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UK's Biggest IPO in Years Was an E-Commerce Company

The Hut Group raised £1.9 billion ($2.4 billion) in the biggest listing on the London Stock Exchange since June 2017.
The Hut Group-owned Ameliorate | Source: Ameliorate
By
  • Bloomberg

NORTHWITCH, United Kingdom — On his account, Matthew Moulding's online retail business almost destroyed his personal finances back in the day. Today, it's putting him among the world's ultra-rich.

THG Holdings Ltd., the British e-commerce operator he co-founded, surged 25 percent on its trading debut after the company raised £1.9 billion  ($2.4 billion) in Europe’s second-largest listing this year and the biggest on the London Stock Exchange since June 2017. Moulding’s stake was worth about $2 billion as of the last close. The stock slipped 3.8 percent at 8:30 a.m. in London Thursday.

It’s a rare emergence of a major tech fortune in the UK While the coronavirus pandemic has fuelled the wealth of entrepreneurs in e-commerce, video conferencing and online gaming globally, the sector has remained relatively quiet in Britain, where industrialists and aristocratic land owners such as Jim Ratcliffe and Hugh Grosvenor dominate the top ranks of the nation’s richest.

A spokesman for THG declined to comment.

Moulding, 48, studied industrial economics at University of Nottingham, qualified as an accountant and worked for British billionaire John Caudwell before setting up The Hut Group — as THG was previously known — in 2004 with John Gallemore, the company’s chief financial officer. They started out selling CDs and DVDs but now oversee a company operating websites including Coggles.com and Myprotein.com, which sell beauty and nutrition products.

THG is being perceived as a “hot stock” because of its technology platform that enables it to offer solutions for big, fast-moving consumer-goods companies, rather than for its online retail business, said Colin McLean, chief investment officer at SVM Asset Management.

The company is valued at £6.1 billion after offering about 376 million shares — or 35 percent of the e-commerce operator — at £5 each. The IPO was particularly popular, with underwriters finding takers for all the stock in less than 20 minutes.

Moulding owns about a quarter of the Manchester, UK-based company, whose revenue rose 36 percent to £675.6 million in the six months to June 30. He controls a stake in an investment firm that sold £54 million of shares in the IPO. In addition, the company transferred ownership of some warehouses, two boutique hotels and a country club and spa to the entrepreneur before the listing, according to its prospectus.

“It’s been a lively journey so far, especially in the early years,” Moulding said in an Instagram post in July. “Thankfully, both PCs and our own websites have come a very long way since 2004.”

THG’s offering included one feature that’s unusual in the UK: The company gave Moulding a so-called golden or founder share that will enable him to veto hostile takeover attempts for three years. Moulding defended the move in an interview with Bloomberg last month, saying the company has already received takeover interest and is focused on becoming a “global player.”

“Tech is massive this year — everyone has done so well from the pandemic in e-commerce, and the valuations are quite appealing for a company that needs the capital,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Maxime Boucher said about THG’s listing. “THG are slightly profitable but are planning to spend £50 to £150 million a year on M&A. They are going to need cash.”

Wednesday was a big day for stock debuts. In the US, shares of cloud-computing company Snowflake Inc. more than doubled in the best first-day pop since at least 2008, spurring a flood of wealth for Silicon Valley’s biggest names, while software firm JFrog Ltd. rallied 47 percent.

By Swetha Gopinath and Ben Stupples.

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