Treasury sells £1.24bn of NatWest stake as plans for public sale postponed

The Government had planned a public share sale this summer but that has been pushed back because of the upcoming General Election.

The Treasury has been selling down its stake in NatWest in recent years
The Treasury has been selling down its stake in NatWest in recent years (Matt Crossick/PA)

The Government has sold £1.24 billion of shares in NatWest, accelerating the process of bringing the high street bank into private ownership.

A notice on Friday confirmed that the Government’s shareholding in the bank has fallen by about 3.5 percentage points to 22.5%.

NatWest received several multibillion-pound bailouts during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, leaving the Government with an 84% stake in what was then known as Royal Bank of Scotland.

But the Treasury has been selling down its stake in the lender, which also owns Coutts.

The process has accelerated of late, and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reaffirmed the Government’s plan to sell all of its interest in the bank by 2025 or 2026 in the Spring Budget.

It was supposed to include a public share sale this summer as part of an attempt to create a “new generation of retail investors” but that has been shelved because of the upcoming General Election.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “A retail offer will not happen during the election period.”

So far, the blocks of shares have been sold to institutional investors and the summer plans were set to be the first time its NatWest stock was on sale to individuals.

The election will take place on July 4, with Parliament due to be summoned to sit again on Tuesday July 9.

The most recent sell-off was carried out via an off-market purchase by NatWest of more than 392 million shares at 316.2p, Thursday’s closing price.

Paul Thwaite, chief executive of Natwest Group, said: “This transaction represents another important milestone for NatWest Group, building on recent momentum in the reduction of HM Treasury’s stake in the bank.

“We believe it is a positive use of capital for the bank and for our shareholders and represents further progress against the ambition to return NatWest Group to full private ownership.

“Our focus remains on delivering for our customers which will, in turn, deliver for our shareholders and the UK economy.”

In 2018 the Government owned 62% of the group, which had fallen to 37.98% in December.

In March, that fell below 30%, meaning the Government is no longer classed as a controlling shareholder in the lender.

Earlier this year, NatWest wrote to shareholders asking them to support an increase in the amount of stock the bank could buy back from the Government in a year, from just under 5% to 15%.