DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland is unlikely to issue a new 10-year bond planned for the first half of the year over the next two weeks, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said on Friday after returning from three days of meetings with investors in London.
Ireland's debt agency, which has begun to gradually return to capital markets and pave the way toward exiting an EU/IMF bailout, plans to launch the new benchmark issue ahead of the resumption of regular bond auctions later this year.
Irish bond yields have tumbled over the past 18 months and are trading below the equivalent levels of Spanish and Italian debt, two fellow euro zone strugglers which have avoided sovereign bailouts, but Noonan did not see any big rush on the new issue.
"I don't think they're looking at it over the next two weeks and I don't think they have their mind up on the timeline yet but they're disposed to move sometime in the first half of the year when conditions are right," he told reporters.
Ireland, which saw yields on short-term debt remain close to post-bailout lows in its latest T-bill auction on Thursday, raised a quarter of its long-term target for the year in January when it sold 2.5 billion euros (2.1 billion pounds) of five-year debt.
Noonan said the sale this week of state-rescued insurer Irish Life for 1.3 billion euros further reduced the country's funding needs and that the debt agency now just has to raise a further 6.5 billion euros this year to fully fund the country for 2014, its first year outside EU and IMF assistance.
He added that the investors he met in London looked very positively on Ireland's economic recovery and the key bank debt deal struck earlier this month with the European Central Bank (ECB) to ease the country's debt burden.
"They're extremely positive on the story, they thought the deal on the promissory note was very good, it has changed their perception again," Noonan said, referring to the bank debt deal.
"The sale of Irish Life has changed the requirements of the NTMA (National Treasury Management Agency) as well. That comes off the debt. If the NTMA raises about 6.5 billion before the end of 2013, we'll be fully funded for all of 2014."
After Ireland's financial regulator said earlier on Friday that the country's banks have made big improvements in preparing to deal with the problem of mortgage arrears, Noonan added that he expected lenders to now act "pretty quickly".
Editing by Michael Roddy