Back on 5 October, HM Treasury announced that a retail sale of Lloyds(LSE: LLOY) shares would be launched "next spring". At the time, if you were a small investor looking to buy into the bank, it seemed like a good idea to wait for the spring sale.
"Members of the public will be offered a discount of 5% of the market price, with a bonus share for every 10 shares for those who hold their investment for more than a year. The value of the bonus share incentive will be capped at £200 per investor. People applying for investments of less than £1,000 will be prioritised".
Lloyds' shares were trading at around 77p on the day of the announcement, which would have bought 1,299 shares for an investor with £1,000. The same investor buying in the spring offer and holding for the bonus would bag 1,504 shares, if the market price were still 77p. Even if the price had returned to its previous post-financial crisis high of 89p, the spring buyer would still end up with a few more shares than the buyer in October.
However, circumstances have changed, and I believe buying Lloyds' shares today could prove to be a wiser move than waiting for the government sale.
Time to act?
Two factors have combined to persuade me of this. First, George Osborne's recent postponement of the sale in view of the current "turbulent financial markets"; and, second, Lloyds' depressed share price, which ended yesterday at 60.7p. At that price, £1,000 would net you 1,647 shares.
I think it highly likely that when markets have stabilised sufficiently for Mr Osborne to give the sale the go-ahead, Lloyds' shares will also have stabilised — back in their pre-turbulence range of a few pence above and below the government's 73.6p break-even price. If that were to be the case, even the 5% discount and one-year bonus, wouldn't give you as many shares as you can get today.
Buying now will also put you in line for a 1.5p a share dividend which is anticipated to be declared when Lloyds announces its annual results in three weeks' time. Such a dividend would be equivalent to another 25 shares (at 60.7p). And the longer markets remain volatile, and the government share sale is delayed, the more dividends you'll receive, which an investor waiting for the sale will miss out on.
All in all then, as things stand, I reckon investing in Lloyds sooner rather than later could prove to be the most rewarding strategy.
Of course, it's possible Lloyds' shares could go lower before they go higher, but being too greedy can lead to missed opportunities. At 60.7p, Lloyds trades at a modest 1.1 times tangible net assets, a bargain-basement 8 times forecast 2016 earnings, and offers a prospective juicy 6% dividend yield.
These numbers give a wide margin of safety, such that the valuation would still be attractive, even if earnings and dividends were to come in some way short of forecasts.
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G A Chester has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.