Political risk a key concern

The election result weighs heavy on Mighty River Power which operates the Karapiro Power Station...
The election result weighs heavy on Mighty River Power which operates the Karapiro Power Station on the Waikato River. Photo by The New Zealand Herald.
Political risk remained a key concern for investors in Mighty River Power, Wanaka-based Logic Fund Management financial adviser Paul Gardner said yesterday.

While the political risk was ''very much'' in the public domain, any election outcome was negative for MRP.

Either the much-publicised Labour-Green proposal for asingle electricity purchaser or National's regulatory review and likely overhaul of the sector, would force retailers to pass on the regulated reductions in lines charges which had been absent to date, he said.

MRP shares had fallen from the issue price of $2.50 to $1.95 and Logic Funds believed shares remained expensive and would be fairly valued in the range of $1.85-$1.90 on current outlook. Logic has issued a sell notice on the company.

''Our expectations for further downside in this stock have been supported by the operational statistics for the quarter to December 31, 2013.''

Customer sales volumes were down 9% in the quarter, which the company claimed was due to pruning its activities in the low-price, low-margin commercial market. However, retail customer numbers were still reducing, Mr Gardner said.

High seasonal temperatures reduced residential sales by 5%.

''While this can be blamed on warmer weather - average temperature over the three months was 16.7degC versus the 15-year average of 16.1degC - the recent trend over the past two years has been warmer than average winters, resulting in lower electricity usage.''

Market share, in terms of electricity sales measured in gigawatt hours, had fallen from 20% to 18% from the corresponding period in the previous year.

MRP had been pushing its customers towards fixed retail pricing, he said.

''While we anticipate this has had little take-up, it indicates an outlook of further wholesale price decline.''

Market rumour suggested a retail price war could emerge in the near-term as the ''gentailers'' (generation-retailers) slugged it out over a declining market, Mr Gardner said.

One area of potential upside in MRP's full-year 2014 results would be operational cost cutting. With a high head count and room for efficiency movements in the overall cost base, MRP could counter some of the fall in revenue and market share with operating efficiency improvements. That was not possible before privatisation, due to the potential political issues that would arise.

''We need to point out the MRP share buy-back has been suspended until February 27. It is likely the company will aggressively buy back its shares when they exit the blackout. However, only 11 million shares are left authorised in the programme and we suspect it will be too little, too late.''

MRP chief executive Doug Heffernan said the company was pleased with the operating statistics and if there had been new financial data it would have been disclosed to the market.

''The deadweight of the Labour-Greens policy sits across the sector. From management's point of view, we can't get too distracted by the share price. We've got to deliver the financial results.''

MRP had committed not to raise prices to residential customers until at least April 1 2015.

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