ONE of Bank of Ireland's biggest shareholders, Kennedy Wilson -- a major buyer of Irish properties -- has said that the situation in Ireland has improved "100 per cent" over the last two years.
"And if you think back to when we first started looking, Ireland, as I've said, is a 100 per cent better place than it was two years ago -- both psychologically and economically," Kennedy Wilson boss William McMorrow told investors last week.
Kennedy Wilson joined with Fairfax and Wilbur Ross to buy a 35 per cent stake in Bank of Ireland last year in a €1.1bn deal. The California- based company has, with its partners, spent €3.5bn on Irish-owned assets since the downturn hit.
Last year, it hooked up with Deutsche Bank to buy a €1.3bn portfolio of loans from Bank of Ireland.
Last August, along with partner Deutsche Bank, it bought a €360m block of Irish property loans from Lloyds bank at a major discount.
It is said to be in the running for another mega €2bn block of Irish property loans being sold by Lloyds.
Kennedy Wilson, which recently recruited U2's business whizz Trevor Bowen to its Irish board of directors, has also been cherrypicking some prime Irish property assets in recent months.
A joint venture with Canadian institutional investor Fairfax has targeted €500m on Irish property assets.
The partners splashed out €40m to buy the iconic Gasworks development beside Google in Dublin.
Last August, it spent €15m to buy the Brooklawn office complex in Ballsbridge. The building had been bought by investors, including former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick, for €47m during the boom.
In October, it spent €27m buying the Sandford Close apartment block in upmarket Ranelagh.
McMorrow told investors that he was confident that the Irish market would improve over the next three years.
"If you can kind of take a perspective of looking out three years, maybe five, but three for sure, you don't have any new construction going on there," he said.
"And so if you've got a growing user base of these companies that are continuing to grow, they've got a really great education system in Ireland, and it's particularly not only the tax rates, but it's attractive to particularly these US companies, half the population in Ireland is under 35.
"And so it's the only EU country I think in the last 10 years that's got a positive population growth," he said.
He added, "When you look at all of those factors -- and with no new construction -- it's my opinion that three to five years from now, you're going to actually see higher rental rates in the office market as well as what's clearly happening in the apartment market."