Computacenter sparkles as investors scramble for shares

COMPUTACENTER made a sparkling debut on the London Stock Exchange yesterday as investors left out the computer services group's flotation scrambled to get hold of the stock.

The shares closed at 766p, a 14 per cent premium to the 670p offer price at which they had been sold to institutional investors. Computacenter said that even at that price, which was at the top end of the range indicated to investors two weeks ago, demand was so strong that the issue was 12 times oversubscribed.

At yesterday's closing price Computacenter is valued at about pounds 1.5bn, making it the fifth-largest quoted information technology group in the UK. It is also by far the largest IT company to float on the London market.

Computacenter offered the shares, which represent about a quarter of the company's share capital, to institutional investors around the world. British fund managers took 65 per cent of the shares available, while the remaining 35 per cent were divided evenly between investors in continental Europe and the United States.

Mike Norris, chief executive, said that investors had been keen on the company as soon as it started on its round of presentations. "It's nice that people have so much confidence in us," he said.

He added that the company had never considered offering shares to private investors. "Our story is not the most simple story to articulate, it's not that big an offer, and conducting a retail offer would have been extremely expensive," he said.

However, Computacenter has given free shares to most of its employees. About 3,000 of its workforce will receive between 25 and 265 shares in the company - worth between pounds 190 and pounds 2,000 - depending on their length of service.

Another 30 senior managers will become millionaires as a result of the flotation. Meanwhile Philip Hulme and Peter Ogden, the original founders, continue to hold shares worth pounds 680m between them.

Analysts were unsurprised by investors' appetite for the stock. Demand for IT shares has been buoyant since last December, when the Stock Exchange announced the creation of a separate IT index.

Yesterday Misys, the banking and medical software group, became the first IT company to take its place in the FTSE 100 index of leading shares. In the past six months, its shares have almost doubled in value.

Meanwhile ICM, a smaller IT services group which also made its debut on the Stock Exchange yesterday, watched its shares close at 260p - a premium of more than 40 per cent to the placing price.

Computacenter has enjoyed an unbroken record of profit growth since it was founded in 1981.

The company has prospered in recent years by offering large corporate clients such as Barclays, Boots and Railtrack a "one-stop shop" for all their IT needs. Apart from supplying a full range of products the company also offers design, training and support services.Analysts expect that growth to continue.

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