Money Grouse: Consolidation problem

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The Independent Online
BARRY GOODLEY of Lancaster has been asked to repay more than pounds 700 to a stockbroker after accidentally selling shares he did not own. His experience is apparently not an uncommon one.

Mr Goodley bought more than 1,100 shares earlier this year in a local chemicals company, MTM.

'I watched the shares fall to somewhere like 11p, so I held on to them. They gradually rose to 57p so I decided to sell.'

He sold through his bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had the deal executed through a stockbroker, Marsden W Hargreave Hale, in Blackpool. The proceeds, of more than pounds 750, were credited to his Royal Bank account.

A week later he received a letter from the bank stating that he had presented an out- of-date share certificate when he sold the shares. Instead of the 1,100 or so shares he thought he had, he really owned fewer than 300.

The stockbroker has asked Mr Goodley to repay most of the proceeds of the sale, because it had been forced to buy shares to satisfy its obligation to the buyers.

Mr Goodley's holding of shares shrank because MTM had reorganised its share structure as part of a refinancing package. The number of shares in issue was reduced - the technical term is a share consolidation. This was done on 23 June, and for every five shares held investors now found themselves with just one. According to Richard Mackness, MTM's company secretary, the share price moved from about 11p to 55p.

Mr Mackness said shareholders were fully informed of the proposal to reorganise the shares, and voted on it. Mr Goodley admits that he remembers receiving a new share certificate but says his wife had filed this away and forgot to tell him.

According to the Securities and Futures Authority, which regulates stockbrokers, it is not uncommon for investors to trip up over share consolidations in this way.

Richard Vaughan-Payne, a complaints adviser with the SFA, said he could not comment on Mr Goodley's case. The regulator's general view was that while brokers should keep track of share consolidations, they could not be held responsible if they dealt without realising an investor had given out-of-date information.

In any case, someone who sold through a bank should complain to the bank and ultimately to the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation, rather than to the stockbroker or SFA. Imro's view was broadly similar to that of the SFA.

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