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Will You Follow Fairfax's Prem Watsa Into Bank of Ireland (IRE)?

November 29, 2011 | About:

During GuruFocus’ interview with Fairfax CEO Prem Watsa in September, GuruFocus asked him if he sees investment opportunities in Europe. He commented on his investment in Bank of Ireland (IRE):

Watsa: Bank of Ireland was always the most conservative bank in Ireland, run by a fellow who just became CEO in 2009, Richie Boucher, who we like a lot. In Ireland, house prices dropped 40-50%, and commercial real estate building prices came down significantly (office buildings). So it's very difficult to survive that, and even a conservative bank like Bank of Ireland got hit. But coming out of this, it's the only bank that's a private bank (government has 15% of the shares, rest 85% is in the private markets, which we own a little less than 10%).

What impressed us was that Ireland seems to have taken its medicine, reduced the deficit, increased taxes, cut government spending significantly, so without making too much noise, the Irish have done what they had to do. The government of Ireland, with the ECB, set up some very tough rules: You have to have enough capital to take a 60% hit in house prices coming down from the high and commercial real estate prices coming down 70% from the top, and your capital position should be sufficiently strong take those hits. And that's what they did, they did the rights issue and raised a lot of money to make sure they had the capital to withstand those hits.

In our due diligence, we talked to them, we went through the individual portfolios; it's a well-regarded bank, with centuries of experience, and has a history of being conservative, but in a country where real estate prices fell off the bottom, no bank with their leverage and lots of mortgages could survive that. But we feel really good about it, and it's a long term investment.

GuruFocus: Do you think it has a durable competitive advantage?

Watsa: Definitely. It's a full-service bank, privately controlled and listed in the stock market, and not having the government in control of day-to-day operations is a positive. There was a chance, if the rights issue was not done by private interests, that the government would be 70-75%, so the fact that the government is at 15%, and very supportive I might add, is a plus.

In August, Fairfax led the capital infusion to Bank of Ireland. Other investors include Wilbur Ross, Capital Research, Fidelity and Kennedy Wilson. The details of the deals can be found in the press releases here. These investors invested 1.12 billion euro into Bank of Ireland. Following the investment, this group of investors owns 34.96% of the total issued ordinary stocks of Bank of Ireland. Ireland’s government owns 15.13%. Fairfax owns about 2.8 billion of Bank of Ireland’s ordinary shares. The cost of Fairfax’s shares is at 10 cents (euro) a share.

Bank of Ireland’s ADR is traded on the NYSE under the symbol IRE. Each ADR represents 4 ordinary shares. Since the deal, Bank of Ireland ADR had undergone a 10:1 reverse split. Therefore, Fairfax and Wilbur Ross’s cost per ADR is about 4 Euro a share. Today IRE is traded at around US$4.4.

When GuruFocus asked Prem Watsa about the valuation of Bank of Ireland, he said:

The real book value right now is running a little below .30 euro, maybe .27-.28, and then in the next few years it might be static, maybe it will go down a little, but it will be dependent on the economy's performance, and it will be dependent on the Bank of Ireland in terms of what it does, in terms of earnings. If you look at Bank of Ireland's track record in the past, it's done very well, and now it's well capitalized, it has a terrific CEO, it has a good management team, so over time, it should do very well for its shareholders. They are focused on doing well for their shareholders.

The number 0.3 euro Prem Watsa mentioned was for ordinary shares, before the 10:1 reverse split of the ADR. This would translate into about 12 euro per ADR. Therefore Bank of Ireland ADR is traded at about 25% of its book value, far below the valuation that Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) or AIG (AIG) is traded. We all know that Bruce Berkowitz thinks both of them are extremely cheap.

What does this mean to other value investors like us? It means that we can buy these shares at about 70% of the prices paid by Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross, or about 25% of the book value.

There are quite positive developments at Bank of Ireland, and in Ireland as a whole. According to Barron’s:

Just one year later, (Ireland) gross domestic product is on track to grow 1.1%, after falling 10% in real terms and 18% in nominal terms between 2007 and 2010. Economists see another 1.1% gain next year, although export growth is fueling the expansion while the domestic economy remains weak. Stripping out exports and inventories, GDP will slip 3.1% this year, according to Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office. Still, that's a notable improvement over the declines of recent years.

Ireland’s 10-year bond yield has also dropped from more than 14% to around 9% today. (For comparison, the yield on Greece’s 10-year bond is more than 270%.) Investors are seeing hope. The shares of Bank of Ireland were up 10.6% yesterday after the bank said it's "making progress" on paying down its massive debt by selling 590 million euro of North American and European loans to Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

Both Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross are long-term investors. This investment can be considered “cigar butt” investing, where you buy distressed companies at distressed prices. But often times these distressed prices can go even more distressed in the short term. When GuruFocus asked Prem Watsa about his time frame for this investment, he said:

Maybe five years, maybe longer, so we think of it as long term. We don't buy it for the next year or two, we don't know what will happen in the next year or two, so we're buying it for five years, and maybe even longer.”

As the European crisis continues to unfold, the road to recovery in Ireland will be bumpy or even distressful for investors. But today you can buy Bank of Ireland shares at only 70% of what Prem Watsa paid or about 25% of book value.

As pointed out by Prem Watsa, this investment will take five years or longer to work out. At the ages of 60s and 70s, Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross apparently have that kind of time frame. Do you?

About the author:

Charlie Tian, Ph.D. - Founder of GuruFocus. You can now order his book Invest Like a Guru on Amazon.

Rating: 3.6/5 (19 votes)


Ramands123 - 5 years ago    Report SPAM

Yes. I would and i have. Its one of the most capitalized bank that i have seen. I think its ratio's are above 10 % or maybe 12 %. You can use Ruters Stress test calculater to see how little capital they would need if thing were to become very bad for Europe. Plus when you have legends like Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross investing a very siginificant portion in common equity, it makes a very strong buy case.Hopefully it will work out well.
Vgm - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
I think this is a major opportunity and bought in already on the European market around 8.5 euro cents, which is below the cost basis of 10 euro cents of Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross. It's not often we get he chance to invest alongside two of the most insightful and cautious investors on the planet, on similar or better terms - and at a fraction of book value.

Wilbur Ross has been on CNBC and elsewhere several times in recent months talking about the positive outlook and prospects for Ireland, and Bank of Ireland. Ireland is in a very different situation to the so-called ClubMed countries in southern Europe.

I wonder if your calculation of the ADR is correct, however. According to the Bank of Ireland IR release, the ratio is now 40:1. It was originally 4:1 and is now 40:1 after the reverse 10:1 split.

Gurufocus premium member - 5 years ago
You are right, vgm. We have corrected the numbers.
Paulwitt - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
Yes, I have a small position in IRE

IRE fits in with my thesis that European governments are not going to let their #1 banks go down. Especially when some Europeans view shorts as "predators". It's not in their interest.

I also felt better when Prem Watsa and Wilbur Ross took positions.

Luishernadez premium member - 5 years ago
Some of the figures are not right. Fairfax bought shares at 0,1 euro per share. The split was 10:1 but the relation for share-ADR is 4:1, so the relation now is 40:1. Therefore the equivalent purchase price for Fairfax is $5,33 for the ADRs. The current price is $4,53 meaning a current 15% discount to his purchase price (not 70% discount).

The book value per share is 0,28 euros. This translates into $14,93 per ADR share (0,28*1,333*40).

Therefore, the current P/B is 30,34% (not 12%).

It is still a bargain and I bought a little at $4,70. If it goes back to $4,00 I will probably buy some more. I don´t know what is their potential long term ROE, but I guess it will be at least 8%. Therefore the current price would give you a PE of 3,8x. If the ROE is 10%, then the we are paying 3x earnings. I also suppose that over time, the BV per share will grow and they will start paying dividends.

BofA is trading at 38% of tangible book value. IRE is a little cheaper regarding book value. The thing is that I expect BofA to earn a higher ROE. If they are able to earn a 10% ROE (total equity I mean, which is $20,80 per share), that means 15,7% return on tangible equity. If you paying 38% of that equity, that means you are getting a yield of 39,4% (PE of 2,54x). That is compelling. I guess they will at least earn a 10%-12% return on tangible book, which means a PE of 3,8x - 3,18x. So the base scenario is pretty cheap, just as the Bank of Ireland.
Gurufocus premium member - 5 years ago
Thank you for your numbers, Luishernadez. We made the mistake of thinking one ADR is 10 shares of ordinary shares. We have corrected the numbers in the article.

Rlawson36 premium member - 5 years ago

I bought the ADRs a bit over a month ago and then read that they were TWICE as expensive as the actual shares, which didn't make sense. But when I did the math, I found out that was true! I sold immediately for a bit of a loss, but I see that since then, the ADRs have come down to parity (or maybe even a bit lower) than the actual shares.

I've been trying to buy the actual shares (IRLBF), but it rarely trades.

Has anyone done the math lately on the ADRs? It looks like they've come down by 50% over the last 5 or 6 weeks.
Forexnutca - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
Simply multiply the ADR by 40 and then by the EUR/USD

Todays price:

NYSE 4.53 US

LSE .09 Euros x 40= 3.6x 1.3334 EUR/USD= 4.80 US

So the LSE share price is now over valued compared to the ADR. Two months prior was the opposite case.

Rlawson36 premium member - 5 years ago


Rlawson36 premium member - 5 years ago

Thanks, Forex.

Now, pardon my ignorance if I ask some very basic Qs here. First, is the price I see for IRLBF (lately .13, but not traded) in Euros or U.S. dollars?

Second, what is "LSE?"
Vgm - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
LSE is London Stock Exchange.

It trades as BKIR on the LSE, and BIR on the Dublin Exchange. Both are in euros. Today's price is around 9.2 euro cents.

On the NYSE it trades as IRE, trading today around $4.9.
Arpan - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
Why does it trade in euros on the LSE and not in pounds?
Batbeer2 premium member - 5 years ago
You'll find Ryanair too is traded in euros on the LSE.

Probably because the euro is the Irish currency, Irish companies on the LSE are quoted in euros.

Ronbeasley - 5 years ago    Report SPAM
Sorry to point it out, but there's another error - Bank of America is also trading at about 30% of book value according to Morningstar, so BKIR is not trading at a significant discount to BAC under that metric.
Rlawson36 premium member - 5 years ago

OK - today IRE is trading down to $4.02 on the U.S. exchange. How does this convert to the book value, noted by Prem, of .28?

Can anyone do the math on that?

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