Wednesday 13 December 2017

NCB considers its options as buyers look to acquire Quinn's 24pc stake

Joe Brennan

Management at NCB Stockbrokers is believed to be reviewing its options regarding the Quinn Group's 24pc stake in the firm, amid speculation it could come on the market soon.

It comes as the future ownership of Sean Quinn's cement- to-insurance conglomerate remains up in the air. Anglo Irish Bank, the main creditor to the entrepreneur, owed €2.8bn, is lining up a proposal to take control of the empire, as its key insurance arm is under the control of permanent administrators.

Up to 30 parties, including potential trade buyers and private equity firms, have expressed an interest in acquiring Quinn Insurance.

A spokesman for NCB said it "doesn't comment on rumour or speculation" and that it "remains very much focused on day-to-day business at this point in time".

Others familiar with the situation said NCB, led by chief executive Conor O'Kelly, was keeping a "watching brief" on the Quinn situation, but that the firm was not actively pursuing any strategy.

Set below the key 25pc level that gives a shareholder blocking rights on certain resolutions, Quinn's stake is largely seen as a passive investment. A spokesman for Quinn declined to comment on the holding or on whether any of the group's creditors have a lien -- or charge -- against it.

It is believed that Sean Quinn and Liam McCaffrey, chief executive of the Quinn Group, maintain a good relationship with NCB's top executives. Mr McCaffrey is a non-executive director on the broker's board.

Quinn Financial Services took on the stake in NCB in late 2003, replacing financier Dermot Desmond's IIU as the broker's "strategic investor".

Temporary holding

IIU had taken a temporary holding in NCB that August, as the broker was sold by Ulster Bank to members of its management team, backed at the time by corporate finance house Key Capital for €20m. Mr Desmond founded NCB in 1981.

While industry sources speculate NCB would look to line up another "benign" investor to replace the Quinn Group in the event the stock were to come on the market, management would be well placed to execute a deal itself, as the firm does not have any debt on its balance sheet.

NCB has been cutting out much of the fat in the business over the past few years, through two rounds of redundancies as well as pay restrictions.

Sources have previously said that rival Goodbody Stockbrokers could be put up for sale under one of the measures being considered by Brussels as part of owner Allied Irish Banks' EU restructuring plan.

Industry observes say the likelihood of the broker being put on the block has increased significantly after Bank of Ireland revealed last week it will have to sell three flagship Irish domestic businesses to get its restructuring plan over the line with Brussels.

Bank of Ireland has been directed to sell its New Ireland life and pensions unit, Bank of Ireland Asset Management and ICS Building Society before the end of 2014.

Irish Independent

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