4 Min Read
* Sale of 9 pct UK stake to resume after Brexit halt
* UKFI recommends scrapping sale to general public
* Analysts question timing of sale
* Hammond says no plan to sell RBS shares now (Adds Hammond comment on RBS)
By Andrew MacAskill and Sinead Cruise
LONDON Oct 7 (Reuters) - Britain will resume selling its residual 3.6 billion pound ($4.5 billion) stake in Lloyds Banking Group after a break following the country's vote in June to quit the European Union.
UK Financial Investments Limited (UKFI), which manages the government's stake in the bailed-out bank, said it would relaunch a trading plan led by Morgan Stanley to try to return Lloyds to full private ownership over the next 12 months.
The plan means the shares will be offered in increments to institutional investors, with the first sales likely in the coming days.
UKFI has recommended scrapping plans to sell some of those shares via a discounted offer to the general public, risking disappointing thousands of small investors hoping to cash in on growth at Britain's biggest mortgage lender.
"Returning Lloyds to the private sector is in the interests of the bank, taxpayers and the country as a whole. That is why exiting our stake in Lloyds in an orderly way and at the best possible price is one of my top priorities," Finance Minister Philip Hammond said in a statement on Friday.
The government currently owns about 6.5 billion ordinary shares in Lloyds, representing about 9 percent of its shares.
Hammond said he had no plans to start selling shares in fellow state supported lender Royal Bank of Scotland due to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the alleged misselling of U.S. mortgage-backed securities and delays in the sale of unit Williams & Glyn.
Market conditions were also not right for the sale, he told reporters during a trip to Washington.
After a 28 percent fall in the value of Lloyds stock so far this year, some analysts questioned whether restarting share sales in the middle of a banking share slump represented the best value for taxpayers.
"Having sold 11 billion shares at 81.4 pence over the last 18 months, it would appear that the Chancellor is now willing to sell them at a ballpark 50 pence, which I find slightly surprising," said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec.
"Selling assets before the (November) Autumn Statement may play a part in his thinking but I thought he had removed those pressures by pretty much abandoning all plans to balance his budget," Gordon added.
Lloyds shares slipped 5.5 percent to a two-month low of 52p by 1415 GMT.
Lloyds was rescued with a 20.5 billion pound taxpayer-funded bailout during the 2007-09 financial crisis, leaving the state holding 43 percent.
So far the government has recouped about 16.9 billion pounds after the finance ministry began selling off its stake in 2013.
In January, the government posted a planned sale of shares in Lloyds due to turmoil in global financial markets.
Hammond himself has stopped short of scrapping an eagerly anticipated share sale to the public but few investors and analysts expect the offer to be revived, especially if the trading plan goes well.
That would break with the Conservative government's previous commitment to offload the shares in one of biggest public privatisations since the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher's administration sold shares in British Telecom and British Gas.
The decision comes as the government faces increased pressure to recoup the 9 billion pounds it said it planned to gain from selling stakes in Lloyds and RBS this year.
Earlier this week, it also announced plans to restart the sale of almost 16 billion pounds of Bradford & Bingley mortgage loans, in a further sign of renewed confidence in the economy.
Lloyds Chief Executive António Horta-Osório welcomed the decision, saying it will help return the bank to private hands. (Additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and David Chance in Washington; Editing by Keith Weir and Alexander Smith)