Italian shares service for UK

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The Independent Online
BRITISH investors are being offered the chance to buy into a series of state-owned Italian companies that are soon to be privatised.

Johnson Fry, the financial consultants, are setting up a service to which investors each subscribe pounds 2,500. This is used to apply for shares in the Italian privatisations.

Shares in each issue are then sold as soon as possible so that the proceeds are available for re-investment. Meanwhile, the money is kept on deposit in an Italian bank account, where it earns interest.

Johnson Fry's Italian service mirrors the one it set up in January this year for French privatisations. More than 20,000 people have each invested pounds 1,000 with Johnson Fry to stag the sell-off of state-owned companies in France.

David Ellis, development director at the company, said: 'The experience there has been that of the two privatisations so far, it has been possible to buy about pounds 500-worth of shares each time.

'With the first company, investors have made a modest profit. At the other, there has been a small loss after dealing charges are included. In all, investors are slightly ahead.'

Mr Ellis added that a small additional gain came from the movement of the French franc, whose value has risen slightly against the pound.

Killik & Co, a London stockbroker, launched a similar service last year and has attracted 2,000 investors.

But Paul Killik, a partner in the company, says he has not encouraged clients to stag each privatisation issue, arguing that the issue prices are not discounted enough to make an immediate sale automatically profitable.

In Italy, the three privatisations since December 1993 have seen gross profits on early dealings of between 9 and 23 per cent. Up to 10 more privatisations are planned.

A strong pound relative to the lira, which has fallen in value over the past 18 months, has meant that part of those gains would have been wiped out.

Giorgio Radaelli, a senior economist at Lehman Brothers, said the prospects for the Italian economy in the coming months were good as the newly elected Berlusconi government took action to curb public spending.

'The lira is very much undervalued. I would have thought that it will appreciate against the pound quite considerably - potentially by about 10 per cent in the long run,' Mr Radaelli said.