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Treasury Takes Step Towards £19bn Lloyds Sale

The agency which manages taxpayers' £19bn stake in Lloyds Banking Group has asked Britain's biggest high street lender to work on plans for a share sale to the general public.

Sky News has learnt that UK Financial Investments (UKFI) wrote to the Lloyds board during the Christmas break to ask it to write a prospectus that would accompany a major retail offering.

The development underlines the Treasury's intention to sell a large chunk of its remaining 33% shareholding in Lloyds this year, although an insider said the timing had not yet been decided.

A formal announcement from the Treasury about a new share sale will not take place until after Lloyds' full-year results at the end of next month.

Antonio Horta-Osorio, its chief executive, is likely to signal then that he has been given regulatory approval to resume dividend payments to ordinary shareholders.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, believes that a sale in which the public can participate could be politically useful as well as delivering a financial boost to the Treasury.

He is understood to be undeterred by the controversy surrounding the privatisation of Royal Mail (Other OTC: ROYMF - news) , which saw some private investors excluded from buying shares.

Shares in Lloyds closed on Tuesday at 82.51p after a trading session in which the stock reached a new 12-month high.

The bank now has a market value of £57.17bn, having risen by more than 63% during the last year and meaning that the Government's remaining 33% stake is worth roughly £19bn.

Analysts believe it will be possible to sell a substantial chunk of Lloyds at a premium to the 73.6p taxpayer break-even price, especially after Mr Horta-Osorio sets out a generous dividend policy.

Mr Osborne has made plain his interest in a sale of Lloyds shares to the public and reiterated that ambition in his autumn statement last month, although he stopped short of spelling out details such as the timing or size.

Institutional investors will also be asked to participate in the sale of the remaining stake given its sheer scale.

The Government offloaded a 6% stake in Lloyds in September in a deal which the National Audit Office concluded had resulted in loss to the taxpayer of more than £200m but which nevertheless represented good value.

That transaction, which yielded £3.2bn for the Government, saw the taxpayer's stake reduced from 39% to 33%.

Insiders said that a team of executives at Lloyds were beginning work on a prospectus and that it was likely to be "broadly ready" within weeks.

Lloyds declined to comment on Tuesday.

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