The favourable dynamic of high power prices and plenty of rain is expected to make its presence felt when the big power generators report their first-half results this month.

First out of the blocks next week is Contact Energy, which reports on Monday.

Planned maintenance shutdowns at Pohokura gas field saw power prices spike late last year, but there was plenty of rain about to charge the hydro lakes.

That is expected to translate into a big improvement in the bottom line for the generators, particularly those with South Island generating assets.


For Contact, which owns the South Island giant Clyde Dam and the nearby Roxburgh Dam, Forsyth Barr senior analyst Andrew Harvey-Green expects ebitdaf of around $298 million for the six months to December — up $58m on the previous corresponding period's.

"In particular, the second quarter had very strong hydro generation so the first half will be above average," Harvey-Green says.

"The key thing during the second quarter was that there was high wholesale prices as well, and that has benefited Contact's generation position further," he said.

Meridian is set to report its first-half on February 20, Mercury on February 26, and Genesis on February 27.

Power play

Aside from hydro and the vagaries of the domestic power system, the share prices of the power companies have continued to find favour as bond substitutes, particularly now that the world's central banks appear to have caved in to market pressures by adopting a decidedly dovish outlook in just the last few weeks.

It's looking increasingly likely that interest rates are going to remain very low for some time yet, which will continue to make the high-yielding power generators look good to income-seeking investors.

Over the last 12 months, Contact's share price has risen 12 per cent, Meridian's by 27 per cent, Genesis by 9.5 per cent, and Mercury's by 9.4 per cent.

"The really interesting thing that we have seen in the markets over the last few weeks has been central banks yielding to market demands," Matt Goodson, managing director at Salt Funds, said.


The US Federal Reserve having previously indicated two more moves were likely in 2019, has backed off, perhaps in part due to Wall Street's savage sell-off late last year.

"The Fed is on hold, China is continuing to inject liquidity, and even the Reserve Bank of Australia is moving to a more neutral stance," Goodson said.

"That (low interest rates) tends to favour certain classes of stock rather than stocks with high economic cyclicality," Goodson said.

IAG smiling

Australian insurer IAG must be looking across the ditch to New Zealand and smiling with its half-year result showing premiums and margins in its New Zealand arm looking much healthier that its home market.

IAG, New Zealand's largest general insurer which owns the brands State Insurance, AMI and Lumley, chose to report its financial result on Waitangi Day — which obviously doesn't register as a public holiday at all for Australian corporates.

IAG was not alone on this front with Commonwealth Bank of Australia — the parent of ASB — also choosing to ignore New Zealand's national holiday, releasing its result on Wednesday.

IAG's result show its NZ arm performing well above Australia with NZ gross written premiums up 5.5 per cent in New Zealand dollar terms and 6.6 per cent when converted to Australian dollars for the six months to December 31.

That compared to 3.4 per cent from its Australian business and helped push the overall premium lift across the group to 4.1 per cent.

The New Zealand business growth was pushed up by higher premium growth in its retail business, particularly through car and home insurance sold via its AMI brand.

Margins in the New Zealand business were also much higher with a 20 per cent underlying margin — up from 17.4 per cent in the last six months of 2017.