ask shareholders for money.

But the downside was that it also mean a stock which had high foreign investment had greater volatility in its pricing.