Deals wrap: Irish banks soon to march to new drummer

November 24, 2010

ECONOMY-GLOBAL/Ireland’s top three banks will soon be answering to a new boss: the Irish government. Ireland is set to take a majority stake in top lender Bank of Ireland as part of a massive international bailout that could leave the state with effective control of the country’s top three banks.

The state’s ownership of Bank of Ireland could rise to near 80 percent from 36 percent now under the EU/IMF-funded bailout, put at up to 85 billion euros ($114 billion), and Allied Irish Bank could join Anglo Irish Bank in being fully nationalized. Both Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank have lost about 40 percent of their value this week as shares plunged on capitalization fears.

But perhaps private investors should not be so quick to flee Ireland – at least that’s the message Wall Street Journal sends to brave investors in a piece that lays out five ways to bet on Ireland now. The list implies there could be money to be made amidst all the chaos, drawing parallels between the current Irish predicament and the similar one the “tiger” economies of Asia faced in 1998.

Meanwhile, South Korea, once counted among the so-called “tigers”, saw its biggest banking acquisition deal ever on Wednesday. Hana Financial Group, a Korean-based financial holding company, said it will buy a 51 percent stake in Korea Exchange Bank for up to $4.1 billion cash, seeking to shut the door on rival bidder ANZ.

Elsewhere in Asia, China’s Xinmao Group moved to dispel doubts over its $1.3 billion offer for Dutch cable maker Draka, saying it had backing from a Chinese bank for its proposed takeover. A recent Economist article points out that Chinese buyers have made up a tenth of cross-border deals by value this year.

While the Chinese are looking beyond their own borders, the United States seems to be increasingly turning its view inward as a massive three-year investigation of insider trading on Wall Street continues to expand. Federal agents arrested network executive Don Ching Trang Chu on Wednesday as part of the ever-widening probe. The New York Times has published a copy of the government’s complaint against Chu.

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