Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

City Bankers Dodge Bullet as Cameron Wins, But EU Vote Looms

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Bankers emerged as the big corporate winners of the U.K. election as David Cameron’s victory saved them from tougher taxes and regulation even as a referendum on membership of the European Union now looms.

British bank stocks soared, led by Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Barclays Plc, as Cameron’s Conservative party unexpectedly secured a parliamentary majority. Energy producers such as Centrica Plc, betting-shop owners and property companies also had cause to celebrate the defeat of Labour leader Ed Miliband and his more interventionist agenda.

Despite their unpopularity with many voters, finance industry workers have been spared Labour taxes on properties worth more than 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) and bonuses. London-based broker Douglas & Gordon predicted the value of such homes would rise 20 percent over the next 12 months after Cameron’s win, and double in five years.

“The City will no doubt welcome what is expected to be a more business-friendly environment,” said Manny Roman, chief executive officer of Man Group Plc, the world’s largest publicly-traded hedge fund. “A clear outcome and a level of continuity is certainly a positive thing for the U.K. economy.”

Casting a pall is Cameron’s pledge to hold an “in-out” vote on the EU by the end of 2017. The run-up to that referendum alone risks chilling investment and a so-called “Brexit” would jeopardize U.K. Plc’s access to a market of 500 million consumers and the City of London’s status as a global financial hub.

Big Earner

“The City is the major earner for the United Kingdom,” said Saker Nusseibeh, chief executive officer at Hermes Investment Managers, which oversees about $45 billion of assets. “It is a major earner because it’s the financial center of Europe. If there is a Brexit it cannot be the major center of Europe.”

Miliband had vowed to raise a levy on bank balance sheets, while also campaigning to crack down on tax breaks used by hedge funds and private-equity firms. HSBC Holdings Plc has threatened to quit the U.K. because of higher taxes and tougher rules.

“I would suspect that the Tories are now more likely to try to find compromises with banks to remain U.K.-domiciled,” said Guy de Blonay, who manages about $700 million in financial stocks at Jupiter Asset Management Ltd. in London.

For Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc a “Conservative majority is a game changer,” said Joseph Dickerson, an analyst at Jefferies International Ltd. “It’s 80 percent-owned by the government and they would like to sell shares in the first half of the parliament.”

Power Surge

Shares in Centrica, a power utility, soared more than 7 percent as the industry avoided Labour’s promise to fix household fuel bills.

Estate agent Foxtons Group Plc rose 7 percent, while home-builders Barratt Developments Plc and Taylor Wimpey Plc rose 7 percent and 6 percent respectively, because of Cameron’s more favorable policies avoiding “mansion taxes” and promoting property development.

Miliband’s promise to scrap the “non-domiciled” status that gives tax advantages to people who live in Britain but have ties overseas would also have hit the property market’s higher end.

Gambling companies including Ladbrokes Plc had been vulnerable to Labour’s plan to curtail in-shop betting terminals. Its shares rose 10 percent.

Retailers such as Sports Direct International Plc were also winners from a Conservative victory that put paid to Miliband’s promise to increase the minimum wage and scrap so-called “zero-hour” work contracts.

Union Fears

Nevertheless, fears linger about EU membership and whether the United Kingdom can survive the rise of the Scottish National Party as the dominant political force north of the border.

“The EU referendum is the event that creates a massive degree of uncertainty,” said Charles Allen, a senior analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

Still, some investors said Cameron can use that vote to secure better terms on regulation and fiscal transfers from the U.K’s EU partners and then rally the electorate to stay in.

“I’m not going to worry about Brexit one iota,” said Michael Spencer, CEO of ICAP Plc and former Conservative Party co-treasurer.

The success of the SNP, which made huge gains against Labour, may make companies in Scotland think again about shifting their headquarters to England because of the risk of another independence referendum.

“The total sweep by the SNP will reopen the case for the likes of Lloyds and RBS to move back their registered offices to London,” said Chirantan Barua, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in London.

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