Top City firms spurn third BT share sell-off

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The Independent Online
THE Government is facing a City revolt over the marketing of the pounds 5.5bn BT3 share sale, with a growing number of top firms refusing to take part in the exercise. Both Kleinwort Benson and James Capel have this weekend refused invitations from the Government's lead adviser, SG Warburg, to help sell the BT shares to investors.

Banque Indosuez, Banque Nationale de Paris and Enskilda of Sweden are also believed to have given Warburgs the cold shoulder. Behind the refusals lies an increasingly heated City row over the way in which the marketing of the offer has been organised.

Warburgs has been chosen by the Government as global co-ordinator. An international syndicate of 11 banks and brokers has also been announced to compete against each other in selling to the world's top 500 investment institutions.

The problem has arisen in the second tier of banks the Government wanted to enrol to help sell the shares. The banks that have withdrawn from the share sale were angry at not being invited to participate in the global syndicate. Instead, Warburgs had asked them to take part in the regional syndicates marketing to institutions in Japan, North America and the rest of the world, including Britain.

However, their exclusion from selling to the top 500 - potentially the most profitable part of the offer - has provoked fury among banks that expected to have a central role.

'What is the point of taking part in a share issue when we are banned from talking to our top clients?', one irate City banker commented this weekend. 'The whole thing is a joke.'

Those organising the share issue, however, accused their City critics of sour grapes.

A Government adviser said: 'This is nothing more than a storm in a teacup. It's just bad sportsmanship by the banks that were not included in the main syndicate.'

Robert Fleming is the only UK bank now included in the regional syndicates selling to the rest of the world.

Warburgs is also being criticised in the City over what many see as a heavy- handed treatment of the Zeneca share offering. Warburgs is leading the issue.

Some City banks say that it was behind the Stock Exchange ban placed last week on Salomon, the US investment bank, from making a grey market in Zeneca shares. Sources said Warburgs was afraid that the grey market price would fall well below the level at which it plans to set the Zeneca share price later this month.