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UK's Royal Mail valued higher than sale price: FT report

Raindrops are seen on a Royal Mail post box in central London October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Raindrops are seen on a Royal Mail post box in central London October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Royal Mail was valued by some investment banks 50 percent higher than last week's public sale price, a newspaper reported, adding to a debate over whether the postal service was sold off too cheaply.

In a report on Saturday, the Financial Times said Royal Mail was valued by banks not involved in the sale at up 5 billion pounds($8.09 billion) in June. The newspaper said at least two investment banks pitched a maximum price of about 500p, quoting banking sources.

The government priced the sale of a 62 percent stake in Royal Mail at 330 pence per share, but the shares have risen more than 50 percent to 500 pence since the company's market debut.

On Friday, Business Secretary Vince Cable rebuffed accusations that the government underpriced the privatization and said the threat of industrial action by Royal Mail's staff had influenced the price-setting process.

Bankers often compare the pitching process for mandates to advise on deals such as share sales to choosing an estate agent to sell a house. There is a temptation to over promise on the potential price.

"Banks sometimes originate in poetry and execute in prose," said one banking source.

One source close to the deal said by the time of the float markets had improved since Royal Mail and its advisers first discussed potential valuations with investors earlier in the year, but investors were not keen to move higher on the price.

The industrial relations dispute hanging over the company also weighed heavily on the float process, several people familiar with the matter said, and at times they wondered if the deal would even be able to go ahead.

Ballot results on Wednesday showed that Royal Mail workers would strike on November 4 unless a new pay deal was reached.

"It feels to me that this story is a bit of sour grapes from a couple of banks who weren't very close to the business," Nadhim Zahawi, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party and a member of a parliamentary committee focused on business, told the BBC.

"Some of the banks who did pitch for the business didn't really know or understand the business, weren't close to it at all and were relying on publicly available data."

"Let's look at the share price in six months time when the froth has gone away, when you take out the initial spike and where the shares settle," Zahawi said. "When you look at comparators, ie on dividend, on yield, on profitability, I think the price was just about right."

The eventual order book on the privatization showed institutional investors had bid for 20 times more shares than were on offer. The opposition Labour party said the strong demand showed taxpayers had been short-changed in the privatization.

Both Cable and the government's independent advisers Lazard have been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee to discuss the sale next month.

Goldman Sachs and UBS ran the Royal Mail sale, and were also joint bookrunners along with Barclays and Bank of America Merrill Lynch . ($1 = 0.6178 British pounds)

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Marie-Louise Gumuchian. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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