Rumours fly as 21m Aer Lingus shares traded

Speculation businessman Denis O’Brien offloaded remaining stake in airline

Hectic day for Aer Lingus in the market. Photograph: Alan Betson

Hectic day for Aer Lingus in the market. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

The market was abuzz with rumour yesterday after almost 4 per cent of Aer Lingus stock changed hands. Coming just a week after businessman Denis O’Brien raised €4.7 million by selling off part of his stake in the airline, the general assumption was that the telecoms magnate had offloaded his remaining 2.4 per cent holding in the airline.

If so, he will have received a further €16.8 million in the transaction.

In all, 21 million shares changed hands on what was a hectic day for the airline in the market.

O’Brien no longer has to disclose his trading in the airline’s shares unless he were to raise his holding back above the key 3 per cent threshold.

However, details of the trades – the first tranche of shares to move was a block of just over 12 million which is close to O’Brien’s last stated holding of 12.76 million – on top of his recent activity in the company had market analysts convinced that he was finally exiting a position that he acquired largely to frustrate Ryanair in its efforts to take over the airline.

Such a prospect now looks less likely following Michael O’Leary’s repeated rebuffs from both the former State airline and European competition regulators.

Of course, Aer Lingus has not proved all smooth flying for the billionaire businessman. He initially bought into the airline around the time in floated in late 2006. At that time, he would have paid closer to €3 a share.

But, if it was him, O’Brien was not the only investor offloading stock yesterday.

Following the initial tranche of 12.06 million shares, three other distinct blocks of stock – amounting to a further nine million shares – changed hands, with all the activity taking place in a hectic five-minute spell.

For Aer Lingus, which yesterday had nothing to say on the goings-on in the market, the more important issue is possibly who the buyer was.

Aside from the State and Ryanair – which between them own 55 per cent of the stock – the major holders are rival airline Etihad, which since 2012 has built a stake that now stands at 4.14 per cent, and asset managers Irish Life, Wellington and Barings, with 2.81, 1.88 and 1.54 per cent respectively.

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