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Plans for 3i and French shares

INVESTORS will soon have a second chance to buy into 3i, the investment capital group that specialises in picking winners, when the banks which set it up cut their stakes next month to 39 per cent from 52 per cent. The price will be decided in about 10 days' time.

Meanwhile, Johnson Fry, the investment adviser, is offering UK investors the chance to buy into Usinor-Sacilor, the state-owned French steel giant that will be privatised next month for an estimated pounds 1.2bn.

Like British Steel before it, Usinor-Sacilor has recently been through a rationalisation pro- cess and finally returned to profit, making FFr2.1bn (pounds 276m) in the second half of last year. Gearing has been reduced to about 30 per cent.

French privatisations tend to favour small investors with about pounds 1,000 to put in. They get a modest price discount of about 5 per cent, although many individual applications are scaled back to pounds 500-pounds 600 per investor.

Johnson Fry is offering two privatisation package options - a service for stags who expect to sell and reinvest, and a longer-term deal for investors who want to stay the course.

Stags will put pounds 1,000 into the pot, plus a non-refundable fee of pounds 60. Johnson Fry will bid for the shares and sell them off when dealings begin.

Alternatively, long-term investors can put in pounds 4,800 plus a pounds 200 fee to buy stakes in the privatised companies as they come to market, and hold them to qualify for bonus shares 18 months later. Any uninvested balances are put on deposit.

On average, new stocks will be offered every three months - so an investor could expect the pounds 4,800 to be fully invested in less than two years, after which the stocks may be sold to rotate the proceeds for further investment.

The French stock market - like London's - had a tough time last year, but Johnson Fry says that investors who bought and held the first six issues over the past 18 months will be showing a profit of around 25 per cent, including currency gains.

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