LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said it expects to appoint lead bank advisers for a possible stock market listing of Royal Mail Group by the end of May, as it pushes on with plans to privatise the firm.
In what would be one of the most significant privatisations of a British asset since John Major's Conservative government sold the railways in the 1990s, Business Minister Michael Fallon said on Monday a listing is the preferred method of sale for government and that investor feedback so far had been positive.
An initial public offering (IPO) of the group, which has around 150,000 staff and sales of 9.5 billion pounds, is expected to take place this autumn, with British media reports valuing it at between 2 and 3 billion pounds.
In a speech to the Policy Exchange, Fallon said Royal Mail would also soon begin exploring access to debt market capital.
Momentum behind privatising Royal Mail has increased since government took on its hefty pension deficit last year and the firm received regulatory approval to rise some stamp prices. It says it needs access to external capital for future investment.
The group posted half-year operating profit of 144 million pounds in November, up from 12 million pounds a year before, after reshaping the company towards a growing parcels market and away from declining letter volumes.
Included in a sale will be a 10 percent stake reserved for Royal Mail workers, in what would be the largest employee share scheme for 25 years, the government said. It has yet to clarify if shares would be free or at a discounted price.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents 120,000 Royal Mail workers, has fiercely opposed government's privatisation plans, fearing it would lead to a break-up of the company, job losses and worse terms and conditions.
Last December Royal Mail, which has shed around 50,000 staff in the last decade, enlisted Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs to work alongside Barclays as its financial advisers. UBS has been advising the government.
(Editing by Louise Heavens)