Archive for June 27th, 2011

On yesterday’s RTE Radio 1 This Week programme, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan appeared to claim credit for this new government, which only came to power on 9th March, in respect of the ongoing burning of subordinated bondholders that is expected to contribute €4bn to the €24bn of additional capital identified during the March 2011 stress tests. The Minister told RTE presenter, Dr Gavin Jennings:

“On the bondholders when the debate started there was no way whatsoever when Richard Bruton was arguing the case as FG finance spokesman, that bondholders should share the burden. No-one inEuropewould agree that even the junior bondholders, the subordinated bondholders would share the burden. And yet, that has been allowed now and as I say in the last three weeks alone, that has been worth almost €4bn to the Irish taxpayer in the negotiations we are doing with AIB and Bank of Ireland.”

The Minister said that “that [the burning of subordinated bondholders] had been allowed now” which implies that it wasn’t allowed before now, and that somehow he had wrung some concession from the Europe in this regard. But examining the history of subordinated bondholders wouldn’t support that implication at all. Since September 2008 when the blanket guarantee was introduced plenty of subordinated bonds have been redeemed with discounts by the covered banks (AIB, Anglo, Bank of Ireland, EBS, Irish Life and Permanent and INBS). For example in 2009 Anglo redeemed “€1,805m of Tier 1, €307m of Upper Tier 2 and €388m of Lower Tier 2 securities [which] were bought back at prices of 27%, 37% and 55% of par respectively”. In other words Anglo bought back €2,571m of subordinated debt for €819m, paying the subordinated bondholders an average of 32c in the euro. In November 2010, Anglo launched a buyback programme that triggered a credit event. And in December 2010, Bank of Ireland exchanged unguaranteed subordinated bonds for guaranteed bonds at 46-57.5c in the euro. And before the Minister came to office in March, Irish Nationwide had already embarked on a 20c in the euro burning. And lastly, in his outstanding legal battle with Aurelius Capital Management which is a company owning AIB subordinated bonds, the Minister appears to be relying on the provisions of the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act which was enacted in December 2010.

So is it right that the Minister would seemingly claim €4bn credit for himself and his efforts? In terms of the continuing bank bailout, it is going dreadfully and it is difficult to point to any successes. The stress tests and restructuring in March 2011 were put in train by FF/the Greens and even they were working at the behest of the IMF and EU/ECB. The new government has failed to get a cut on the bailout interest rate, failed to burn senior bondholders including those at Anglo and INBS (a month ago Anglo repaid €200m of senior unguaranteed bondholder debt 100%) and failed to get a medium-term facility from the ECB so that our banks rely on funding week-to-week from the ECB which might be withdrawn at any time (the present non-standard liquidity is formally due to stop in September 2011 but the betting is it will be extended for another 3-6 months). When this government rings up a success in dealing with the banks, it will be trumpeted on here. In the meantime it is unedifying to see credit claimed where it is not due.

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Niall Mellon, the property developer behind Knockrabo Developments and the Niall J Mellon group was a guest on RTE Radio 1 yesterday on the Sunday edition of the Marian Finucane show. The show is available online here and Niall’s contribution kicks in at around 40 minutes and lasts just over 30 minutes. The interview gave an interesting counterpoint to the interview the previous day with the NAMA chairman, Frank Daly. Niall himself (pictured here in 2008) is reportedly one of the Top 20 developers in NAMA, and there has been no news about whether or not the 44-year old developer has agreed a business plan with NAMA. In addition to property development, the soft-spoken developer is probably best-known for his housing charity work in South Africa. I came away from listening to the interview thinking Niall is either a modern day saint or one of the cutest hoors you might ever come across. Here are the interview highlights:

In terms of his dealings with NAMA, Niall claims that he was upfront with the agency from day one and offered to sell his two family homes, both of which were “unencumbered” and to give the proceeds to NAMA. It’s not clear what “unencumbered” meant, it certainly meant that the properties were not subject to mortgages according to Niall; it is not clear if they were subject to personal guarantees or if they were personal assets which NAMA could confiscate in lieu of debts personally owing. It was also not clear if Niall’s wife, Nicola had any involvement with the sales or the proceeds. One of the properties, an estate in Kilkenny called Coolmore, which has been on the market at €3.75m for over six months, was sold subject to a binding contract last week according to Niall and should complete in the next two weeks. A house in Mount Merrion in Dublin on 5/6 acres was another home that was offered to NAMA. (UPDATE: 30th June, 2011. The Irish Independent reports that Coolmore fetched approximately €3.25m and that the home in Mount Merrion, called Cedarmount, is presently being painted and may be rented by NAMA. There is a third property in Dublin,  formerly owned by the British embassy, Marlay Grange House in Rathfarnham which has been destroyed in an uninsured fire)

Niall said that he was not one of those developers who had sought €200k from NAMA and that he wasn’t receiving any salary from NAMA – it was a matter of “personal pride” said Niall. When asked about how he was affording “his groceries”, his reply was that he had started other businesses in London, Europe and Africa with €1 (one euro). He also praised the fact that NAMA’s chairman, Frank Daly has moved on in some of his thinking and realised that NAMA is just part of the solution; what he meant by this was although it mightn’t “be proper to some people”, there will be some element of profit-sharing with developers. NAMA, said Niall, will need the best incentivised people on the other side of the table, try to leave something on both sides of the table, and engage developers and get them working as hard as they can. Which makes a lot of sense, but sooner or later NAMA will need reveal the types and quantum of incentives on offer. Previous reporting on here suggested that the incentives might be quite lucrative.

Asked why developers have not been speaking to the media about NAMA, Niall responded that developers might be too busy responding to NAMA’s 50,000 questions, a reference to the burden and bureaucracy of complying with NAMA’s business plan requirements.

In terms of solutions to our present economic woes, Niall’s solutions were predictably property related, we might offer tax allowances of €20k a year for people in negative equity (€4bn a year in total for the 200,000 loans reportedly in negative equity and with an exchequer hit of €1.6bn at 40%). He also thinks there should be a home loan lending agency with funding for €10bn of annual lending.

As for the saintly credentials, Niall explained that 10 years ago when he was 35, he was “informed by a friend” that he was on track to becoming a billionaire by the time he was 45 and it was then that Niall decided that money was not his god and he started a house-building charity in South Africa.

One snippet that was quite interesting and might have led to the pricking-up of ears at NAMA was the claim that in 2007 when he was developing the Meridian Quay building in Swansea – the “tallest building” in Wales, pictured here – he instructed his agents not to sell to Irish people because he  felt they would not be able to complete 18 months later, and that Niall felt a down-turn was on the cards. (UPDATE: 30th June, 2011. The Irish Independent reports that “In the last 12 months, he has sold 50 apartments …[bringing to] 241 the sales in the 291-unit development..the remaining units ranging between £150,000 and £500,000” and indeed one apartment has reportedly sold for GBP 1m.)

So there you have Niall; a developer in NAMA who praises Frank Daly. Who foregoes demands for a €200,000-a-year salary but sees the merit in NAMA’s incentives. Who thinks that tax incentives and additional property lending is what the economy needs. Who offered NAMA two “unencumbered” family homes. And a man who has a decade-long history at the helm of a major charity. An interesting man, certainly.

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