Canberra doubles Telstra share sale

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The Australian government on Sunday doubled to A$15.5bn ($11.9bn) its latest share offering in Telstra, the country’s dominant telecommunications company.

This successfully completes a controversial and difficult privatisation started nine years ago.

The substantial increase means that the third offering of Telstra stock will be the largest share sale in the telecoms sector since NTT DoCoMo’s $18.3bn flotation in 1998 . It will also be the second biggest offering in Australian history, after the A$16bn of Telstra shares sold by Canberra in 1999.

It is the second biggest share sale worldwide this year, following Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s $19.1bn offering in October.

The government had initially planned to sell the whole of its remaining 51.8 per cent stake but was forced to lower its ambitions earlier this year as Telstra was hit by regulatory setbacks and a drop in its fixed-line revenues that sunk its share price to nine-year lows by August.

After repeatedly delaying a final decision amid bickering, the government eventually decided to sell A$8bn and park the rest of its shares in the so-called Future Fund, which is run independently and was created to cover government pension liabilities.

However, book-building over the past two weeks attracted sufficient demand from retail and institutional investors for Canberra to double the offering. That will also lower the remaining stake transferred to the Future Fund to 17 per cent, thereby reducing the risk of an “overhang’’, which had raised concerns among Telstra’s management and some investors.

Although the fund is due to keep the bulk of the shares for two years, an exception has been made to allow it to sell more than 3 per cent of its holding to a cornerstone investor, possibly a private equity group, within six months.

The government set the final institutional price at A$3.70 per share, slightly below Friday’s closing share price of A$3.75. To boost demand, retail investors were offered incentives including a discounted A$3.65 price.

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