Republic to sell down 13.9% Bank of Ireland stake

Citigroup to drip-feed shares into the market for Coalition over next six months

Bank of Ireland received a €4.8bn bailout between 2009 and 2011 and has since returned about €6bn to the State.

Bank of Ireland received a €4.8bn bailout between 2009 and 2011 and has since returned about €6bn to the State.

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The Government said on Wednesday it plans to start selling its 13.9 per cent stake in Bank of Ireland, paving the way for it to begin the final phase of exiting the bailed-out bank.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has hired Citigroup to drip-feed shares into the market – initially over a period of the next six months, but this can be extended at his discretion. An almost 2 per cent drop in the bank’s share price on Wednesday, as investors digested the news, pushed the value of the State’s entire stake down to about €660 million.

Mr Donohoe declined when asked by reporters to give the minimum price that he will accept for Bank of Ireland shares or how much of the stake will be sold by the year end. However, analysts at Davy and Goodbody Stockbrokers estimate that the Minister’s plan to account for no more than 15 per cent of share trading in the bank over the next six months could result in him selling between one-third and two-thirds of the stake by the end of the period, depending on market activity.

The Minister said that the main reason he has decided to sell shares is to signal his confidence about an economic rebound from the Covid-19 crisis and Irish banks’ ability to benefit from this. However, with the shares trading at about 40 per cent below their intrinsic value, or the value that analysts put on the bank’s net assets, even after a strong rally from last year’s lows, questions may be raised about the timing of the sale.

Mr Donohoe insisted he was “confident” the Irish taxpayer would get a good price for the shares.

“In order to ensure that the taxpayers’ interest is protected, shares will not be sold below a certain price per share, which the Department of Finance will keep under review,” he told said.

“Today’s announcement marks the start of a phased exit from the State’s remaining investment in Bank of Ireland. When all cashflows are taken into account the taxpayer has already recorded a surplus on its investment in and support for the bank, even before the sales of these shares are accounted for,” said the Minister.

Bank of Ireland received a €4.7 billion bailout between 2009 and 2011 and has since returned about €5.9 billion to the State, making it the only Irish lender to date to repay its aid bill. The recovery includes money received from the sale of bank stock, preference shares and bailout bonds following the crisis. It also includes dividends and the collection of guarantee fees.

Improvement in sentiment

The share sale aims to take advantage of how Bank of Ireland’s stock had soared more than 200 per cent to €4.49, as of the close of trading on Tuesday, from its Covid-19 crisis lows, to trade at levels last seen before the pandemic struck.

Still, Bank of Ireland shares remain off by about 45 per cent from where they were trading in early 2018, as an era of ultra-low interest rates, high regulatory capital demands and muted loan demand weighs on the sector.

The improvement in sentiment towards Bank of Ireland has been fuelled in recent times by news that Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland plan to exit the market, which will leave the Republic with only three mainstream lenders. Bank of Ireland is in talks to acquire KBC’s performing Irish loan book of about €9 billion of mortgages.

While the exit of the two foreign-owned banks will shrink competition in the market, analysts say that as most of their loans are on track to be taken up by the three remaining players, it will add scale and boost the industry’s chances of making profit returns that would be acceptable to investors.

Mr Donohoe said that while the recent moves by Ulster Bank and KBC did not influence the Bank of Ireland share-sale decision, he acknowledged “it has affected the competitive dynamic within the Irish banking sector, and that is a factor in decisions that investors make”.

Bank of Ireland chief executive Francesca McDonagh said that the Government’s decision to sell down its stake is a “positive step – for Irish taxpayers, the Irish economy and Bank of Ireland”.

Goodbody Stockbrokers analyst Eamonn Hughes said that the pending share sale may reignite a debate over bankers’ pay caps and bonuses, which have been effectively prohibited across bailed-out banks since the onset of the financial crisis.

Trading plan

The State will sell Bank of Ireland shares by way of a so-called trading plan aimed at avoiding market distortion for the bank’s stock. The Minister has instructed Citi to target that up to, but no more than, 15 per cent of the expected aggregate total trading volume in the bank to be sold over the duration of the trading plan. The number of shares sold will depend on market conditions, among other factors, said the department.

The Minister said it was still the Government’s intention to reduce its 71 per cent stake in AIB and and 75 per cent interest in Permanent TSB (PTSB), but could not give a set time frame, as it depended on other market factors.

The State’s stake is held through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The department is being advised by investment bank Rothschild and law firm William Fry in relation to the transaction.

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