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D-day for EBS bids but outcome may take months

IRISH Life & Permanent (IL&P) and the Cardinal consortium will lodge their final bids for EBS today, but the already protracted sales process could drag on for "months", sources warned last night.

The comments come days after National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) boss John Corrigan said he was "extremely frustrated" by the European Commission's involvement in the EBS sale.

The NTMA has been charged with exploring the EBS's sales prospects since last March, when the Government took control of the embattled building society.

A preferred bidder had been expected to be announced by September but a series of delays, including some stemming from Brussels, have pushed the deadline for final bids to this afternoon.

IL&P last night confirmed it will lodge a bid later today, as will a consortium made up of Dublin-based Cardinal Asset Management and US venture capitalists WL Ross and the Carlyle Group. But sources stressed that nobody was holding their breath for an early outcome to the sales process.

Some believe Irish Life may be banned from enlarging its balance sheet by taking over EBS, however it is understood that the Central Bank will be open to the proposal if it's in the overall interests of the banking landscape.

Last week, Mr Corrigan said that the European Commission's competition division's decision to "invite views from every Tom, Dick and Harry around Europe" had slowed down the sales process.

NTMA's banking head Michael Torpey, who's overseeing the EBS process, said he "didn't know what the pace will be" in selecting a buyer because that process would also have to "satisfy the needs of Europe".

Irish Independent