British Airways' stock rose sharply in heavy trading Wednesday as shares in the formerly state-owned company were traded publicly for the first time.
The jump fueled criticism that the Conservative government sold the airline too cheaply in order to generate interest in what is a riskier investment than some of the other state-owned companies it has sold.
The government sold the shares to investors last week for a total of 900 million pounds, or about $1.37 billion.
Trading in the shares began simultaneously Wednesday in London, New York and Tokyo. On the London exchange, the stock immediately soared to a high of the equivalent of $1.82 a share, then fell back, closing at $1.63, as investors quickly took profits.
Volume in London was extremely heavy, with 283 million shares--about a third of all the airline's stock--changing hands.
The government originally sold the shares for about $1.90 apiece, but only half the price had to be paid immediately. The remainder is due Aug. 18, and the owner of a share on that date will pay the second installment.
On the New York Stock Exchange, the airline's American depositary shares--each the equivalent of 10 ordinary shares--closed Wednesday at $16.75, after having gone as high as $18.50. It was the day's second-most-active issue, with 2.8 million shares traded. The American shares were sold for $9.92 apiece on delivery, with a second installment of $9.15 due Aug. 18.
"Things are going very well. We had a lot of excitement at the opening," said Victor Cohn, managing director of equity capital markets at Salomon Bros.