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Gov’t Sells British Telecom Shares

June 27, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ The government sold its remaining stake in the former phone monopoly British Telecommunications PLC on Tuesday, ending an era of nationalized ownership for many of Britain’s most important industries.

The Treasury received $152 million from its sale of 11.1 million BT shares to institutional investors.

BT, Britain’s largest fixed-line phone company, was once among several businesses _ including steel, coal and aviation _ in which the government held a majority stake.

The Conservative-led government of Margaret Thatcher formed BT in 1980 from the telephone operations of the British postal service.

It sold slightly more than half of BT’s shares to the public in 1984 as part of its broad effort to increase the competitiveness of British industry. Two other sales of government-owned shares followed in 1991 and 1993.

For Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor Party to preside over the end of the era of state-ownership of the economy shows how far mainstream economic thinking has shifted to the right in recent years.

BT proved to be one of the biggest successes of Britain’s privatization program, boosting productivity and profits in Britain’s newly liberalized telecoms market. Other European countries looked on BT as an example of how to denationalize their own national phone monopolies.

More recently, BT has fought to be a leading player in the highly competitive field of mobile communications. In April, it agreed to pay $6 billion for a license to operate the latest, Internet-compatible technology for wireless phones.

The Treasury said it arranged the sale of its last BT shares to tidy up its holdings. It denied that BT’s share price was a factor in its decision.

BT shares have varied in price in recent weeks from about 900 pence ($13.50) to about 975 pence ($14.63) each. They closed Tuesday at 905 pence ($13.58), down 10 pence.

The government has also sold holdings in British Petroleum, British Airways, and in the electricity, gas and water businesses.

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