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US firm plans expansion after buying BoI real estate business

US firm Kennedy Wilson wants to follow up the acquisition of Bank of Ireland's real estate management arm by investing in Irish property assets and providing extensive property services to Irish banks, chief executive William McMorrow said yesterday.

The comments came after Kennedy Wilson announced it was buying Bank of Ireland Real Estate Investment Managers, a business with some €1.6bn of assets on its book and 13 employees.

The value of the deal is understood to be "nominal" in the context of Bank of Ireland's efforts to raise €4.2bn of equity by July, but Mr McMorrow last night said his company had significant ambitions for Ireland.

"In five years' time, we hope to be one of the bigger players in the ownership and management business," he said, pointing to Kennedy Wilson's experience during the Japanese property crash where it grew a two-man team to a company with a market capitalisation of $1bn.

In Ireland, the California-headquartered company is already "actively" examining opportunities to buy real estate assets and is in talks with a "large Californian technology company" which is trying to source a site in Ireland.

Kennedy Wilson also plans to get into the auction business in Ireland and will be "offering any services the banks need in relation to property", Mr McMorrow said. The investment in Bank of Ireland's offshoot marks Kennedy Wilson's first foray into the European market.

Mr McMorrow said his firm specialised in markets that were going through "corrections".

"Everyone is going to be surprised at how quickly the Irish banking system is going to get cleaned up over the next three to five years," he added.

"We believe that the Irish economy is very strong."

The Bank of Ireland deal will also see the real estate management's bosses take a "significant" stake in the new company.

The Dublin office brings Kennedy Wilson's global portfolio to 23 offices across the US, Europe and Japan. The group has $7.4bn of assets under management globally.

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