Tories to offer taxpayers cheap shares in banks
Lloyds Banking Group shareholders and City commentators have given a tentative thumbs up to Conservative Party plans to offer millions of people cheap shares in Britain's nationalised banks.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne this week outlined a scheme to hand small investors shares in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds Banking Group when the government exits its £70 billion stake.
The 'people's bonus' would reward taxpayers for the £850 billion of public money pumped into the banking system at the height of the financial crisis, with shares being conferred through ISAs so that dividends and capital gains are tax-free.
Cut-price shares would be offered to everyone, although young people and those on lower incomes would receive more attractive discounts.
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Both Labour and the Liberal Democrat Party have rubbished the idea as a "gimmick" and "Tory electioneering at its most cynical".
However, a number of shareholders writing on our sister website Interactive Investor's discussion boards welcomed the proposal.
Eugene Thomson says: "We all want the government off our backs. That means the government will have to give up their shares - we need and want that to happen sooner or later, but it must happen. Finding fresh buyers rather than dumping them on the market is what we need to maintain the price."
DawnyR adds: "There would potentially be lots of new shareholders who would presumably want to hold Lloyds shares. Seems to me that selling to the public, even at a discount, is good for Lloyds, and we could all top up at a lower price."
Senior Square Mile figures were also enthusiastic about the proposal, which would mark an even larger privatisation than Margaret Thatcher's 'Tell Sid' campaign, which gave families stakes in British Gas in the 1980s.
Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers' Association, says: "If you look at what happened in the past with privatisation, a small proportion of shares were reserved for individuals at a discount and that provided them with a nest egg which served them well."
David Buik, of inter-dealer broker BGC Partners, describes the move as "a splendid idea". He adds: "Just think of the number of grannies and grandfathers who have been absolutely larruped with RBS and Lloyds."
Not all feedback was positive, however.
The chief executive of one stockbroker dismissed Osborne's move as politicking. He says: "We're nearly in an election campaign and this is typical headline-grabbing."
Some investors on the Interactive Investor discussion boards were also critical.
Watchdoggy says: "It seems a pointless exercise to dish them out at a discount to those that can least afford them, who would no doubt sell them at the first opportunity, only for them only to be snapped up by the institutions as they flow back onto the market at a discounted price, thus supressing the price and maintaining an unrealistic amount of shares in the market.
"I can't see it happening anyway - it is just an electioneering gimmick."
The government owns 84% of RBS and 43% of Lloyds. While both banks aim to return to profitability by 2013, some analysts expect them to leave the state-run asset protection scheme as early as the end of this year.