Ofex to float before rivals

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The Independent Online

Ofex, the fringe stock exchange, is preparing for a flotation of its own later this year.

John Jenkins, the stockbroker who founded Ofex four years ago, is planning to cash in on its rampant success in the technology stocks boom. It is likely to pip the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and London's futures exchange, Liffe, both of which have expressed a desire to float in the near future.

"We will [float] at some point soon," said Mr Jenkins. It is understood an announcement of a plan to seek a full LSE listing will be made shortly.

Ofex was formed to let firms raise funds without the need to comply with the more rigorous rules required for a full listing. Obtaining a quote on Ofex - at about £20,000 - is much cheaper than floating on AIM, the other alternative exchange.

Estimates of Ofex's value vary widely, but it is sure to be boosted by the popularity of its website, currently attracting 20 million "hits" a month. It will also represent an off-beat way for investors to latch onto the boom in technology stocks, since much of its growth has been driven by the hi-tech and biotech start-ups in its ranks.

Ofex now boasts a portfolio of about 200 firms, worth a total of some £2bn. Its biggest coup so far has been National Car Parks, sold two years ago for £801m to Cendant, the US computer and business services group.

But Turbo Genset, which makes mini-generators and is now valued at over £700m, is threatening to overtake NCP as its most valuable stock. Next month, it will become the latest in a long line of Ofex firms to progress to a more senior market when it floats on AIM.

But Mr Jenkins is quick to point out that investing in Ofex firms is a risky business. Its notable failures include Skynet, owner of the rights to a satellite tracking system for cars, which collapsed in 1998 after hidden problems came to light.

Other famous names listed on Ofex include Weetabix and Shepherd Neame, as well as leading football clubs Arsenal, Bradford City, Manchester City and Rangers. Its quirkier investments include Po Na Na late-night bars and London's media-friendly Groucho Club.

Mr Jenkins, 54, inherited his interest in the stock market from his father Sidney, who formed his own market-making business, SJ Jenkins, with his brother Tony. John joined the family firm in 1962.

In the wake of the 1986 Big Bang, SJ Jenkins was bought by Guinness Mahon. When the merchant bank was acquired in 1989 by Japan's Bank of Yokohama, SJ Jenkins was closed down.

Mr Jenkins then set up his own stockbroker, JP Jenkins, before launching Ofex, whose sister firm, Newstrack, gives relevant information. Ofex now has 31 employees, including Mr Jenkins' son, also John, and his daughter Emma.