31 January 2014

Would You Let the Vampire Squid Get a Hold of Your Dong?

It appears that the coalition in Denmark has collapsed over this issue:
After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People's party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs's investment in Denmark's state-owned energy company.

Goldman's 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF's parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF's leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

"It has been a dramatic 24 hours," Vilhelmsen said. "Yesterday it became clear to me that it wasn't possible to unite the party. For the sake of SF, I take the consequence of this."

The Goldman Sachs deal was approved by the parliament's finance committee on Thursday, but it has come under widespread scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks. A poll showed 68% of Danes were against the sale, and close to 200,000 people signed an online petition opposing the deal.
(emphasis mine)

Even worse, like most privatization deals, it is a hand out from taxpayers to overpaid CEOs:
My friend Niels-Jakob Harbo Hansen and I calculated some of the financial aspects of the deal, and they don’t look that good. The bidders are offering about 107.25 kroner per share, supposedly valuing the company at 31.5 billion kroner before the investment. In addition to a healthy package of minority rights, they also get a put option for 60% of the shares: if DONG doesn’t go public within 4 years or so (and Goldman can veto that), the investors can sell 60% of their shares at a strike price equal to the purchase price of 107.25 kr per share, plus a healthy return of about 3% per year.

That’s like an insurance policy that covers not only your loss, but also the insurance premium you originally paid, plus interest.

Once you account for the put option, the deal values the shares at 24.5 billion kr., around 47% of book value. Maybe that’s fair because DONG just had a big loss and will be constrained by its business plan to invest in windmills and such, but it still seems awfully low. On the other hand, the investment bankers have deemed it Fair™, so who am I to question that.

The main thing we did was to compare the deal to the most obvious alternative: the Danish government (AAA rating, 26% debt/GDP, 45% including local government) could borrow at an interest rate of about 1%, and make the investment itself. The expected loss from the deal compared to a government investment is about 2.5 billion kroner.
So, it costs the taxpayer 3x as much as a public investment, and you can be certain that rates will go up faster than they would if the company were to remain completely publicly owned.


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