By Lina Saigol
It will be the biggest equity fundraising in the U.K. since the coronavirus pandemic went global in March and it’s a sign of more to come.
Compass Group /zigman2/quotes/200043088/delayed UK:CPG -8.24% , the world’s largest catering firm, said it launched a £2 billion equity fundraising from investors to shore up its balance sheet as the schools, offices and sporting venues it supplies with food remain locked down amid government restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement makes Compass the fourth FTSE 100 firm to raise fresh equity this year, after Auto Trader /zigman2/quotes/208097104/delayed UK:AUTO -0.08% , Carnival /zigman2/quotes/210414141/delayed UK:CCL -16.04% and Informa /zigman2/quotes/207253704/delayed UK:INF -9.00% , suggesting that fundraising is about to step up a gear.
“April gave investors a taste of corporates’ need for cash, as listed firms tapped shareholders for £3.3 billion in March, according to London Stock Exchange data, but Compass’ plan to raise £2 billion on its own takes the figures to a different level as firms continue to adjust to what the viral outbreak and lockdown mean for their business,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.
“It seems logical to expect that Carnival, Informa and Compass will be followed by others, especially if the world emerges from lockdown only slowly and the economic upturn proves gradual. Excluding the big five banks, FTSE 100 total net debt—excluding pension deficits and lease liabilities—has soared by three-quarters since the Global Financial Crisis ended,” he added.
Data from Bloomberg shows how the current crop of FTSE 100 firms has returned more cash to shareholders via buybacks than it has raised from them in eight of the 10 years since the end of the financial crisis and cash-raising boom of 2009.
“Investors can therefore expect more calls upon them, especially as Compass may well open the floodgates if its £2 billion deal goes well, just as more firms were emboldened to cut their dividends as growing numbers of boards offered investors the unkindest cut of all,” Mould said.
Individual investors will be able to participate in Compass’ fundraising, which kicked-off on Tuesday morning, and buy shares through the PrimaryBid website and mobile app.
News of the fundraising sent shares in Compass down as much as 11%, before they recovered to close 3.42% lower in London.
The move comes just weeks after the UK’s Financial Reporting Council Pre-Emption Group said investors could go above their pre-emption rights threshold . This allowed current shareholders to buy up to 20% of their share capital in emergency share sales without first offering original shareholders a right of refusal between 5-10% until Sept. 30.
It was accompanied by a series of measures announced by Britain’s financial watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority to make it easier for listed companies to raise emergency funds.
The FRC’s Pre-Emption Group issues best practice guidelines for pre-emption rights.
These decisions were aimed at allowing companies to quickly raise emergency cash to bolster their balance sheets to weather the sharp fall in revenues amid a near shutdown of the economy. However, proxy advisers including Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services have criticized companies for not treating all shareholders fairly.