Windfalls average pounds 2,400 on Halifax market debut

The Halifax muscled into the stock market's top flight yesterday after its shares started trading at the high end of expectations. The flotation of what is now Britain's third-largest bank after HSBC and Lloyds TSB handed 7.6 million former members windfalls worth an average of just over pounds 2,400.

The shares began trading at 774.5p, almost twice as high as Halifax's original estimate earlier this year, before settling later in the day to close at 745p. That still rewarded members who decided to hold on to their shares - those who sold out in last Friday's auction received 732.5p a share.

As expected, some institutions were prepared to pay well over the odds to gain a weighting in the stock, which is due to enter the FTSE 100 index in three weeks' time. Index-tracking funds that are obliged to have a holding in the shares are expected to maintain buying pressure on the shares in coming weeks.

One bid in Friday's auction of unwanted shares was pitched at 815p, almost pounds 2 higher than the fair value attributed to the company by a number of analysts. Other cooler heads managed to pick up shares for as little as 710p, the lowest successful bid.

The sale of 23 per cent of the shares late last week, the biggest-ever trade in the Stock Exchange's history, means that almost 2 million people have windfalls of at least pounds 1,465 burning a hole in their pockets. Expectations are that a large proportion of the pounds 4bn raised in the auction will be spent, with holidays, home improvements and consumer durables top of most buyers' wishlists.

Gary Marsh, head of corporate affairs at Halifax, said: "We hope our members will be delighted with the price. We are pleased to be able to cement our relationship with them."

Analysts had forecast a high opening price at the auction, although they said the price could have been even higher had there not been a fall in shares in the bank sector on Friday.

"Our analysis suggests that 600p-650p is about where it should be, based on its fundamental prospects vis-a-vis other shares in the UK banks sector," John Leonard, banking analyst at Salomon Brothers, said. "Halifax may be a great company but it is a rich share," he added.

Richard Coleman, banking analyst at Halifax's broker Merrill Lynch, said yesterday he expected the rest of the banking sector to get a fillip from the success of the flotation. He saw other bank shares recovering from last week's weakness to come back in line with Halifax.

He said the Halifax's premium to the sector reflected: "Both the short- term scarcity value and the fact that most investors having seen the company on the road show have formed the view that this is a stock they definitely want to own".

He thought the company's entry into the FTSE 100 index could prove a watershed for the shares, however. "My best guess would be that the rest of the sector is likely to come up a bit and Halifax will probably stay, broadly speaking, where it is, maybe drift back a little to meet them," he added.

A number of institutions have been selling other financial stocks in order to settle for the shares they acquired at auction on Friday. That selling pressure had taken the shine off the sector, which had been one of the market's best performers since the beginning of the year, rising by more than 30 per cent.

Attention has now turned to Halifax's pounds 3bn of surplus capital. With a customer base of around 20 million, the new bank is expected to swoop in the life assurance market to take fuller advantage of its already strong franchise. It has already acquired Clerical and Medical and Legal & General has been tipped as a possible target.

Halifax is also expected to use its dominant position in the domestic mortgage market - it is responsible for a fifth of all UK homeloans, generating 85 per cent of its profits - to build up a non-housing related credit business.

Price (p)]815 Shares sold 50,000 Number of bids 1

812 252,000 1

800-809 931,000 4

790-799 1,715,000 7

780-789 4,356,000 12

770-779 11,484,000 24

760-769 25,586,000 32

750-759 65,712,000 76

740-749 74,251,000 85

730-739 99,246,000 147

720-729 157,604,000 200

715-719 51,366,000 81

714 320,000 4

713 5,987,000 8

712 23,165,000 23

711 32,289,000 20

710 14,327,878 67

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