Bidders for EBS ‘may buy and merge lenders’

JC FLOWERS & Co and three other bidders for Ireland’s EBS Building Society may buy and merge several lenders to create a new competitor to the country’s biggest banks, two people familiar with the situation said.

JC Flowers, the US buyout firm, Dublin-based Cardinal Asset Management, backed by US private equity firm Carlyle Group, and Doughty Hanson & Co are vying with Irish Life & Permanent to take control of EBS, said the people who declined to be identified because the accord is not complete.

Each of the bidders said in talks that they plan to merge EBS, the country’s biggest customer-owned lender, with other building societies. That would create a new rival to Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, the country’s biggest lenders. Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Kevin Murphy has said the sale of ICS, and Irish Nationwide Building Society as well as EBS may be “strategic opportunities”.

EBS and the National Treasury Management Agency, which is overseeing the sale, will probably select a preferred bidder or two shortlisted bidders next week, according to one source.

Doughty Hanson, which trailed the other three EBS bidders following second-round bids on August 20, improved its offer last week, the person said.

Three of the bidders, including Irish Life, want a co-ownership deal with the Government for EBS, according to one source. One of the candidates is offering to take 100% equity ownership of EBS, with the Government holding preference shares in the building society, the person said.

Richard Campbell, Doughty Hanson spokesman, and a JC Flowers spokesman declined to comment, while Gerry O’Sullivan, a spokesman for EBS, was not immediately available for comment. Calls to Nick Corcoran and Nigel McDermott at Cardinal Asset Management’s office in Dublin weren’t immediately returned.

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