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‘Great day’ for Bermuda on Wall Street

Making an impression: the Gombey Evolution Troupe with Michael Dunkley, the Premier, at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday (Photograph by NYSE)

Bermuda made its mark on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday as Butterfield Bank sold its first US shares, a troupe of Gombeys took to the trading floor and Michael Dunkley rang the opening bell.

It was all to mark Butterfield’s initial public offering of shares, a historic milestone for the 158-year-old Bermudian bank, which was aiming to raise $250 million.

Mr Dunkley, the Premier, who brandished a yellow Gombey tomahawk as he stood with the Butterfield group on the balcony of the NYSE, said he was “excited and proud” to have had the opportunity to officially open Wall Street’s trading day.

“I’ve been blown away by the organisation and commitment that this Bermuda community bank has shown to make this happen,” the Premier added. “It’s a wonderful occasion and a great day for Bermuda.”

The trading day ended with Butterfield’s shares at $24.75, 5.3 per cent higher than the IPO pricing of $23.50 per share. Trading volume was almost 4.9 million, putting Butterfield well on the way to its target of selling 10.6 million shares.

Michael Collins, Butterfield’s chief executive officer, said he was “delighted” with the smooth launch of the IPO, with the opening trade of $25.10 some 7 per cent above the asking price.

“We’ve been working on this for more than a year — it takes that long to put together the prospectus,” Mr Collins said. “We’ve spent the past two weeks on a roadshow around various American cities, having six or seven meetings a day and telling the Bermuda story.”

The Bermuda Tourism Authority grabbed the chance to promote the island to the wealthy types who frequent Wall Street. Traders coming to work were greeted with all the noise and colour of the Gombey Evolution Troupe, a pink Vespa parked outside the NYSE building and some of their trader colleagues wearing Bermuda shorts. Regular watchers of US business channel CNBC’s Squawk on the Street programme could not have failed to notice the distinctive peacock feather Gombey headdresses moving around behind the head of presenter Jim Cramer.

“These traders have never seen a day like this,” added Mr Dunkley, who said the occasion was an excellent opportunity to showcase the Bermuda brand.

Of the 10.6 million Butterfield shares being sold, $140 million will be raised by the bank from the sale of new shares — which Mr Collins said it would use for “general corporate purposes” — and $110 million from existing shareholders selling off some of their stock.

The bank’s shares hit a first-day high of $25.38 at around midday in New York and even a dip below $25 in the last half-hour of the trading day could not take the shine off a successful IPO launch.

It was also a satisfying day for some of the institutional investors who had come to Butterfield’s rescue with a $550 million injection of capital in 2010 at a time when the bank was reeling from soured investments tied to US residential mortgages in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The Carlyle Group, a US private equity firm, owned 22.7 per cent of the bank before yesterday and is looking to sell off 1.4 million shares to reduce its stake to 17.5 per cent, while the Wellcome Trust is selling about half of its 3.7 million shares.

These investors bought in at a stock split-adjusted price of $12.10 six years ago and more than doubled their money on whatever shares they sold yesterday.

Shareholders who bought in more recently will also be smiling — at the close yesterday the bank’s share price was more than 25 per cent higher than the $19.30 closing price on the Bermuda Stock Exchange just 24 hours earlier.

The bank will continue to trade on the BSX as well as the NYSE.