Stock Markets: The week in view: New bank raises the temperature

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The Independent Online
Investors will be focusing on the price at which Halifax shares begin trading tomorrow when the building society completes its transformation into a shareholder-owned bank.

Halifax shares were trading on the unofficial grey market run by IG index at 710p to 720p on Friday. Though that was down on earlier in the week, three months ago analysts were forecasting just 450p to 500p.

"The Halifax is the one tangible feature in our market next week, and we won't know how that will go until we see the results of the auction," said John Parrot, head of research at Commercial Union Asset Management. "The price has been bid up so high by some people, you have to wonder whether it is still worth going for it."

Halifax is the largest of the four building societies that will become banks by giving free shares to qualifying customers.

About 23 per cent of its members are selling their shares and this weekend Halifax is auctioning the 568 million shares on their behalf to institutional shareholders. The price will be a weighted average of the bids placed by institutions. At 700p per share, Halifax would be valued at pounds 17.6bn when it lists on the stock exchange, making it the fourth largest bank.

"The indications are it will open at over 700p a share, which makes me very happy because I'm a holder," said Philip Harris, an investment manager at Birmingham-based Albert E Sharp.

Halifax will join the ranks of the top banks just as shares in the sector are showing signs of going off the boil. On Friday Barclays shares were down as much as 39p at 1,218p and Lloyds 10p lower at 628.5p as the FT- SE 100 Index fell by 51 points. Even so the FT-SE banks index has been the best-performing group this year with a rise of more than 31 per cent. All of the index's constituents, including TSB Group and HSBC Holdings, have reached record highs this year. UK stock may prove among the most resilient to falling markets in the days ahead as uncertainty over the single currency and reaction to the French elections cause investors to flee to the relative security of UK assets. London's FT-SE 100 Index was the best-performing of Europe's major stock markets last week ending just 0.86 per cent lower at 4621.6.

"The UK is almost certain not to go in the first wave of the single currency, and we will be seen as a safe haven from the storm," said Harris.

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