National Australia Bank shareholders have overwhelmingly endorsed plans to offload Clydesdale Bank – but may never know how much the UK venture cost them.
More than 97 per cent of shareholders backed the demerger and partial IPO of the underperforming UK business, which could raise as much as $A1.08 billion for NAB.
The banking giant can now press ahead with demerging 75 per cent of Clydesdale to NAB shareholders and divesting the remainder on the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Chairman Ken Henry declined to reveal to a shareholder meeting on Wednesday how much NAB’s 29-year ownership of Clydesdale had ultimately cost.
He conceded that Clydesdale had contributed significantly to shareholder returns being uncompetitive compared to NAB’s big four Australian rivals, and told shareholders the divestment should help rectify that.
“I understand why you might feel somewhat aggrieved but I can assure you that it is the strong view of the board and of the management of the bank that the future here is rather more promising than the past, and we prefer to dwell on the future,” Dr Henry said.
Dr Henry and chief executive Andrew Thorburn were questioned by shareholders over the wisdom of entering the UK in the first place.
Dr Henry, who replaced Michael Chaney as chairman in December, said the spinoff should not be interpreted as a criticism of previous management.
“In respect of the investments in the UK and how they have turned out – and to what extent these might reflect on our predecessors on the board and management – I am not going into that territory,” he said.
Mr Thorburn said the divestment, which follows NAB’s exit from the US, would allow the bank to concentrate on its core businesses.
“We will focus on key segments such as mortgage, debt free, micro, small and medium business customers,” Mr Thorburn said.
He said this would include “selective expansion in Asia”.
“We recognise that for shareholders that it’s been a difficult course, but businesses must evolve,” Mr Thorburn said.
NAB’s price range for the float is STG1.75 to STG2.35 ($3.65 to $4.90) per share, and Dr Henry said there had been strong institutional interest despite market volatility.
“Should market conditions deteriorate further, it is up to us to decide to defer the IPO in part or even indeed to defer it in full and seek a better time at which to execute the IPO,” Dr Henry said.
“However, we remain confident as of today that the IPO will be successful.”
NAB shares were finished down 86 cents, or 3.1 per cent, at $26.90.