AIB could become target for takeover

THE triple bid for the Dutch bank ABN Amro from Fortis, Santander and Royal Bank of Scotland raises the possibility of AIB, the country’s largest bank, becoming a takeover target.

In a note to the markets, banking analyst of Goodbody Stockbrokers, Eam-onn Hughes, described the idea as “thinking the unthinkable”.

His suggestion was given added impetus by the fact that Goodbody is owned by AIB.

Shares in the group rose 3% yesterday and they were ahead by a further 10c in late trading in Dublin yesterday afternoon at €22.33.

He argues that the bid involving three separate banks for ABN opens up the possibility of a similar move on AIB.

If, for instance, the troika are thwarted in their ABN bid by Barclays, they could turn their attention to AIB.

The Irish bank has a significant minority interest in M&T, ownership of a Polish bank and strong Irish and British operations.

If the bidders were to turn their sights on AIB they would have no difficulty in sharing out the spoils to suit their specific needs, he said.

Mr Hughes is not alone in thinking such unthinkable thoughts.

Stuart Draper, head of research at Dolmen Stockbrokers, said banking take-overs were back in vogue.

Indeed, the nature of the ABN move by Fortis, Santander and RBOS has “opened up the possibility of competing banks aligning themselves to carry out a takeover that would not necessarily be attractive to any one of the banks on its own”.

In arguing the case for a bid, Mr Hughes makes the point that in this instance the “sum of the parts” could be worth more than the “whole”.

Commenting on the attractiveness of AIB, he said the bank, excluding its Polish subsidiary, BZWBK, and its M&T US associate, which reported a dip in profits yesterday, was under-valued relative to its European peers.

Against that backdrop the bank becomes even more attractive as a bid prospect, he said.

Both Mr Hughes and Mr Draper added the coming together of three competing banks to buy another player in the market signalled a major shift in strategic thinking by European banks and opened up the possibility of significant consolidation.

On AIB, Mr Hughes said at the risk of sounding “precocious” about his parent company, AIB “is a well-run business in the context of European banks, while ABN Amro has been one of those perennial under-performers, so it’s no surprise that it’s laying at the feet of a number of predators”.

In the case of ABN, the three banks looking to do a deal are three of Europe’s main consolidators. If they fail then AIB could be next in the line of fire, he said.

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