* Bank of Ireland sells new shares, debt in landmark deal
* Bank to avoid 450 mln euro step up charge of as a result
* Places 7.4 pct of stock at 26 cents via “cashbox”
* Proof Irish banking system is recovering-finance minister
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Bank of Ireland (BoI) raised 580 million euros ($788 million) through a share sale as part of a milestone deal to repay 1.9 billion euros to the state, handing the government a timely financial boost.
The redemption of preference shares issued when the part state-owned lender was rescued in 2009 cuts its reliance on the government less than two weeks before Ireland is set to become the first euro zone country to exit an EU/IMF bailout.
The announcement comes after Reuters cited a source familiar with the deal as saying Bank of Ireland would raise between 500 and 600 million euros of new equity as early as this week and would repay the rest through issuing debt.
The deal also follows a steady stream of more positive economic news in Ireland, including the fastest fall in unemployment in four years, that convinced Dublin to make a clean break from its bailout programme.
BoI, the only Irish lender to escape nationalisation, had faced a March 2014 deadline to pay back the state before a clause under its 4.8 billion euro bailout increased the cost of buying the shares back by 25 percent, or 450 million euros.
The shares were placed at 26 cents per new unit of stock, the level at which the bank was trading at 1550 GMT. The proceeds will be used to redeem 537 million of the preference shares.
The remaining 1.3 billion was repaid by issuing debt secured on the preference shares, attracting over 10 billion euros of demand for the issue, a lead manager told IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication.
The government said it made a profit of 62 million euros, bringing its total proceeds from the deal to 1.9 billion.
The redemption will also remove dividend restrictions imposed by the European Commission on state aid grounds.
“A successful refinancing of the government preference shares represents a significant step for BoI back to normalised operating conditions, giving the bank and its shareholders more control over the group’s strategy,” said Ciaran Callaghan, an analyst at Merrion Stockbrokers.
The bank said the new shares equated to around 7.4 percent of its stock, breaking with stock market norms of a company not issuing new shares worth more than 5 percent of its stock market value without a special resolution from shareholders.
Companies are able to issue stock worth up to 10 percent of their equity if they use a financial structure known as a “cash box”, where the new equity is channeled through a specially created company. Bank of Ireland would then buy the cash box.
The bank added it had advised the Irish central bank that it is does not intend to recognise the preference shares as common equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital after July 2016, indicating it is confident it can make enough of a profit to retire the instrument by then.
Shares in the bank, up almost three-fold over the past 12 months, closed down 2.3 percent lower at 0.26 euros.
BoI’s announcement comes after the bank’s capital adequacy ratios suffered a sharper than expected drop after the Irish central bank said on Monday it needed to make extra loan-loss provisions after an industry-wide review.
BoI, recovering faster than rivals hampered by larger loan losses and weaker margins, said it was not required to raise additional capital after the review and was in talks with the central bank about its estimates.
The review, one of the final conditions of Ireland’s 85 billion euro bailout, took place ahead of euro zone-wide stress tests next year, Irish lenders’ first health check since 2011.
Bank of Ireland escaped falling into full state control after the last stress tests, when a group of North American investors led by Wilbur Ross and Prem Watsa bought a 35 percent stake just months after Ireland signed up to its bailout.
The state sold a 1 billion euro contingent convertible bond or coco it held with the bank earlier this year. The government’s residual equity stake fell to around 14 percent from 15 percent after it chose not to take part in the placement.
Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the deal would generate a profit for the taxpayer on the shares, adding that the exact return depended on the debt sale which is scheduled to close later on Wednesday.
“As we exit our EU/IMF programme on December 15, this transaction will build further confidence in Ireland’s recovery and will strengthen Ireland’s return to normal market funding,” Noonan said in a statement.
“The Irish banking system is recovering, international investors are returning and this has positive implications across the banking system.”
Bank of Ireland mandated Credit Suisse, Davy, Deutsche Bank and UBS as placing agents, with Bank of America Merrill Lynch joining as joint lead managers and underwriters for the debt sale to private investors.