Bank of Ireland Shares Drop As Watsa’s Fairfax Prunes Stake

Bank of Ireland Shares Drop As Watsa’s Fairfax Prunes Stake

Canada’s Fairfax Financial sold half of its 5.8% stake in the Bank of Ireland, cashing in on shares that have more than tripled in value since its purchase in 2011. Echoing the sale announcement, Bank of Ireland shares dropped more than 8% to 35 euro cents today.

Fairfax and consortium took 35% stake in Bank of Ireland

Canada’s Fairfax was part of a consortium including U.S. billionaire Wilbur Ross and three other investors that bought a 35% stake in the Bank of Ireland months after Ireland signed up to an EU/IMF bailout in a deal that kept the bank out of state control.

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The Canadian property and casualty insurer sold a third of its original 8.7% stake in March of last year. At the time, it promised to retain its final 5.8% stake for the “long term.”

The Canadian insurer is run by contrarian investor Prem Watsa. As reported by ValueWalk, last year Watsa’s investment buddy, Wilbur Ross, announced he was selling his exposure to the Bank of Ireland. Watsa, who held 5.8% of the stock, was the second largest shareholder.

The Bank of Ireland, which is not the government’s central bank, is the oldest continuous operating bank in Ireland. In 2009, the Irish government put together a €7 billion rescue package for the bank and Allied Irish Banks.

Fairfax pruned stake in Bank of Ireland

On Monday, news came out that Deutsche Bank would be placing 935 million Bank of Ireland shares owned by Fairfax up for sale in a range between 35.8 euro cents and 37.3 euro cents per share. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, the placing is valued at as much as €349 million ($378 million) and equivalent to a 2.9% stake in the bank. Thus, the Canadian insurer’s sale would translate to almost four times the 10 cents a share it paid when it jointly invested €1.1 billion for a 34.9% stake in 2011.

Citing people familiar with the transaction, Reuters reports that Fairfax sold the 2.9% stake in Bank of Ireland at 36 euro cents per share on Tuesday. ValueWalk had previously noted Watsa’s investments in Greek financial firms, which were trading near a scant 1 time their 2014 earnings estimates and at a discount to their European peers despite their strong capitalization.

Last year, Prem Watsa made a huge investment in Eurobank, the bailed-out bank in Greece. Watsa’s Fairfax Financial was among the group of investors that put over $2 billion into Eurobank.

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