British investors could get Google

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If Sergey Brin and Larry Page have their way, British fans of Google could find themselves sitting on a cash bonanza at the touch of a button.

An online auction is one plan that Google's founding pair are considering for the flotation, a plan that would deprive investment bankers of the millions they can expect to make from deals of this magnitude. But even such an unconventional business as Google will, in the end, almost certainly turn to brokers and investment banks for the sale.

The UK Financial Services Authority said yesterday that if Google shares were to be listed on a US stock exchange such as New York or Nasdaq, then the sale would be conducted under US law. But the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington DC, America's counterpart of the FSA, says that it "does not regulate the business decision of how IPO shares are allocated".

US brokers have to ensure they are selling to "suitable" investors, which means they not only have to have enough money but also are happy to take the risks involved in buying shares in what is still an internet company. That may make it difficult for a US broker to sell shares over the internet, in case they leave themselves open to law suits for mis-selling.

Tim Pinnington, chief executive of European investor services with the Canadian broker TD Waterhouse, said: "There are only about 200,000 online investors in Britain, so, for the vast majority of Google users, an IPO would be a novelty. And the amount of shares you would expect to sell here would probably amount to no more than the total a medium-sized unit trust or pension fund would snap up in one bite, without the same regulatory hurdles."

Outlook, page 25

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