Lower return but also less heat and light

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 29/03/2014

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OPINION: Twelve months and $4.7 billion later, the Government's asset sales programme has fallen billions of dollars short of the headiest predictions and the hoped-for queues of mum and dad investors have shrunk after many were stung by an initial flop.

But Government ministers were yesterday determinedly upbeat after unveiling details of the latest - and National says probably final - asset sale, with Genesis shares expected to go for $736 million.

The shares have been priced at $1.55 each and New Zealanders who buy shares and hold them for 12 months will be eligible for one bonus share for every share they hold, up to a cap of 2000 bonus shares.

Polls show the asset sales programme is unpopular with voters, even after attempts to sweeten the pill by pledges to retain 51 per cent in Crown ownership and promises to put Kiwis at the front of the queue with a guaranteed 85 per cent or more New Zealand ownership.

But much of the political heat has gone out of the issue, even after it fell short of expectations both on the amount it would raise, and the opportunity for so-called "mum and dad" investors to dip their toes in the sharemarket.

Once the share offer closes on April 11, the Government will have raised $4.7 billion all-up from the sale of Mighty River Power, Meridian, Air New Zealand and Genesis shares - about $2.6b of which will have gone to retail investors, including "mums and dads".

That compares with Prime Minister John Key's initial belief the Government could raise as much as $10b - later pegged back to between $5b and $7b.

The Government mainly blames the shortfall on the parlous state of state-owned coal miner Solid Energy, which forced its withdrawal from the programme.

But investors were also spooked when Labour and the Greens pledged reforms to curb power company profits, and shares in the Mighty River Power float took a dive.

Opposition parties say the asset sales have been a flop, both in terms of lost dividends from the power companies - put at $147m a year by the Greens - and the cost of the sales, which they put at a further $500m.

Labour says mum and dad investors have lost out too, with big institutional investors being the big winners.

According to a breakdown supplied by English's office, ownership is now roughly made up of 51 per cent held by the Crown, about 12 per cent by foreign institutions, 10 per cent by New Zealand institutions and the rest - about 27 per cent - by retail investors, out of which "mum and dad" investors are drawn.

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- Fairfax Media

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