First sale of government stake in Lloyds is a success

But can private investors cash in on the deal?

Just a few days ago the government formally announced the imminent stock market flotation of state-owned British postal stalwart Royal Mail, as discussed by Spear’s last week.

In a move reminiscent of the mass privatisation of the Thatcherite era, this week the sale of another major organisation – albeit only part-owned by the state – has begun. Earlier this morning it was announced that the initial sale of taxpayer-owned shares in Lloyds Banking Group to institutional investors has raised £3.2 billion for the Treasury, representing a small profit (but not after inflation).

However, unlike the case of Royal Mail’s whopping 378-year-long history of complete state ownership, the government has only owned just over a third (38.7 per cent) of Lloyds Banking Group for the past five years, following its £20bn bailout of the failing bank in 2008 as a result of the Lloyds’ disastrous acquisition of Halifax Bank of Scotland.

The government is selling a 6 per cent share of it stake, reducing its ownership of the bank to around 32.7 per cent. While this may appear to be a small chunk of its holding, the Coalition can hope to cash £3.3 bn for the benefit of taxpayers on breaking the deal.

In a statement the Treasury said: "We want to get the best value for the taxpayer, maximise support for the economy and restore them to private ownership. The Government will only conclude a sale if these objectives are met."

Shares in Lloyds closed at 77.36p on Monday, which is well above the price of 61p that Chancellor George Osborne regards as the break-even level. During Lloyds' bailout the government bought shares at an average price of 73.6p.

Since the average market price at the time was 61p, the government booked the difference as a loss and added it to the national debt. BBC business editor Robert Peston says that based on Monday's share price the taxpayer should "more-or-less" get its money back.

The sale of this banking giant, laid low by the credit crunch, has been hailed as the UK’s second biggest share placing ever. It is, according to the Financial Times, not only a milestone in Lloyds’ recovery but also the sign of a momentous turnaround in the UK’s fortunes in the wake of the financial crisis, which brought the banking industry to the brink of collapse in October 2008.

The FT also reports that Lloyds’ shares, which are expected to be sold at 75p, have soared more than 90 per cent in the past 12 months, racing past the government’s 73.6p "in-price" for the first time in three years last month. It came as no surprise, therefore, that the government set the wheels in motion for the reprivatisation process.

And, naturally, investors are keen to muscle in on the action. The Capital markets bankers involved in the transaction reported a swift take-up of Lloyds shares, with one US hedge fund said to have submitted a $1bn order.

"Investors are making a call on the UK," said one banker on the deal. 'This level of demand would not be there if people weren’t confident in the UK’s broader economic recovery.'

The good news is that individual investors could also soon get their hands on some Lloyds shares, since the initial placement is expected to be followed by a second sale – potentially involving retail investors – in the first half of 2014.

Royal Mail’s flotation has created some interesting private investment opportunities through publicly traded shares, so let’s hope we can bank on getting access to some Lloyds stocks, too.

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine.

Lloyds TSB. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.