Ross sells Bank of Ireland stake

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IOL pic jun6 euro notes Reuters File picture: Lee Jae-Won

London/Dublin - The sale by billionaire investor Wilbur Ross of his entire shareholding in Bank of Ireland (BoI) was priced at 0.265 euros a share, Deutsche Bank, the placing's bookrunner, said in a statement.

Ross announced on Monday that he would sell his 5.5 percent stake three years after his pioneering investment kept the struggling bank out of state hands, but he added that he remained confident about its prospects.

Ross, whose fund specialises in distressed assets, was among a group of North American investors who bought a 35 percent stake only months after Ireland signed up to an EU/IMF bailout in an early vote of confidence in the debt-ravaged country.

Tuesday's placing was priced at a 6.7 percent discount to Monday's closing share price of 0.28 euros, pricing the holding at 477 million euros. By 0859 GMT on Tuesday Bank of Ireland shares were down 2.8 percent.

Ross, who had a stake of about 9 percent before first selling shares in the bank in March, sold those at just below 0.33 euros per share, meaning he almost tripled his investment having bought when shares were trading at 0.10 euros.

Deutsche Bank acted as sole bookrunner on the placement of Ross's 1.8 billion shares.

Fairfax Financial boss Prem Watsa, who was also part of the 2011 consortium and who sold shares with Ross in March, told Reuters on Monday that Ross's decision was “entirely unrelated to the business” and pledged to hold his own 5.8 percent stake for the long term.

Bank of Ireland, the only Irish lender to avoid full state ownership, said in March that it had been profitable in the first few months of the year and analysts say it is well placed to pass European stress tests this year.

“Longer term, the removal of Wilbur Ross from BoI's share register may be a positive for the bank, reducing the focus and reliance of one large high-profile investor as the group returns to normalised operating conditions,” Merrion Stockbrokers analyst Ciaran Callaghan wrote in a note.

“However, more short term, his sudden departure is likely to raise questions over the future upside to the bank's equity valuation and the challenges that remain ahead, despite its recent return to profitability and capital generation.” - Reuters

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