Yesterday Minister for Finance Michael Noonan issued a statement in which he stated that the sale of the 17% stake in NAMA held by Irish Life Investment Managers had “just been agreed” and the sale was to “private investors”. The Minister isn’t saying who the new “private investors” are, and yesterday all sorts of rumours spread naming everyone from Bord Gais to Goldman Sachs to Denis O’Brien. NAMA itself decline to issue a statement which is becoming par for the course for the Agency – remember it didn’t issue a statement when it handed over €3.1bn of its cash as a temporary dig-out on the Anglo promissory note either, yet in the past it has issued press releases for what counts as little more than the acquisition of a new pencil.
So, why all the mystery? After all, we will find out very shortly anyway because NAMA is a company incorporated under Irish company law and the Agency will need notify the Companies Registration Office (CRO) of any change to the identity of its shareholders. You can see the CRO-registered shareholders, before the current transaction, of National Asset Management Agency Investment Limited from thestory.ie here.
And of course the event which prompted the sale of Irish Life Investment Managers’ shareholding – the Government taking control of Irish Life and Permanent which owns 17% of NAMA which, when added to the Government’s existing 49% stake, would mean the Government had majority control of NAMA to the tune of 66% which would mean Eurostat classified NAMA’s €28bn-odd debt as Irish General Government Debt – has been known about for many months; yesterday Eurostat in a bluntly-worded caveat about Ireland’s debt figures stated “owing to the nationalisation of one of its previously private beneficial owners, whose interest is currently under a process of sale, NAMA-IL has been in majority public ownership since July 2011.”.
So if the Department of Finance has known about the issue for nine months – because Eurostat presumably told it, though you’d expect the mandarins to have the nous to have understood the issue before being externally alerted to it – and we will shortly find out from the CRO the identity of the new investors – note the plural, Minister Noonan didn’t refer to “a new investor” but to “new investors” – then why is Minister Noonan being so demure? Is it because the “private investors” have only agreed in principle to buy the investment from Irish Life Investment Managers and that perhaps the mystery buyers needs wider approval, perhaps from stockholders, before it can proceed? That didn’t stop Minister Noonan naming Bank of Ireland as the White Knight riding to the rescue of the Anglo promissory note jig in March 2012, but if it does turn out a buyer whose agreement to buy the NAMA stake is again subject to shareholder approval, it will be hard not to conclude that the Department of Finance is a most incompetent, fumbling and un-anticipating group of administrators.
So for now, we wait with bated breath.