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Business Comment

Jim Armitage: There's no froth on Royal Mail shares – taxpayers have been short-changed

Outlook Another day, another £380m added to the stock market value of the Royal Mail. Or, to put it another way, yesterday's rise in the shares to 537p means Royal Mail was sold for £2bn less than its true worth. A mass transfer of value from taxpayers (dumped with its pension deficit) to a lucky few.

Biggest of those new owners is, as we now know, The Children's Investment Fund (TCI), which paid up to 480p for its 5.8 per cent.

At last night's close, it was sitting on a profit of considerably more than £33m from its stake-building exercise. Not bad for a few days' work.

Quite what TCI has in mind for the company is not clear, but it will clearly be agitating for a more aggressive shake-up of the business.

That will probably mean a push for sales of properties and peripheral businesses like General Logistics Systems of Europe, which is potentially worth more than £1.2bn.

Sources inside the Royal Mail float camp have been keen in recent days to push out the line that, as more hedge funds pile in, we will see further downward pressure on the share price, as the hedgies look to make "short" bets – gambles on the share price falling.

The "froth", as the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, describes the current price, will blow away like a cappuccino's in a gale.

But such high winds are, in fact, nowhere to be seen.

Data used by traders from SunGard and Markit, which monitor short-selling markers, show there is hardly anybody betting on a fall in the price, and there hasn't been since day one. To be precise, fewer than 0.4 per cent of Royal Mail shares are out on loan.

That's extremely unusual in a situation where a share price has risen so rapidly and indicates one thing, and one thing only. There is no froth.

The market thought the shares were far too cheap at the float, and believes they still are.

Despite days of loud warnings from experienced City voices, taxpayers have been horribly short-changed.

It could well transpire to be the biggest scandal of this administration.