According to the Labour Party leader, David Cunliffe, the timing of the Government’s selldown of shares in Air New Zealand is arrogant. Describing it as astute would have been far closer to the mark. Shares in the airline have been trading at a five-year high and investment advisers have voiced their enthusiasm for them. What better time could there be for the Government to reduce its holding in the national carrier from 73 per cent to 53 per cent?
That is a good question. Unless you believe that 73% is the exact right amount of shares for the Government to hold. Which is like believing in astrology.
One can make a principled case for 100% or for 51% (or for 0%) but to insist it must be 73% is daft.
The selldown has been criticised because it is being done just before a referendum on the part-sale of state assets. That complaint is misplaced. The focus of the Government’s mixed-ownership model strategy and, therefore, the referendum has always been the part-sale of the state’s three power companies, not an airline that the government acquired essentially by accident. Air New Zealand is very much an ancillary part of that strategy.
The referendum question also includes Solid Energy. It is a very badly worded question. Because if you think the Government should sell off the power companies and Air NZ, but should not sell off Solid Energy (because we won’t get 10 cents for it) then you should vote no I guess. Likewise if you think the Govt should sell more than 49% of any of the five companies, then again you arguably should vote no.
Green co-leader Russel Norman has gone so far as to suggest the selldown could lead to reduced regional services or higher fares.
I wish there was a competition for the most financially illiterate comment of the year, so I could nominate it.