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Investor Ross eyes Europe bank assets

Billionaire U.S. investor Wilbur Ross poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of a conference at a hotel in Singa
Billionaire U.S. investor Wilbur Ross poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of a conference at a hotel in Singa

By Steve Slater

LONDON (Reuters) - American billionaire Wilbur Ross is buying into a vehicle set up to buy UK banking assets and has signaled he will use the shell to pursue acquisitions in continental Europe.

Ross will pay about 8 million pounds ($13 million) for up to 37.8 percent of NBNK , which is effectively a shell company and was in the process of being wound up after failing to buy a trio of UK bank assets.

NBNK was set up two years ago and said in June it would wind up after failing to buy a network of 632 branches sold by Lloyds Banking Group . But in September it said it had received a number of enquiries about continuing the company.

Ross, 75, launched his private equity firm WL Ross & Co in 2000 and already owns almost half of Virgin Money, the rump of the former Northern Rock, which had to be bailed out by the government during the credit crunch and has subsequently been broken up.

NBNK said in a statement on Thursday that Ross plans, in consultation with shareholders, "to review its (NBNK's) investment policy including investment in continental Europe."

Ross himself could not immediately be reached for comment.

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 CEO 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 Northern Rock and UK branches from National Australia Bank .

Ross has pumped several hundred million pounds into Virgin Money, aiming to create a challenge to Britain's big banks. His Virgin Money and proposed NBNK investments were separate arm's length investments, a spokesman for Virgin said.

(Editing by David Holmes)

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