Somerfield Sids 'unfairly treated'

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The Independent Online
The cut-price Somerfield flotation finally got away yesterday, though there was anger among some small shareholders who complained they had not been offered the same treatment as the big City institutions.

The main grievance is that only the institutions which had agreed to buy shares at the higher price of 160p were offered the opportunity to buy more shares at the lower price of 145p. Private investors, who had committed to their purchases two days earlier, were denied that opportunity.

One small shareholder said: "I don't think smaller shareholders have been particularly well treated. We had to commit ourselves before the institutions, but were not given the opportunity to buy more shares after the price was reduced.

"I applied for a relatively large number of shares at 160p but I would have bought more at 145p because it was a steal. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

The complaints were made as it emerged yesterday that the retail offer was only a third subscribed with just pounds 26.6m of shares taken up. The remainder was absorbed by big City funds which include the Prudential and UBS Asset Management. One of Somerfield's advisers said it had taken the decision due to fears that the larger fund managers would walk away from the offer it there was any delay. He added that under Exchange rules it could have cancelled the entire retail offer and conducted a placing of shares to institutions only instead. Private investors will be invited to confirm their applications.

There was relief among the company's directors and advisers after successfully getting the float away after a series of problems. Chief executive David Simons, who will receive a pounds 3m bonus as a result of the float said he was "exhausted but exhilarated" by the outcome.

The revised price of 145p values the former Gateway business at pounds 435m. Somerfield will also draw down pounds 180m of debt. Of the total proceeds, pounds 370m will be paid to Somerfield's bankers. A further pounds 40m will go towards advisers' fees and directors' bonuses. The remaining pounds 205m will go to repay the senior debtors of Isosceles the parent company created to fund the original pounds 2.1bn buyout of the Gateway business in 1989. Some pounds 615m of debt and bonds will be written off. Isosceles will then be placed in liquidation.