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Billionaire Ross Looks at Spanish Banks

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Billionaire Wilbur Ross is considering adding assets from troubled large Spanish banks to his firm’s other bank holdings, and has said that he is in talks “every week” with bank representatives.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Ross, whose WL Ross & Co. already has holdings in U.S. and European banks, didn’t say specifically which banks interest him, but indicated that he’s devoted a lot of time and attention to the matter. He was quoted saying, “Maybe next year will be the year for Spain. We’ve been doing a lot of work in Spain. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into Spain but haven’t put any money in yet.”

Ross indicated that the time may not be quite right just yet for his firm to acquire some of the country’s bad bank assets. “Spain in many ways is a very, very interesting country,” he said in the report. “But we’re thinking they’re just now beginning to recognize the magnitude of the problems. Until now they’ve been in total denial.”

Ross added, “Spain has yet to go through the catharsis of real estate. I don’t know if it’ll be another 6 months or another 12 months or whatever, but at some point we might very well do something in Spain.”

Ross has a seat on the board of Bank of Ireland, and his firm holds about 10% of the troubled Irish bank. He was one of five investors who took on approximately 35% of the bank’s assets.

He and Richard Branson’s Virgin Money put about 350 million pounds ($560 million) into the acquisition of Northern Rock’s retail operations, and Ross also owns portions of U.S. banks with troubled balance sheets. Among them are Cascade Bancorp in Oregon; Sun Bancorp in New Jersey; and union-owned Amalgamated Bank in New York. All three needed bailouts after too many bad real estate loans hit their balance sheets.