DealZone

Deals wrap: Irish banks soon to march to new drummer

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.

DealZone Daily

Rather predictably,  the probe into Goldman Sachs overshadowed the group’s first quarter results on Monday. Somewhat less predictably, Goldman’s rivals have been using the furore to elbow in front of the leading Wall Street bank. As an example, rival investment bankers have been lobbying authorities in China to drop Goldman as an underwriter for the more than $20 billion IPO of state-owned Agricultural Bank of China.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) is preparing to bid for Lone Star’s $4bln controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank, the nation’s sixth largest lender. The news of the arrival of unexpected contender for the U.S. private equity firm’s stake helped send shares in the bank 3 percent higher.

For more Reuters’ deals news, click here.

In other media:

Google is in talks to buy travel software manufacturer ITA Software Inc, Bloomberg reported. A deal could value ITA, whose programs are used by Orbitz Worldwide and Microsoft, as about $1 billion.

Asia’s allure

HSBC, perhaps the most Chinese of the big European banks, says it is in talks to set up an investment banking joint venture in China. Australia and New Zealand Bank and Asia-focused Standard Chartered have lined up opportunistic buys in Asia, picking up the pieces of imploded RBS. Even beaten-down Citigroup is talking about acquisitions … in Indonesia.

ANZ said it agreed to pay a smaller-than-expected $550 million to buy some Asian units from RBS. StanChart, just nine months after launching a 1.8 billion pound rights issue, unveiled a surprise 1 billion pound ($1.7 billion) share placement to give it firepower to grasp opportunities as Asia’s economies recover. The bank said it was in talks about small acquisitions in China and India likely to cost between $100 million and $200 million. We’re told those talks involve RBS assets.

HSBC’s move would allow it to expand into China’s domestic securities and debt markets, areas it is presumably well-placed to exploit, given its dominant role in Hong Kong finance. Asia chief Vincent Cheng said HSBC Hong Kong has enough capital for acquisitions, has looked into some RBS Asian assets but has found, in general, that Asian assets are too expensive. So it will focus on organic growth.

Kroes keeps up pressure

Neelie Kroes’ campaign to ensure the European Commission’s rules over state aid are respected has remained in a high gear over the last few weeks. Three times the Competition Commissioner has spoken publicly about how restructuring plans for shaky banks bailed out last Autumn should be agreed with the governments of those countries.

This Tuesday she told the British Banker’s Association the truth. Royal Bank of Scotland made the largest ever corporate loss last year and yet was still saved by the government with a massive £20 billion plus rescue injection. One might ask how such an institution, so fundamentally important for the economy, could not be?

Kroes does not dispute that. What she does insist on is that such aid cannot be effectively propping up the bank indefinitely, allowing the balance sheet, and hence the bank’s business, to remain bigger than it should be, if it were not for that aid.