Earlier this month, Mr O’Brien — who first bought into Aer Lingus in late 2006 and built up an initial 1.6% stake to nearly 4% — sold €4.7m worth of shares, cutting his holding to 2.4%, or just under 13m shares.
Yesterday’s dealings saw around 21m Aer Lingus shares traded — including a block of 12m units; which led to widespread belief among commentators that Mr O’Brien had disposed of the majority of his remaining interest.
Neither the businessman, nor the airline were commenting on the activity yesterday.
Aer Lingus’s shares closed at €1.37 in Dublin, yesterday, up by 4.81% on the day and bringing its increase for the week to 8.11%.
Mr O’Brien commented, in an interview with the Irish Independent two years ago, that he initially invested in Aer Lingus to foil rival operator Ryanair’s attempts to take over the former state-controlled carrier.
Ryanair is currently fighting a UK Competition Commission ruling, ordering it to lower its stake in Aer Lingus from 29.8% to 5%. Having already failed with one appeal, it is now awaiting a secondary ruling, expected early next year.
Aer Lingus said, recently, that any dilution of Ryanair’s holding will go towards significantly boosting the number of its shares in free-float.
Currently only a third of Aer Lingus’s shares are owned by public shareholders — with Ryanair owning 29.8%, the Government nearly 25% and Etihad Airways over 4%, and the airline feels that its share price has been hampered by the low level of shares it has in free float and, ultimately, wants to grow the percentage held by public investors to around 75%.
Despite Aer Lingus’ gain, Dublin’s Iseq index slipped by 0.3% yesterday — with stocks such as Dalata Hotels, CRH, Petroceltic, Ryanair, Paddy Power, Zamano and Kerry Group all losing ground.