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Buffett eyes up Irish assets as economy turns


Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, the fourth richest man in the world, dispatched key lieutenants to Ireland last year to meet with Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte as moves to sell off State assets were ratcheted up.

Mr Rabbitte met with representatives of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in January last year, with another "breakfast meeting" held in March. Mr Buffet – widely known in financial circles as the "Sage of Omaha" for his inspired investment gambles – had a track record of buying into infrastructure assets at low prices. Forbes estimated his fortune at $53.5bn (€40.95bn) earlier this month.

"Two meetings were held with different representatives of the Berkshire Hathaway group. In both cases these were introductory meetings organised at the request of Berkshire Hathaway," according to the department.

Mr Rabbitte's department has a pivotal role in the €1bn-plus sale of Bord Gais Energy, which is being offloaded by the State. Royal Canadian Bank is advising the State on the sale of the company which supplies natural gas and electricity to consumers and businesses. Barclays Capital is advising New Era on the disposal.

It is understood that an information memorandum will be sent to interested parties at the end of April. Centrica, SSE and Gaz de France are believed to be interested.

Deals to sell off Bord Gais Energy and the National Lottery licence are likely to be completed by year end. Plans to offload part or all of the valuable ESB were shot down by government last year.

The Department of Public Expenditure and New Era are also examining plans to extract value from state forestry company Coillte, with a proposal to sell harvesting rights being considered.

However, Buffett's previous investments in Ireland ended badly. In 2009 he told his shareholders that an investment of €244m in shares at two Irish banks plunged to a value of €27m at the end of 2008, representing an 89 per cent loss.

In his annual letter to shareholders of his Berkshire Hathaway investment firm he said that when he decided to invest in the Irish banks the price had appeared cheap to him. "The tennis crowd would call my mistakes 'unforced errors'," he added.

Berkshire Hathaway did not respond to questions from the Sunday Independent last week.

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