Rock goes on a roll

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The Independent Online
Another surprise from the Northern Rock, which this week becomes the last of this year's run of building societies handing out windfalls. This North-eastern society was among the least tipped to join the stock market and hand out free shares. On Wednesday the society joins the stock market amid predictions of a bumper handout worth pounds 2,100 a head. Now the latest news is that nearly half of the lucky recipients have opted to have their shares sold straight away by the society, for a fee of pounds 10.

With the other trio of societies who joined the stock market this year - all of whom offered free immediate sales - the equivalent figure was closer to a quarter.

One suggested explanation for the higher proportion of Northern Rockers opting to sell immediately is that the North-east (where the Rock's customer base is concentrated) has "traditionally been a cash-oriented region" and not very share-friendly. People may even be selling to put the cash back on deposit with the Rock, claims the ex-society.

I hope not. Few people have enough of their savings in the stock market, which in the long term should give the best returns. If all they're going to do is put the proceeds back on deposit, they should find another building society that might yield a windfall.

The ex-society also thinks increasing expectations of a high opening price - 420p a share, equivalent to pounds 2,100 a head, is the latest estimate - have encouraged people to opt to sell straight away. Much of this has been prompted by the soaring prices of bank shares in recent times. Bank shares and the stock market generally boomed again on Friday, following talk of Britain becoming more pro-Europe, and this may prompt more people to look to sell off their own bats when they get their share certificates later this week. If you are looking to sell, you might be well-advised to use a stockbroker offering immediate dealing, rather than a cut-price postal service where prices may have fallen by the time you sale is processed. CaterDeal is one cheap telephone service (01708 742288). If instead you plan to hold the shares - and there are plenty of stockbrokers positive about the new bank's prospects - Fidelity remains my tip for PEPping them (0800 41 41 10).

NEARLY a half of taxpayers due to fill in the new-style self-assessment tax return are set to meet Tuesday's deadline, but the other four million will miss it, the Inland Revenue estimates. While it is 31 January that is the really important deadline - that's when the fines and interest start clocking up - and the Revenue says that the numbers filed are not far off its own estimates (albeit at the lower end), it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the new system. Shamefully, I am still one of the no-shows. If you have been as lackadaisical as me, as a first step with problem areas I am told the Revenue's own helpline is infinitely better than might have been expected. And it's open until 10pm tonight. Call 0645 000 444.

TAKE-UP of our free Guide to Mortgages, sponsored by Barclays, has been phenomenal, prompted no doubt by all the disappointed property wannabees knocking around (particularly in the South-east) and by the genuine nightmare that is home purchase in this country. It is also worth making the point that this sort of guide would be unnecessary if more lenders took the trouble to make mortgages simpler in the first place, and actually gave genuine mortgage advice. Roll on more regulation. In the meantime, our guide is recommended reading (and free) Fill in the coupon on the left or call 0800 585 691.

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