The British government just made a big move which could signal that it’s about to sell more of its stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland.
On Friday, the bank announced that it has applied to regulators for a change in the way its shares are structured, and this could be a big signal about a possible government share sell-off.
The application was made to convert 51 billion B shares worth 1p each back into 5.1 billion A shares worth £1 each. RBS made the announcement after being instructed by the Treasury to ask for a conversion of the shares. It is not clear exactly what the Treasury intends by doing this, but it may point to a share sell-off some time soon.
The penny shares were created during the bank’s bailout in 2008 in order to bypass regulations that prevent any single entity from having more than 75% of voting rights in the bank. Had the B shares not been created in this way, the government’s holding would have exceeded the 75% limit.
Turning these B shares back into ordinary ones paves the way for the government to sell off more of the bank that it owns more than two-thirds of. The Treasury has owned RBS shares since the global financial crisis and has only recently started to offload them, starting with the sale of a stake around 5.4% in August. The government received criticism from some corners for selling the shares at 330p each, nearly 35% less than the 502p paid for the shares in 2008.
RBS was on the receiving end of the government’s biggest bailout during the 2008 financial crisis, getting over £37 billion of government money — equivalent to £617 per UK citizen — to prevent it, and other banks from collapsing.
Elsewhere, the government’s sale of its shares in Lloyds, the other bank in which it invested heavily during 2008, are continuing, and the government’s stake has just dropped below 11%. Stock market announcements show that the government’s stake in Lloyds has fallen by 1.01% since September 25th, and now sits at 10.97%.
At its peak, 43% of shares in the bank were state owned. The government is expected to continue its sell-off to the market over the coming months, before making £2 billion worth of shares available at a discount to ordinary investors, ending any involvement in Lloyds.
“It’s fantastic news that we’ve sold more shares in Lloyds Bank, taking the total recovered for the taxpayer to £15.5 billion. I am determined to build on this success by making Lloyds shares available to the public next Spring, so that we can build a share-owning democracy and continue to reduce our national debt.” said Chancellor George Osborne on Friday.