“Rio Tinto puts Tiwai Pt smelter on block” by Brian Fallow, NZ Herald, website, Oct 18, 2011.
This is an interesting move – Why is Rio Tinto selling off some of its aluminium assets? Zinc alloys more popular? Alumina reserves at Gove near exhaustion? Overpriced power in NZ due to a failed privatisation policy? Inability to build a hydro plant due to a poor regulatory regime?
NZ has the lowest average electricity generating cost in the world, but the mark-up of residential over industrial electricity prices is among the highest in the world. i.e. Higher than Japan or the Philippines. For an industrial company like Rio Tinto this is not usually a problem, as they have the financial muscle to build their own capacity. This is not so easy in NZ given the communities sensitivity to thermal energy. The National Party has said it is opposed to Helen Clark's policy of prohibiting new thermal power generation. The other problem is the structure of the electricity market. There is a very large resource of lignite in Southland...but clearly the National Party has created so much bad press about coal mining that I can't see Solid Energy having an easy time developing that resource. Its a very good lignite resource in fact...but there are other uses for this fuel, i.e. A Victorian university is developing a compressed fuel briquette.
Companies sell assets which are dogs or which are not a strategic mix because of their other asset mix or price outlook. Selling 1/3 of capacity means this is a strategic jettisoning of high-cost, low or no-growth capacity. That’s why its unstrategic. And yes, its hard to compete with China because it has subsidised electricity, and offers the cheapest conversion costs in the world….and I suspect there is large resources of alumina in Mongolia or Siberia….but that needs to be confirmed.
These assets are dogs....if you are an investor...do not buy them. NZ - if you want to avoid losing an export industry...think about electricity market restructuring. This will however bite into the govts hidden tax collection from privatisation....so it looks like these assets will probably be closed in years to come unless a 'mysterious' buyer emerges. The last ($500mil) upgrade to the NZ plant was in mid-1995, so the depreciated value of this asset must be close to zero....and this is a protracted recession.
The implication of this asset sale is - NZ will in about in 3-5 years have a spare 12% capacity surplus, so this means NZ generating assets are in many respects a dog for investors given that the country has bugger all industrial activity and population growth. Thus profitability will have to come from customer extortion. Trust me....you don't know how painful government can get. Consumer extortion in a small, stagnant market like NZ is the most lucrative way to make money; particularly if you function in a 'self-regulated' market.
The implication is - it would be silly for the NZ government to sell off its power assets for the next 5 years; and it would be silly for the NZ people to allow them to do it until they compel the Commerce Commission to fix the flaws in the NZ electricity market structure. The flaw is the structure of the market. With 70% essentially free hydro generating capacity, and electricity prices charged at the marginal price (set by thermal and wind capacity), NZ is paying the highest cost of electrcity, when there is actually very little demand. i.e. Why do generators need to charge so much - they don't need to build any more new (expensive) capacity. Prices are rising because executives cannot get bonuses until they can extort profits from residential consumers. This is why NZ needs an effective regulation system. Nothing about Labour, National, ACT or the Maoris give me reason to think any of them have the intellect to anticipate these issues.
Big business will realise....because they have smart analysts like me. Ok, not as good as me, but then few of them have as much respect for facts, nor have they studied philosophy, so public policy can be a 'no go' zone for them. Too much conflict. Morality...uuuhh!