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Business Analysis & Features

Big hitters wade in for next wave of flotations

Bankers are set to soak up the sun in the Square Mile this summer, writes Jamie Dunkley

The City of London is a strange place to be in the middle of August. The restaurants are quieter, it's easier to get a taxi and you're more likely to find an investment banker lying on a beach in the south of France than you are thrashing out a deal in a crowded boardroom.

However, this year talk in the Square Mile would have you believe otherwise: they're not sipping cocktails in the sun but are actually preparing for the next round of stock market flotations scheduled to hit the London Stock Exchange this autumn.

Merlin, the Madame Tussauds owner, and Foxtons, the estate agent, are among the names to have been mooted – with Royal Mail and TSB also in the picture – although it remains to be seen whether the latest banker wish list will actually translate into initial public offerings (IPOs).

Ever since Direct Line was floated on the stock market last October, experts have been hailing the return of a market that went into hibernation following the onset of the financial crisis of 2008.

According to figures from the London Stock Exchange, there have been 20 IPOs on the main market this year, including Crest Nicholson and Partnership Assurance, raising just under £4.3bn. This compares with the £544m raised by just 10 companies in the same period last year, and the picture is similar on the junior AIM market.

Dru Danford, head of corporate finance at the City broker Shore Capital, believes there is traction in the markets but warns people not to get carried away.

"While the number of companies listed on AIM and the main market remains at a fairly constant level, it does appear that the IPO market is returning – but more modestly than perhaps people think or might hope for," he said.

"Investors have been rewarded for investing in this year's IPOs, both on AIM and the main market, which goes to prove that if things are priced correctly there is money to invest."

Last week, Esure, which raised £604.4m in one of the City's largest IPOs in March, proved just how hard life as a public company can be.

The group's shares tumbled by 21 per cent on Tuesday after its maiden set of results disappointed the market, an experience that could put off some potential candidates, one expert said.

Regardless of this setback, Mr Danford says the market is no longer as reliant on oil and gas IPOs as it once was.

"The quick analysis of those companies that have IPO'd shows that there is a broader sector range involved – unlike a few years ago when activity was predominantly in natural resources. This must be a good thing for the market."

What seems clear is that London remains one of the world's premier destinations to list, despite competition from other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, New York and Singapore.

So long as the shares are not overpriced and the fees for investment bankers too high, investors say they will continue to back the market – although wider economic conditions do, of course, remain a concern.

David Vaughan, IPO leader at the accountants EY, said: "It's a difficult one to call but I feel pretty confident. We are working with a number of clients who are considering coming to market – many are private equity backed and in good shape.

"Save any major shock to the system I think a number of them will come to the market in 2013."

London's IPO market looks set to be as active in the second half of the year as it was in the first.

Dot.com boom

Index ventures

The backer of internet hits including Skype and Betfair is gearing up for a gold rush of new dot.com ventures heading on to the stock market. Danny Rimer, the San Francisco-based partner for Index Ventures, says that 37 of the 150 start-ups it has on its books are “IPO ready” and could be floated. “That is extraordinary for us,” said Mr Rimer, who counts King, creator of the wildly popular Candy Crush Saga mobile phone game, the document- sharing site Dropbox and the ticketing service Viagogo among companies it has backed. London listing rules are being relaxed to encourage more technology floats. Companies will only have to float a 10 per cent stake, not 25 per cent as before. They can also present a shorter history of audited accounts to would-be investors as regulators act to woo more high-growth companies