Michael Noonan ‘in no rush’ to sell AIB stake

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said the Government is in no rush to sell down its near-100% stake in AIB, adding that the timing of such a move will not be dictated by the agenda of a general election.

Any dilution of the 99.8% share the State holds in the bank might not occur until next year, Mr Noonan said yesterday.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics yesterday, Mr Noonan dismissed claims that he was using the dilution of the State’s shareholdings in the banks effectively as a vote-enhancing move ahead of an anticipated election early next year, and that he could be missing out on a better return for the State by selling up so quickly.

Noting that the Government has only sold 25% of its 99% stake in Permanent TSB, in recent weeks, Mr Noonan said: “I don’t know where you get the impression I’m hurrying things,” before adding that — in the case of AIB — advisers (in the form of Goldman Sachs) have come on board and are “taking steps to prepare it for market”.

“I don’t need to sell any bit of AIB before the election,” said Mr Noonan. “All I need to do is show that it has value, and it has a lot of value,” he added. “I’ve said on several occasions that this is not being dictated by any particular agenda.”

With regard to the possible timing of a sale of the AIB stake, Mr Noonan said his earliest opportunity looks likely to be around November or December of this year, but added that he is “not going to rush it” and it could be even later than that.

Referring to next year’s general election, he added: “If I’m still here after the election, I will dispose of it — on the basis of advice — when I’m convinced I’m getting the best return for the taxpayer.”

Mr Noonan said recent purchases have shown that the State will recoup all it has invested in each of the main banks.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of AIB’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Dublin, last week, the bank’s chairman, Richard Pym declined to comment at length on what progress is being made regarding AIB’s return to private ownership. He did say, however, that discussions with the Department of Finance with regard to the State-owned bank’s capital structure are ongoing and that the issue of an IPO is constantly under review.

Discussions are currently focused on options for AIB’s €3.5bn 2009 bailout loan from the Government, which could be changed from preference shares into ordinary shares; and the €1.6bn in contingent capital notes, which mature in July.

Last Friday, AIB’s latest trading update showed the bank remained profitable in the first quarter of 2015.


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