By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's esure is set to price its share sale at the upper end of its range, two people familiar with the matter said, providing a further boost to Europe's nascent new listings market.
A pick-up in stock markets this year has encouraged firms to test investor appetite for initial public offerings (IPOs) again after years of subdued activity due to the financial crisis.
In what will be London's biggest stock market listing so far this year, home and motor insurer esure is set on Friday to join housebuilder Crest Nicholson <CRST.L> and estate agent Countrywide in completing London flotations.
On Wednesday, esure narrowed the price range for the share sale to between 275 pence and 310p per share, the sources said, the upper end of its initial 240p to 310p range.
Potential investors were guided towards a price of around 290p, after being told those with orders below that level would miss out on the sale, the sources said.
Order books for the offering, in which as much as half of the company will be sold, closed at 1200 GMT, five hours ahead of schedule due to strong demand, one of the sources said.
The company had received enough orders for the minimum number of shares to be sold in the flotation just one day in to a two week bookbuilding process.
Also closing its order books early is cabling equipment maker HellermannTyton<HLMYT.UL>, which sources said would now wrap up its share sale on March 25, moving its planned market debut forward by a day to March 26.
HellermannTyton has already received enough orders for the minimum number of shares it is offering. Order books are also covered on the planned listing of Italian notebook maker Moleskine.
"There is a lot of money coming in to the equity market at the moment," said one equity capital markets banker.
"We are seeing investors with cash flow that they need to deploy and that is a good environment for IPOs."
British estate agent Foxtons, owned by private equity group BC Partners, has held meetings with investment banks about the possibility of listing, a source close to the company said. This is just one option being considered however, and as the company is debt free it is in no rush, the source said.
When it kicked off the sale earlier this month, esure said it expected to be valued at around 1.1 billion pounds if the offer priced at the mid-point of its range.
That values founder and chairman Peter Wood's stake at more than half a billion pounds and means he could bank around 170 million pounds from selling a third of his holding.
Shares sold by Wood, along with Tosca Penta Investments and company management and employees, will make up the bulk of the offering, but esure also plans to raise 50 million pounds from the sale of new shares to wipe out debt.
The company is due to make its market debut on Friday.
Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan are joint global co-ordinators and joint bookrunners on the sale, while Canaccord Genuity and Numis Securities are co-lead managers.
(Additional reporting by Tom Bill; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)