Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker

THE carbon tax came, and the carbon tax went. That seems to have been the reaction of investors in Australian coal-mining companies, though Hogsback sees the tax in a slightly different light – it is actually a chance to make money!
Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker Hogsback discovers that the carbon tax is a money maker


Tim Treadgold

Since last Sunday’s well-telegraphed carbon tax announcement by Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, strange things have been happening, and even stranger schemes hatched.

On the market, despite warnings from some prophets of doom, coal stocks have outperformed rival sectors, with the overall market falling by close to 3% and a basket of coal stocks going the other way – up.

The takeover bid for Macarthur Coal has helped the mood for coal, but when you set aside an artificial price boost you still find that miners such as Metrocoal, New Hope, Aston and Whitehaven continued to rise after the tax was announced, while others such as Stanmore and Coalworks slipped marginally – 1c lower if anyone cares to check.

It’s too early to say that investors have got it right, or to fully understand why the market is ignoring a fresh layer of cost on coal mining in Australia.

Possible explanations include the obvious evidence of continued strong worldwide demand for coal despite predictions of its demise and eventual replacement by wind, solar, geothermal and other forms of “green” energy, and the likelihood that the current Australian government has sealed its own death warrant because of broken promises and overspending and overtaxing of the electorate.

Whatever the reasons, the facts are what catches The Hogs eye and two of those facts are that:

Share prices of coal mining companies are not falling as predicted, and

Out of the incredibly complex carbon tax structure, a pot of gold is being created and coal miners could do well to take a closer look, because inside the pot is $10 billion.

Architects of the carbon tax, especially the green movement, will be horrified by what’s about to be suggested, but since everyone else is playing games with the generosity of the Australian taxpayer, why not coal miners?

As part of the grand scheme, which may or may not work, a new government “bank” is being created with its single aim being to invest in fashionable green energy schemes.

Winners are likely to include geothermal drillers – a favourite of Greens leader Bob Brown – solar cell developers, and windmill makers.

Picking winners from the smorgasbord of genuine alternative energy companies, and the myriad of dodgy operations which are being cooked up in back sheds and investment banks, will be a tricky business.

It will be so tricky that some critics have already thrown their hands up and described the Green Energy Bank as yet another example of government waste, potentially outdoing previous disasters such as the ceiling insulation scandal and rooftop solar power.

But however it is seen in a political light, there seems little doubt that Australia’s politicians can’t help themselves when it comes to raising taxes and then throwing the money away on whatever seems to be a trendy idea – or should that be vote-winning idea.

So, why don’t coal companies jump aboard the Green Bank gravy train? Why not create a green energy subsidiary which has a politically acceptable objective such as drilling for hot rocks – which, after all, seems to be in the same earth-science business as coal mining.

Two birds are killed with the one stone: coal company management can run a politically correct green energy flag up the pole outside head office while claiming a share of the loot being splashed about by the civil servants running the Green Bank.

It gets better.

Not only would coal be able to wrap itself in the cloak of artificial green energy but any funds invested in geothermal exploration should be tax deductible.

Green politicians might see through the new structure, but what can they do about it? After all, isn’t it what they want – coal companies sprouting green shoots?

The irony involved is beyond delicious, and the real cost to a coal company which goes down this route could be minimal after latching onto a cash contribution from the Green Bank, writing off any tax-deductible expense and claiming to be getting with the plan.

The only real cost seems to be the new green flag for the head office flagpole.