The City's status is under threat

April 4, 2012

For the past 20 years London has been the preferred place for many international companies to list their shares. There are good reasons for this. London is the European headquarters of some of the world's biggest institutions responsible for issuing new shares - the investment banks - and the professional investors who buy them.

The accompanying nexus of advisory firms - the lawyers, accountants, and financial PR agencies - the language, and the time zone are also big attractions. Most important however is the City's regulatory framework, which over the years has become highly conducive to international companies who want to list a block of their shares on the LSE. All this is why, at its peak, there were more Indian, Chinese, Russian and Israeli companies listed here than in any other place in the world.

But London's pre-eminence is now under threat. New rules that are being forced through by an alliance of badly-burnt fund managers and over-zealous regulators are, according to many, destined to destroy the capital's competitiveness.

They are calling for the back door to London via the "reverse takeover" to be closed. They want the threshold for the "free float" - the proportion of a company's shares that can be freely traded - to be raised from the current 25 per cent, and for this threshold to be strictly enforced. There are also calls for a cooling-off period before a company's shares can be included in the FTSE indices. Needless to say, all those who have benefited from the boom in international listings, from the investment banks downwards, are up in arms.

The concern centres on the quality of the companies listed in London. There is a growing view in the UK that our pension fund managers and insurance companies need to be better protected from the risks associated with investing in exotic companies from far flung places. Dysfunctional corporate governance, dire liquidity, over-dominant founding shareholders and poor disclosure are the most common complaints circulating amongst those who feel that London's current regime is far too light.

So what to do? I believe that, in this case, the answer lies in a compromise. There is merit to the claim that to be eligible for the major FTSE indices - and therefore a prospective holding within my and your pension fund - companies should be held to a higher standard.

But I also believe in caveat emptor. Fund managers get paid big bucks to do their homework and if that means trawling through every risk factor, footnote and anomalous figure in a 200-page listing prospectus then so be it. If they don't like what they read, they don't have to write the cheque.

Marc Cohen is Senior Vice President, FTI Consulting Strategic Communications (formerly Financial Dynamics)

Marc Cohen

Last updated: 6:31pm, April 4 2012