Investors 'incredibly optimistic' on Ireland – Blackstone
Conference hears that France is viewed negatively by markets
INVESTORS are "incredibly optimistic about Ireland," according to a senior investment manager at the US investment giant Blackstone.
Lionel Assant, Blackstone Group's head of European private equity, made the comments in Berlin at 'SuperReturns', an international investment conference for the private-equity industry.
"I was sitting at a round table with private-equity executives a couple of weeks ago," Mr Assant told the conference.
"People were incredibly optimistic about Ireland and starting to be optimistic about Spain. There was just one country where there was a consensus: France. They were absolutely negative about France."
A major US investor publicly putting peripheral Ireland ahead of France – part of 'core Europe' – as a place to do business is the latest sign that this country is now regarded as 'investable' after the crisis years when many funds looked at Irish assets but held off from actually doing deals.
Blackstone is the world's largest buyout fund manager and one of the world's biggest real-estate investors.
It bought the Burlington Hotel in Dublin in a €67m deal last November and emerged with the biggest stake in Eircom when the telecoms provider emerged from examinership.
In contrast to the positive view of Ireland, Mr Assant said the private-equity industry was "absolutely negative" about investing in France.
"Structural reforms have not started," he said. "The country is effectively denying the inevitable."
The SuperReturns event is influential. It is attended by leading figures from the buyouts industry, investment managers at large pensions and insurance providers – which control much of the world's investment wealth – as well as banks that lend to the industry.
This year's event was also attended by Leon Black, the head of Apollo Global Management, which bought the MBNA Irish credit-card business from Bank of America last year.
This remains one of the few European deals in which private-equity firms have been able to take advantage of retreating banks in order to pick up assets.
Reports from Berlin suggest that frustration at the lack of selling by banks was one of the main themes of the conference.
(Additional reporting, Bloomberg and Reuters)