Share windfalls fuel pounds 6bn spree

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The Independent Online
The free shares given away by former building societies joining the stock market as banks have financed pounds 6bn-worth of consumer spending, according to the first large-scale survey of what the recipients have done with their windfalls.

But the research by pollsters Mori, financed by the Bank of England, Barclays and other banks, suggests that the bulk of the extra windfall- fuelled spending has already taken place. Home improvements, holidays and cars have been the most popular items purchased.

The extent to which people have sold up is not unexpected. Based on earlier survey results, experts have been predicting for some time that recipients would cash in and spend about 15 per cent of the total pounds 36bn in free shares due this year.

The speed at which people said they have spent the money did come as a surprise, however. Some economists predicted that, whatever people had told Mori's researchers, the windfall spree would continue.

The survey showed that two-fifths of the recipients had sold some shares, with sales amounting to 35 per cent of the value of the four flotations that had already taken place. These four, Alliance & Leicester, Halifax, Woolwich and Norwich Union, were worth just under pounds 31bn.

Out of those proceeds, 47 per cent had been spent, 47 per cent saved and 6 per cent used to repay debts.

The spending, which added up to pounds 6bn, was divided between home improvements (pounds 1.8bn), holidays (pounds 1.5bn), cars (pounds 1.3bn), household goods (pounds 600m) and other items.

Mori also asked people how much they would have spent anyway to calculate how much additional expenditure had resulted from the windfalls. They calculate that this came to pounds 3.2bn.

Home improvements and cars received the biggest windfall boost - only about one-third of the spending on these categories would have taken place otherwise.

Scaling up the plans of the individuals polled, another pounds 1.9bn of consumer expenditure could be injected into the economy during the next 12 months. Of the 65 per cent of shares still unsold, respondents said 5 per cent would definitely be sold, 38 per cent sold "if the price is right" and 57 per cent held as a long-term investment.

The survey indicates that pounds 4.3bn will be placed in short-term savings accounts, and it is this which led some economists to predict that in fact there will be more windfall-related spending than the replies suggests.

"Half the money in accounts will be spent consciously on big-ticket items, but the rest is burning a hole in people's pockets," said Michael Dicks at investment bank Lehman Brothers.

He said it was also likely that the feelgood effect from having higher savings would prompt the new shareholders to spend unconsciously. "People will feel better off and spend more on things like meals out and clothes," he said.

Adam Cole at James Capel agreed that consumer spending might not slow down very quickly. "There will be more windfall spending to come. And it is also a mistake to assume that spending is only strong because of these windfall gains," he said.

Higher incomes were also behind the rapid growth in high street sales, he said. The signs were that pay deals were picking up.

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