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The threat of a listing exodus must spur on bolder risk-taking

The London Stock Exchange has had a challenging 2024 so far, although bankers are eying a rebound for IPOs
The London Stock Exchange has had a challenging 2024 so far, although bankers are eying a rebound for IPOs

Just as the arrival of Shein onto London’s equity markets, and the Raspberry Pi float, are more indicative of individual company circumstances than a wider trend, so too would be Ashtead’s departure from London – if they choose to move ahead with it. This is a company after all which, though listed in the capital, makes almost all of its revenue overseas; it even sells in this country under its Sunbelt brand, which is headquartered in South Carolina.

Just as Flutter’s departure told us more about that brand’s ambitions and the new legislative landscape of the US than it did London’s under-pricing of assets, so would be the case with Ashtead.

But one should never waste a crisis, and the fears of an exodus should once again focus minds on the necessary reforms required to turn around the fate of London’s equity markets. There is some chatter that the FCA are in a position to move forward after the election, ministerial directions notwithstanding, and it would be welcome if we in this column had an excuse to write about something actually happening, rather than a review into what might have happened and what, at some unspecified later point in time perhaps, may happen.

When those reforms are announced there will be an almighty gnashing of teeth from the corporate governance academics and proxy advisors about the right way to run a company, or a market. They are entitled to their views but it is no longer the case that London wins the day thanks to our corporate governance regime; access to lawyers, insurers, professional services. What matters is being flexible to today’s company structures.

That comes with risk, and to his credit, the FCA’s boss Nikhil Rathi has not shied away from just that. Reforms come with the chance they may not work; they may also, you never know, have unintended negative consequences. But Britain used to be a risk-taker. We must rediscover that fire before it’s too late.