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Archive for September 27th, 2010

Although McDonalds suffers criticism (unwarranted or not) for its product and entry level jobs, it is a company widely admired in the business world. And when McDonalds managing director in Ireland offers his views, they deserve attention. Yesterday the Sunday Business Post carried not one but two stories on McDonalds plans to expand their number of restaurants from 77 today. Their managing director, John Atherton, used one interview with the paper to explain that he and his franchisees are ready to move on four restaurants which would employ 250 people, not to mention various people needed to get buildings to an opening condition. His problems are to do with planning and developer delays. And on the developer side he is ultimately blaming NAMA. This entry examines if NAMA is resourced to deal with the monumental task of managing assets worth nearly €40bn.

Just to finish the McDonalds story, the Irish MD is concerned that developers are distracted with the NAMA process and may not have funds to complete developments in which McDonalds wants to operate. Of course no-one should be too concerned if there are delays to a development which might be 95% vacant when completed even if McDonalds lose out on selling a few burgers and shakes. On the other hand, if the delays are to feasible developments because of administrative or procedural delays at NAMA or because NAMA doesn’t have the quantity or quality of staff to deal with these matters then that is a more general concern.

It was on 23rd March, 2010 when Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny raised NAMA’s manpower resourcing in the Dail. How could NAMA operate with 65/70 people when Goldman Sachs, a company with a similar scale asset management operation needed 3,000 people. Unfortunately his question was part of a debate and was rhetorical and didn’t get an answer.

So what resourcing has NAMA? NAMA will have 100 employees at the end of December 2010. In  addition according to Graham Emmet last week some 400 people are working at the banks on NAMA loans – that may be to do with due diligence at the moment but is likely to have some continuing element once the loans have transferred to NAMA but are administered by the banks. NAMA also gets support services from the NTMA (accounting, HR, IT and facilities). What I think is confusing at the moment is that NAMA has engaged on contract an army of third party service providers. However other than Capita, the firms employed are in the main only concerned with the acquisition of NAMA loans. And it is probably worth remembering that at this stage NAMA’s assets are loans and very little foreclosure activity has taken place. But there is a reason Goldman Sachs employ 3,000 people and to an extent in the early years NAMA’s assets are even more exotic than Goldman Sachs’s.

In short it is very difficult to see how NAMA with just 100 core employees can manage a €40bn portfolio of loans and in the near future a substantial amount of assets. So perhaps we can ignore McDonalds’s lone voice, authoritative as it is, but the McDonalds MD refers to other businesses waiting for NAMA to make up its mind and get on with its business of managing loans and assets. NAMA may have employed the best but there are only 24 hours in a day. Of course NAMA is concentrating on valuing and transferring the loans but it should be able to juggle the acquisition role with the management/disposal role and it seems that it is encountering delays.

So will NAMA employ more people or will complaints from various parts of the economy of delays at NAMA preventing employment and growth become a common occurrence?

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News yesterday (reported in the Irish Independent today) that Fine Gael deputy Lucinda Creighton is being sued by reportedly NAMA-bound developer Michael O’Flynn for defamation in Ireland’s High Court. The defamation seems to relate to comments made by Lucinda during the summer after Michael O’Flynn attended a Fine Gael golfing event and made a contribution to the party. Michael wasn’t happy with the comments and indeed newspapers that reported the matter later carried corrections, the following from the Irish Times for example:

“A report in the edition of July 24th, quoting Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton concerning party and personal fundraisers, referred to Michael O’Flynn of the O’Flynn Group in differentiating between developers who were or were not in Nama. The Irish Times is satisfied that the article may have wrongly implied that Mr O’Flynn was other than upstanding in the conduct of his business, and regrets and apologises for such implication.”

Paddy McKillen’s judicial review starts at the High Court next Tuesday and one apparent strand of Paddy’s case is that inclusion in NAMA is bad for your reputation. Both legal cases illustrate to an extent the fact that some developers see a need to defend their personal reputations and business acumen in the face of wild accusations leveled at them following the general collapse of Ireland’s property industry and the public vitriol aimed at developers for their perceived part in the financial crisis and consequent economic downturn.

Reputations, including developer reputations, is a matter of interest on here, following the events of yesterday evening when a spreadsheet maintained and updated on NAMAwinelake was circulated on the internet. As I said on a forum last night in an attempt to clarify the content of the spreadsheet, I can see how in the trenches in 1916 the message “send reinforcements we’re going to advance” got twisted en route back to headquarters where the message became “send three and four pence we’re going to a dance”. Just before 6pm yesterday rumours had sprung up that the spreadsheet was based on leaked data and was a comprehensive list of NAMA borrowers and their loans. Whilst I did my best to contact forums and tweeters to clarify what the spreadsheet was and wasn’t, I also had to put up a clarifying post here and sadly I didn’t get to finish the second in a series of interviews dealing with the financial crisis which will be published next weekend instead (one of the few posts that requires creativity on my part). Of course I can’t take any responsibility for people taking information or data on the NAMAwinelake blog and circulating it and claiming it is other than what it is, but it was nonetheless interesting to see the comments being generated.

Developers as a class of businesspeople are not popular it seems. And apparently being associated with a developer or property owner is enough in some instances to blacken your name and perception of motivations. That of course is a subset of opinion but interesting nonetheless. The spreadsheet contains a list of developers and property owners in which readers of the NAMAwinelake blog have expressed an interest. Some have borrowings, others don’t. Some are NAMA-bound, others aren’t. Their associations can include political contacts, business suppliers and indeed rivals – you need consult the comment to see the association. And associations with property can be past or present. Someone suggested the association was “guilt by association” but that displays a prejudicial view of developers/property owners and NAMA. As NAMA will tell the High Court next week in the Paddy McKillen case, no-where in the NAMA legislation does the term impaired occur – NAMA is taking over all loans that fit the (very broad) eligibility criteria regardless of their condition. And as anyone will tell you, developers are at heart entrepreneurs and businesspeople and will exhibit the same range of qualities as other businesspeople, both good and bad.

And lastly to the army of Fulham FC fans whose interest was piqued by the reference to Mohammed Al-Fayed on the list, in fact he is one of the property owners that the Irish Independent suggested was NAMA-bound in this article – “Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed could be the last person you’d expect to see in the Nama pot. But with Irish Nationwide bankrolling Al Fayed’s Premiership football club Fulham, his companies could easily be in the mix.”

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