The headline in the mass media yesterday should have read “Anglo to be wound down”. Instead it outlined a convoluted split of Anglo though the upshot appears to be that the asset recovery bank (ARB) is to be sold or wound down over an unspecified period of time and the funding bank (FB) will have a lifespan totally dependent on the lifespan of the ARB – in other words the new plan is a wind down. Was the State trying to protect the sensibilities of Anglo chairman Alan Dukes who had set his store in a good bank/bad bank split or trying to display an impression of sophisticated analysis and decision-making to a market that has been hammering the yields on Irish debt in the last three weeks? Of course there may be more detail forthcoming, there is apparently a departmental Q&A about the new proposal but it is still not available from the Department of Finance website (nor indeed from Anglo or the European Commission). A reliable user on the irisheconomy.ie blog posted what he said was an official Q&A. So the following cannot formally be attributed to the DoF at present but it is likely to be in due course
“Q.10 Why not put all the bad loans in NAMA?
As matters stand Regulations currently in force restricts the transfer of eligible bank assets to loans secured on development land and property under development with a minimum threshold of €5 million in the case of Anglo. While the Regulations could be changed it appears more appropriate to retain the non NAMA assets in the Recovery Bank. To transfer these assets to NAMA would require a review of the scope of NAMA, the structures and the approach to take account of a wide range of diverse assets. . It would also require EU approval to put the entire loan book into NAMA which could delay matters further. NAMA is also a very sizable institution and increasing its size in the context of the economy would not be appropriate. At this point it appears the most appropriate solution to retain the residual loan book in a Recovery bank.”
This response is plainly inaccurate in some ways and is misguided in others:
1. Although there is an operational minimum threshold of €5m in respect of loans that NAMA will take over from AIB, Anglo and BoI (there is no minimum whatsoever for INBS and EBS), this is not a legislative matter, that is, it is not enacted in either the NAMA Act, either of the two NAMA Regulations or the one NAMA Order. It is simply an internal matter for NAMA and is only referred to once officially in the draft Business Plan on page 8.
2. NAMA’s concern with “development land and property” has been examined on here many times in recent weeks. In short the loans taken over in tranches 1 and 2 had less than a 30% land and development element – the rest were completed hotels (and chains), “investment property” and residential housing where there was no development element. These would be classed as loans “associated” with development loans. So NAMA is already getting into the wine collection, helicopter, hotel management, office leasing, retail, bar and restaurant businesses (to name a few assets associated with the top 10 NAMA developers). NAMA already has a “wide range of diverse assets” under its control.
3. NAMA has already reduced in size. BoI is not transferring €4bn of loans originally envisaged in the draft Business Plan, AIB is selling its UK operation with €3.2bn of NAMA loans, Anglo is apparently selling €0.7bn of loans and Paddy McKillen is fighting to keep €1bn-odd of loans out of NAMA. So NAMA’s size is now €9bn less than it was apparently. Why not add €38bn of non-NAMA loans from Anglo. It is hardly a great expansion in NAMA’s size.
4. If the EU needs approve a change in NAMA’s scope then why not include that in the proposal that went to the Commissioner yesterday? Or send an addendum today?
5. The NAMA principle was to relieve banks of a class of asset considered particularly toxic. However at this advanced stage it is clear that the five NAMA financial institutions will have significant and impaired residual non-NAMA loans once NAMA has completed its transfers. Perhaps a general enlargement in NAMA’s scope is needed now though of course that could run in parallel in NAMA seeking a specific change in respect of its role in Anglo.
6. Rather than have another board of management, new directors, a new professional fees gravy train (particularly with initial proposals and setting up) why not seek to have the ARB incorporated into NAMA from the outset.
Yesterday’s announcement had all the hallmarks of a knee-jerk bouncing, Minister Lenihan’s plainly unsuccessful meeting with Commissioner Almunia on Monday, an assertion that €38bn of Anglo’s non-NAMA loans could be valued in eight weeks by the Central Bank when it has taken the NAMA superstructure nine months to value €27bn of loans is plainly fantastical. And of course there is still the question of INBS-EBS-AIB preventing clarity despite the assertion that this proposal will provide “absolute certainty”.
NAMA is operating – we will see in the not-too-distant future if it is operating successfully. Why not use that established structure to remove the headache of founding a new asset recovery “bank”.
UPDATE: 9th September, 2010. Further evidence of the ad-hoc nature of what was announced yesterday comes from EU Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, whose brief official statement is available here. In it he says “I welcome the clarification by the Irish Finance Minister on what would now be the Irish preferred option regarding Anglo-Irish. I view this new option positively as it would deal better with the distortions of competition. However, a number of important aspects still need to be clarified, and a new notification received, before the Commission is in a position to finalise its assessment and to take a decision” In other words the restructuring plan submitted in May 2010 is rejected, an option tangentially referred to in that plan is now the new preferred option following Brian Lenihan’s meeting with Commissioner Almunia on Monday/Tuesday this week and the Irish government has now to produce a restructuring plan (Version 3.0) to submit to the EC for consideration (third time a charm!).
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