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Equilibrium's Finance and Investment News Roundup

In our roundup this week, we look at the commencement of the government's shares sale in Royal Bank of Scotland, bring you news of an edging up of UK house prices and the launch of a government consultation into pension exit fees, and give an update on Greece, where banking stocks continue to plunge.


Government begins RBS shares sale

The government's sell-off of shares in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has begun, signaling the start of efforts to return the bank to the private sector. The move comes seven years after RBS was bailed out during the banking crisis of 2008.

However, the sale has been criticised by some because it represents a loss of around £1.07 billion on the shares sold. The government sold 5.4% of its stake at 330p a share - a 170p difference on the price of around 500p that the government originally paid for them.

Chancellor George Osborne has defended the move, however, claiming it is the correct decision to get the sale underway now. He said: "While the easiest thing to do would be to duck the difficult decisions and leave RBS in state hands, the right thing to do for the economy and for taxpayers is to start selling off our stake."

The sale, which raised £2.1 billion, means the government's stake in RBS now stands at 73%. 

UK house prices climbed in July

House prices in the UK edged up in July, new figures from Nationwide have shown. The 0.4% rise comes after a fall in June and indicates prices could be stabilising at close to the long-term pace of earnings growth, the mortgage lender explained.

The increase means the cost of the average home now stands at £195,621. The figures revealed that the pace of house price increases jumped by 3.5% compared with a year earlier, with the annual change improving on the 3.3% recorded in the previous month.

However, Nationwide's Chief Economist Robert Gardner added the strength of house supply remains unclear. He stated: "The number of new homes under construction has started to pick up, albeit from historically low levels, and further increases are required if a sustainable recovery in the housing market is to be maintained over the longer term." 

Government pension exit fee consultation gets underway

A consultation to determine whether pension exit fees should be capped has been formally launched by the government. As part of the discussions, the government will also look at whether it should be made easier to switch from one provider to another.

Prime Minister David Cameron commented: "We want to ensure that pension providers are not using exit charges and restrictions as a barrier to switching, just when the government is providing pensioners with greater freedoms." 

Greek banking stocks continue to fall

Tuesday saw Greece's banking stocks fall for the second day in a row, with the country's economic difficulties continuing. FTATBNK, the banking index that comprises Greece's four biggest lenders, was down 29.2%, while the Athens General Index was down around 4%.

The fall comes after the Athens index plummeted by 16.2% on Monday. This was the most marked fall ever recorded, and came as concerns of Greece's economic decline and a new bailout from the European Union continued to grow.