* Pays about 8 mln stg for stake in NBNK
* To use NBNK as a vehicle for more deals
* Already owns stakes in Virgin Money, Bank of Ireland
By Steve Slater and Laura Noonan
LONDON, Dec 13 Billionaire U.S. investor Wilbur
Ross is targeting more deals in Europe's financial services
industry after buying into a listed company that failed to make
its own inroads into the sector.
Ross, founder of private equity firm WL Ross & Co., already
owns half of Britain's Virgin Money and a 9 percent stake in
Bank of Ireland, and said on Thursday he saw no
shortage of opportunities for more deals in Europe.
He is paying about 8 million pounds ($13 million) to buy up
to 37.8 percent of NBNK to use as an acquisition
NBNK was set up two years ago, but said in June it would
wind up after failing to buy a trio of assets, including a
network of 632 branches sold by Lloyds Banking Group.
"Given the turmoil in financial services very few companies
can get access to public capital markets so we feel a company
like NBNK that is listed and has supportive shareholders will be
attractive for a number of companies," Ross told Reuters.
He said he would "cast the net wide" and did not have a
specific deal in mind, but added: "Judging from the amount of
inbound calls we have received already, I do not believe there
will be a shortage of opportunities."
Ross, 75, launched his private equity firm in 2000 and
invests in and restructures financially distressed companies,
notably in the financial services, transport, energy, healthcare
NBNK, which said in September it had received enquiries
about continuing the company, said on Thursday Ross planned, in
consultation with other shareholders, "to review its (NBNK's)
investment policy including investment in continental Europe."
Ross told Reuters it did not make sense to narrow options
down to specific countries or areas at this stage.
"We're confident we can find some interesting investments.
We are serious about it, but it's hard to forecast in advance
what it will accomplish," he said by telephone from Brussels
after leaving London.
Ross said he would pump in more cash and was confident
NBNK's existing investors would be prepared to stump up money
for the right deals.
"There's cash looking to be put to work and that's what
makes it (NBNK) a unique vehicle," he said.
NBNK said it would issue up to 1.3 million shares to Ross at
39 pence apiece in a deal structured as a tender offer, so
existing shareholders can sell their shares.
Once the deal takes effect, Ross will become chairman.
Current chairman Peter Levene and chief executive Gary Hoffman
will step down.
NBNK had failed to buy the Lloyds branches despite having
offered substantially more than successful buyer, the
Co-Operative. Lloyds said the Co-Op offered greater certainty to
customers and employees and had a better chance of success.
NBNK had also tried to buy bailed out bank Northern Rock and
UK branches from National Australia Bank.
Ross has pumped several hundred million pounds into Virgin
Money, which took over part of Northern Rock, aiming to create a
challenge to Britain's big banks.
His Virgin Money and proposed NBNK investments were
separate, a spokesman for Virgin said.