Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 15:00 UK

HBOS rights issue - a pig in a poke?

Money Talk
By Justin Urquhart Stewart
Seven Investment Management

Justin Urquhart Stuart
Justin Urquhart Stuart advises investors to take a longer-term view
It is with all the confidence of Del-Boy Trotter's financial services that a range of British banks are offering shareholders the opportunity of buying some more of their shares on the cheap.

The question is, would you want to and, come to that, do you trust them?

Ever since the beginning of the credit squeeze last year, and the problems surrounding sub-prime lending in the US, banks around the globe have been suffering the consequences of their complacency and weak risk management.

The result has been a stream of losses slowly being announced and a severe cutting back of lending - especially in the area of mortgages.

This has led to some significant damage not just to the banking and credit system, but also to some of the banks themselves.

Most notably the scalp of Northern Rock in the UK comes to mind but other prime names have gone as well, including Bear Stearns in the US along with many other minor banks and other financial institutions.

Attractive?

Those left alive are now trying to clean out these poisonous wounds, and to start the healing process by repairing their financial positions, and again regaining market and consumer confidence.

Your shareholding is going to be diluted unless you care to stump up some more money

This has been slowly coming through with rights issues (companies asking for more money from shareholders) being announced from banks including RBS, HBOS and of course the most recent fiasco at Bradford & Bingley.

The question for the shareholders of these banks then, is should they be taking up their share allocations?

Shareholders in HBOS are being offered shares at quite a significant discount of 45% to current valuations, and therefore on the face of it the deal certainly seems quite attractive.

But all is not necessarily what it seems.

The fact that new shares are being issued means that your shareholding is going to be diluted unless you care to stump up some more money.

Just like in a game of poker, if you want to stay at the same level you have to pay up some more.

Mortgage market

First of all look at the business that HBOS is in.

The H bit is, of course, the old Halifax mortgage business.

As such it, like all the mortgage banks and building societies, is going to be suffering from a shrinkage in this market over the near future.

It could take another 18 months for this area to ease up out of its current seizure and so all those in this market, from estate agents to lenders, will feel some painful effects.

However, the BOS part, or Bank of Scotland, is different and has a sound traditional personal and corporate banking business which, although not unaffected by our economic slowdown, will not have the pain of the housing market.

So although exposed to the weakness in the banking sector, HBOS as a whole certainly does not have the dependence on the mortgage market that the likes of B&B and A&L have.

Five-year view

In the shorter term the banking industry is going to be suffering and there may be yet further shocks and lurches to come.

Take at least a three- to five-year view on your investments

So for nervous investors this may not be a time to commit new money.

However, I would urge anyone holding shares that, unless you are a market gambler, to take at least a three- to five-year view on your investments.

Thus a purchase of discounted shares with a five-year horizon on a bank the size and strength on HBOS may well end up looking like quite a canny investment.

In the financial jungle of the capitalist banking system, it may well be not just survival of the fittest that will be important but also survival of the some of the largest.

Choices

You have various choices as a shareholder.

These range from not investing, investing in part or in full, and even selling your "rights" for a smaller sum in the market.

If you do not want to throw "good money after bad" then you should sell your rights through a broker or the HBOS facility.

If you want to take up some, but not use any extra money, then you could consider "tail swallowing", which is a term for selling enough of your current holdings to take up those you are being offered.

This can be very cost effective if you are using the companies' own nominee share dealing account.

Other brokers might be able to do something similar, but you should ask about any charges and commissions in advance.

You could even buy up your extra shares and then sell them immediately via a stockbroker, in the hope of cashing in on the likely discount to the market price to make a quick profit.

However that carries the risk that the price of HBOS shares in the market may slump, causing the discount to evaporate.

At the same time, any profit on selling a small number of shares might well be eaten up by the broker's commission.

All investment is a risk though - after all that is what you are expecting to be rewarded for.

So if you are willing to take a long view and you are prepared to take the risk of investing in this single company, then this offer may well be a profitable decision for you.

But be prepared, it is not going to be a smooth ride.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.



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