UK’s NatWest bank returns to majority private control 14 years after financial crash

State ownership dropped to 48.1% following fifth sale of government's shareholding,

A NatWest branch in Bishopsgate, London. NatWest has bought another of chunk of the UK government’s shares for 220.5 pence each. PA

The British government is no longer a majority shareholder in NatWest Group for the first time in 14 years after it sold £1.2 billion worth of shares, cutting its stake to less than 50 per cent.

NatWest bought a chunk of the UK government’s shares for 220.5 pence each, taking state ownership to 48.1 per cent from 50.6 per cent and returning the lender to majority private control for the first time since it was bailed out by taxpayers at the height of the global financial crisis.

This is the government’s fifth sale of its NatWest shareholding and a milestone in the government’s plan to return the institutions brought into public ownership as a result of the 2007-2008 financial crisis to private ownership.

“This sale means that the government is no longer the majority owner of NatWest Group and [it] is therefore an important landmark in our plan to return the bank to the private sector,” said John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury.

“We will continue to prioritise delivering value for money for the taxpayer as we take forward this plan.”

Formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest Group, once one of the world’s largest banks, was bailed out by the government to the tune of £45bn in 2008.

The initial investment, which led to the government owning 57 per cent of the bank, was extended a couple of times – peaking at 84 per cent in 2009.

NatWest boss Alison Rose called the share buyback “an important milestone” for the bank “and a further demonstration of the progress we are making as we continue to deliver for our customers and shareholders”.

The Treasury has been selling off its NatWest stake since 2008, with the sale of the latest chunk of shares given approval on Friday.

However, the process will continue for some time, already taking longer than sell-off of Lloyds Bank. The government owned 43 per cent of Lloyds Bank after the financial crisis before the deal was unwound in 2017.

NatWest Group’s main banking brands include NatWest, private bank Coutts and RBS. It was renamed two years ago after more than 40 years under the RBS Group name.

NatWest returned to profit last year, posting an operating pre-tax profit of £4bn after recovering from a loss of £481 million in 2020 as the wider economy rebounded.

The UK’s biggest corporate lender said mortgage demand and customer deposits were growing, with its more buoyant figures coming after it returned £1.3bn to its balance sheet from the £3.2bn it set aside in the early stage of the pandemic to cushion against bad loans.

Updated: March 28, 2022, 12:33 PM
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