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Britain sells stake in RBS for £2.5b with eye on privatisation

Following the sale, the Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Theresa May still has a majority holding of 62.4% in RBS, much of which it plans to offload through to 2023.


BRITAIN'S government on Tuesday said it had sold a small chunk of state-rescued Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) for £2.5 billion (S$4.4 billion), albeit at a loss.

Britain on Monday resumed privatisation of RBS, which at the height of the global financial crisis a decade ago underwent the world's biggest bailout by taxpayers.

The Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Theresa May has sold a 7.7 per cent stake in RBS, leaving it still with a majority holding of 62.4 per cent, much of which it plans to offload through to 2023.

"Over £2.5 billion worth of government-owned RBS shares were sold as part of the government's policy to return the bank to private ownership," the Treasury said in a statement.

A total of 925 million shares were each sold for £2.71. However, this was at a total loss of £2.1 billion, with the government having spent about £5 per share in a rescue costing the taxpayer £45.5 billion.

"If the rest of the government stake is sold at a similar price, then the total loss comes to something in the region of £21 billion," said Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

The government noted however that the sale would help to reduce the country's mountain of debt.

"This sale represents a significant step in returning RBS to full private ownership and putting the financial crisis behind us," Finance Minister Philip Hammond said in the statement.

"The government should not be in the business of owning banks.

"The proceeds of this sale will go towards reducing our national debt - this is the right thing to do for taxpayers as we build an economy that is fit for the future," Mr Hammond said.

The government had decided in 2015 to start selling a chunk of its stake but the plan was carried out only partially owing to the lender's low share price.

"I am pleased that the government has decided the time is now right to restart the share sale process," said RBS chief executive Ross McEwan.

"It reflects the progress we have made in building a much simpler, safer bank that is focused on delivering for its customers and its shareholders."

Since then, the Edinburgh-based lender has posted its first annual bottom line profit since 2007 following a huge drop in litigation costs.

RBS was fined US$4.9 billion last month by the US Justice Department over its role in the sub-prime housing crisis but much of the cost had already been set aside, while the total was less than expected.

"From racking up around £50 billion in losses in 10 years due in large part to mega restructuring charges and impairment charges, the bank has turned a corner," said analyst Neil Wilson.

Britain is meanwhile aiming to sell two-thirds of its RBS stake for roughly £15 billion over a five-year period.

Shares in RBS slid 3.5 per cent to 271.20 pence on Tuesday's news to trade around the level of the sale price. AFP

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