Royal Mail: More Than 500,000 Seek Shares
The Government received well over half a million applications to buy shares in Royal Mail ahead of last night's deadline, confirming the status of the £3.3bn sell-off as the biggest privatisation for decades.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, told MPs on Wednesday that there had been 700,000 applications for shares, with the retail element of the initial public offering (IPO) seven times oversubscribed.
Tens of thousands of people are understood to have applied within the 48 hours prior to the cut-off point alone, encouraged by City speculation that the postal operator's shares could soar in the aftermath of its historic flotation.
Ministers will make final decisions about the allocation of shares during the next 36 hours. The final number of applicants from members of the public is expected to be confirmed on Friday alongside the announcement of the price at which the shares will be sold.
The number of retail applicants for Royal Mail shares has been narrower than some of the mega-privatisations of the 1980s, such as British Gas and BT, which saw stock sold to 1.5m and 750,000 small shareholders respectively.
Analysts pointed out that this could partly be explained by the fact that there had been no mass advertising campaign to promote the sell-off in the style of the 'Tell Sid' initiatives that were commonplace 30 years ago.
Michael Fallon, the Business Minister overseeing the privatisation, has pledged that retail investors will receive their "fair share" of Royal Mail shares.
The political row over Royal Mail's privatisation has escalated in recent days, with Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, accusing his Labour shadow, Chuka Umunna, of "irresponsibility" for claiming that the shares will be significantly undervalued when they start trading next week.
Around 150,000 Royal Mail staff will receive about £2,200 of free shares as part of the flotation, although they will have to hold onto them for up to five years to avoid triggering a tax liability on the sale.
BIS declined to comment on the number of applications it had received for shares from members of the public.