28 Nov 2011

No need to rush asset sales, say money managers

6:32 pm on 28 November 2011

Fund managers are backing indications from the Government that it will not rush to sell stakes in state assets.

National plans to sell up to 49% stakes in Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy and Solid Energy, as well as part of its shareholding in Air New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key says shares in Mighty River Power or Genesis Energy are likely to be the first to be put up for sale but it will be the end of 2012 before the necessary law changes are completed for a sale to proceed.

The deepening crisis in the euro zone and economic stutters in China have fed a jittery mood on world sharemarkets over the past month.

Investment advisor Jonathan Eriksen says a stockmarket float any earlier than Mr Key is indicating would be risky.

"We've even got corporate institutional clients pulling out of the equity markets at the moment because of the volatility and the risk of stock markets falling a lot further," he says. "It'll take time for confidence to build up."

Mr Eriksen says, though, that financial markets are sensitive to country's debt levels and it makes sense to sell infrastructure assets to reinvest in new ones rather than take on more debt.

Stock analyst David McEwan said the share price of two recently-floated companies declined shortly after coming into the market.

"That just gives people a bit of a fright and makes it harder to get the next floats away."

He said a government would want to see robust market before it brings anything to an initial public offering (IPO).

The head of Devon Funds Management, Paul Glass, says the crisis in Europe is serious but shouldn't lead to a rushed sale.

"Remember we're not talking about huge dollars here in terms of the impact of those asset sales on retiring the country's debt so it's in everyone's interests that the asset sales this time round are done well."

Mr Glass says Solid Energy and Air New Zealand are the most vulnerable to an economic slump and for that reason shares in these firms are likely to be the last offered.

But he says the power company shares could be strong performers if markets take a turn for the worse.

"They're the sort of businesses that do tend to have fairly stable earnings over time and that'll be attractive to the market in what is an uncertain world at the moment."