The Cullen Fund

at the Dom Post reports:

Halting contributions to the Cullen superannuation fund has cost the taxpayer more than $30 million.

If full contributions had been maintained, it would have earned almost $50m more, calculations based on the fund’s returns to the end of January show.

Even accounting for the extra borrowing costs the Government would have faced to keep up contributions, that would still have netted taxpayers about $1m a week during the past eight months.

First of all, it has not “cost” the taxpayer anything. The taxpayer may have been able to make a gain of $30 million if it had borrowed more money, for the fund to invest. That is certainly true, but it is a potential gain only.

You can not automatically assume that any additional investments would have achieved the same return as the existing investments. An extra $2 billion may have been invested in a stock that did not do so well, or may have meant a higher average price for buying such stock.

It is fair enough to talk about a potential gain or that was missed, but that is not the same thing as stating that potential gain as a loss let alone a cost. That is a sloppy short cut.

Also it is worth reminding people that reward is always linked to risk. One could borrow $10 billion a year to invest in stocks, and probably get a good return on them. But it would also be risky.

What we don’t know if whether or not we would have got a credit downgrade, if the Government decided to continue to borrow money to invest. And if we had, then that would have had a very real cost on every New Zealander.

It is also worth noting that over the entire life of the fund, the rate of return is still below the risk free rate of return. The NZ economy would be hundreds of millions of dollars better off if the fund had never been set up, and the money used to repay debt.

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