UPDATE 1-Ireland raises 4 bln euros amid fresh flurry of demand

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DUBLIN, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Ireland kicked off its funding drive for 2019 by raising 4 billion euros via a new 15-year bond sale after being swamped with bids for its debut issue for the second successive year, the country’s debt agency said on Wednesday.

Ireland has raised a chunk of the cash needed for the coming 12 months in the first week of January every year since 2013 and covered around a third of 2020’s more modest 10 to 14 billion euro issuance target with Wednesday’s syndicated sale.

Investors put in over 20 billion euros of orders, up from 18 billion euros a year ago for an identically sized 10-year sale -- then a record bid for an Irish bond sold through a syndicate of banks.

The increased demand on Wednesday helped the debt agency to sell the new benchmark bond at a yield of 0.45%.

National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) funding chief Frank O’Connor noted that credit rating agency S&P’s recent upgrade of Irish debt had helped tighten debt spreads versus core euro zone issuers such as Germany and France. The country now holds a double-A rating for the first time since the financial crisis a decade ago.

Ireland has to borrow less in 2020 than in each of the last two years after the NTMA took advantage of record low interest rates and an economy that has grown faster than any other in the European Union since 2014 to pre-fund ahead of major bond redemptions.

Portugal, which like Ireland, required a sovereign bailout after the financial crisis, is set to price a 4 billion euro 10-year bond at even higher demand with books last exceeding 24 billion euros. It follows a syndicated sale by Slovenia on Tuesday.

Davy, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, NatWest Markets and Nomura jointly managed the Irish transaction.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin, Yoruk Bahceli in London; Editing by Catherine Evans