Which shares are set to fly if Scots vote for independence?

Published by on 19 August 2014.
Last updated on 19 August 2014

Scottish flag and money

I wrote about it back in June 2013 and yet here we are still at the possible birth of a new nation - the Former United Kingdom. The traditional right-wing press predictably seeks to warn of apocalypse for Scotland, with an exodus of everyone from the country with an IQ over 80 and the isolation of Alex Salmond as a lone nutter with a personal agenda.

The English papers love to rail about hordes of Scotsman heading south in numbers not seen since Hadrian was a bricklayer, yet they fail to understand that no-one reads English papers north of the border.

Winners and losers

There is a lot of bunkum from both sides, so from an investment perspective it is hard to discern a sense of reality about what might happen in the event of a yes vote.

Interestingly, I note that Barclays has recently dipped its PR spoon into the Cockaleekie. Its analysts have created an index of London-listed firms that would face 'significant challenges' in such an event. It is tempting to point out that Barclays might want to have a look at its own share price if it is seeking 'significant challenges', but we'll let that slide for the moment.

Scotland accounts for only 2% of FTSE 350 company sales revenues, but there would be a negative stock market reaction on BG Group, Diageo and BAE Systems as well as RBS and Lloyds, because of the dual currency fallout.

Possible winners? Barclays highlights easyJet, Ryanair and International Airlines Group because of a Scottish government promise to halve Air Passenger Duty. Planeloads of low-budget Glaswegians on the lash for Christmas shopping then, there's an attractive thought. And if that's the best they can come up with, I'm not swayed.

So I thought I'd have a look again at the Jock stocks that caught my eye back in June 2013.

A rather smart fund manager called Gervais Williams had just tipped Rangers International Football Club - the phoenix from the ashes of the post-tax battle Rangers. He said the club would be back and fans haven't gone away, and he was right: there are 17,000 renewals for season tickets as it approaches the start of the season looking for a third successive promotion.

It was 56p then (off from its flotation price of 70p), but the illogical behaviour of football shares continues to haunt Williams, as the price at the time of writing has dropped to 30p. Mind you, it has previously been to 22p, so the curve looks to have flattened a bit. Still not one for me, though.

Glasgow-based power generating engineer Aggreko has had an interesting time - despite a successful Olympics and the provision of 50MW of power for the World Cup, shares were about £17 when we last visited it and have now gone to about, er, £17.70. The company is trading between £14 and £18.

AG Barr, of Irn-Bru fame, has an earnings per share of 22p and a price/earnings ratio of a touch under 30. Back in June 2013, at 555p, it looked like a player to me and now rests at 650p. A steady grower, following a hiccup last autumn, it looks to be one of those companies immune to the independence effect, as the Scots will have their Irn-Bru wherever they may be in the world.

Standard Life may move

Standard Life is Edinburgh. It employs 5,000 people there, yet 90% of its customers are elsewhere, and for this reason chief executive David Nish says in the event of a 'yes' he will be compelled to move large parts of the business south of the border. It has been a good earner over the past three years, though, and a decent dividend payer with a yield of 3.9%.

The stock has reportedly been plagued by shorting, which makes private investors nervous and inclined to pull their profits a bit too early. That is perhaps why it has traded in a range between 340p and 420p for around 18 months, and for that reason alone I'll leave it.

Scotland will thrive, says the 'yes' side, with control of its own finances and use of its share of revenues from the North Sea through the invention of an Oil Wealth Fund. But perhaps Alex Salmond is forgetting those revenues are subject to contracts between the oil companies and the UK.

In fact there are so many contracts that will have to be rewritten that I can see only two truly predictable winners. One is Salmond himself, who can walk away from failure into the golden sunset of a lucrative lecture tour with two politicians' index-linked final salary pensions to fall back on.

More generally, it's a great shame we can't buy shares in Scottish legal firms.

This feature was written for our sister publication Money Observer

Leave a comment