WELLINGTON, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- Almost half the total offer in the partial sell-down of New Zealand's largest electricity generator is going to New Zealand retail investors, the government announced Monday, a day ahead of the offer opening.
Finance Minister Bill English said New Zealand share brokers had already committed to buy 565 million shares in Meridian Energy at a first instalment price of 1 NZ dollar (83 U.S. cents).
"This represents 45 percent of the offer in total, and an investment of up to 900 million NZ dollars when the second instalment is included," English said in a statement.
"We are committed to achieving 85 to 90 percent New Zealand ownership of Meridian shares, so the initial pre-commitment from New Zealand brokers just one week after the offer document was lodged is pleasing."
The Meridian share offer enables investors to pay for shares in two instalments, with the second due in 18 months.
The second instalment is capped at 60 cents per share for New Zealand retail applicants who continue to hold their investment for the 18-month period.
During the 18-month instalment period, investors will get any dividends in full, despite not having fully paid for their shares.
Earlier this month, the government forecast the sale would bring at least 1.26 billion NZ dollars in the first of two payment installments.
Meridian, New Zealand's largest electricity generator, using only renewable wind and water resources and producing over 30 percent of the country's electricity, is due to be listed on the New Zealand and Australian stock markets on Oct. 29.
Opposition parties have accused the government of selling off Meridian in a "fire sale" and of undervaluing the company in a bid to carry out a politically-driven sale of state-owned assets.
The government's asset sales program originally involved plans to sell up to 49 percent of four state-owned energy companies -- Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, Genesis Power and Solid Energy -- and the country's national carrier, Air New Zealand.
Mighty River was listed in July and shares have struggled to regain their opening price after plunging sharply, while Solid Energy has been removed from the program after running up huge debts.
Earlier this month, opponents to state asset sales initiated the process for a public referendum on the issue with a petition signed by more than 10 percent of eligible voters.
The petition for a referendum on the sales was tabled in the New Zealand Parliament on Sept. 3, giving the government 12 months from that date to hold a public referendum on the sales.
Although the result of the referendum would not be binding, it could undermine the government's claim to a mandate for the sales.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown overwhelming public opposition to the sales program.