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Archive for September 30th, 2011

Earlier this week, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government released a report from the Housing Agency detailing the social housing list – households in need of a permanent home, which the State is obliged to provide. The report itself is here and it sets out in some detail the composition of the very large group of people judged to be in need of a State-provided home.

In total there are 98,318 households in need of a permanent home. I can’t find anywhere in the report how many people this represents – remember a household can be a single person or a couple with 15 children – but from Table 2 on page 4, I calculate the minimum number of people represented by the 98,318 households to be 176,147. It might also be worth saying that there is suspicion in some quarters that these figures collated by the Housing Agency contain some element of double-counting and further, there is concern that the bookkeeping which monitors those coming onto, and off of the housing list isn’t as robust as it needs to be. An audit of the figures by the Department of the Environment might be warranted.

Ireland famously has an overhang of vacant property after the construction boom during the 2000s. Over 300,000 dwellings are in fact vacant but vacancy arises for a large number of reasons including homes being used as holiday homes. It is estimated that the overhang of vacant properties – the number of vacant properties over the long term average – is over 100,000 of which 23-33,000 are on so-called Ghost Estates. So on the face of it, the country has a surplus of housing and a sizeable housing list. It would be simplistic to suggest there is an opportunity to completely eliminate the housing list with existing resources as there can be issues with the location, size and type of housing (the latter is particularly important for those with disabilities); there are also issues with the lack of State finance and arguably there are too many State distortions preventing property reaching its true clearance price.

The Housing Agency’s report provides various analyses of those seeking permanent homes, and makes for interesting reading. In light of the news reported here this week of Westmeath County Council bulldozing and levelling an estate in the village of Ballynagore (also called Ballinagore), let’s take a look at the households in need of a permanent home in Westmeath (Westmeath excludes Athlone which is 32 kilometres from the village of Ballynagore where the houses were demolished, and Athlone has an additional 1,417 households in need of a home on top of the 1,285 households on the list in Westmeath county)

(click to enlarge)

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About a year ago on here there was an entry about the meeting on the night of 29th of September 2008/early morning of 30th September 2008, the meeting which give rise to Ireland – population 4.5m, GDP €160bn – guaranteeing the liabilities, all €440bn of them, in the Irish banking system. Subsequently that system imploded but was maintained in a quasi-stable state at huge cost to the nation. Although it may take years to assess the final bill and it may never be possible to assess the opportunity cost – what the nation could have done with the money instead of supporting a banking system – it seems that the final bill will conservatively be €50bn and may be in the €60-70bn range. Immediately prior to the banking guarantee, the country had a commendable 25% debt as a % of GDP, a primary budget surplus, nearly a decade of healthy economic growth, almost no real unemployment and we were held up as a model of economic competence.

Today the country has unemployment of 14.5%, the scourge of emigration has returned, we have a national debt heading towards 110% of GDP (130%+ of the more representative Irish GNP) of which 30-40% of GDP relates to the cost of dealing with the banking disaster, we have an annual deficit of €18bn and are only hoping to get it below 10% next year. There has been a reluctant collapse in asset values, particularly property and bank shares, most of the domestic banking system has been effectively nationalised. It would go too far to blame one meeting in September 2008 for the change in circumstances, but it seems that the meeting was a least pivotal – from it flowed the banking guarantee, the placing of unrealised banking losses on the shoulders of the nation, and the repayment of banking debt.

As for the meeting which started on 29th September, 2008 at around 8pm, the entry on here last year, compared it to the meeting portrayed in that HBO film, Conspiracy; the film which told the story of the infamous meeting in Nazi Germany in 1941 which was pivotal to the subsequent murder of Jews and others in concentration camps. When the Financial Times linked to the entry, there was localised outrage that the extermination of the Jews could be likened to the economic disaster in Ireland. For the first time in my life, I came across the term “Godwin’s Law” which refers to the phenomenon of ultimately comparing all misfortune to the World War 2 holocaust. Though to be honest I thought it should be renamed the “Lord Voldemort Law” from Harry Potter as the aim of the Law seemed to be to suppress any reference to that “which shall not be mentioned”. But this is a blog for adults, not children.

As for the infamous meeting which started on 29th September, 2008 – and whose 3-year anniversary occurs today – as a nation there is still a sense of shock and incredulity that what seems like a snap decision was taken which exposed the nation to debts of nearly three times GDP. This entry pieces together most of what is now in the public domain on the context, course and content of the meeting. Alas, from this armchair perspective there is no smoking gun, just an everyday tale of professional politicians with a mediocre grasp of events, making mistakes, not asking the right questions and coming to the wrong conclusion (and by guaranteeing historical bond debt, it was the wrong conclusion). Outside the political circles, some may have suppressed or misrepresented information, but even there, there is evidence of denial and poor assessment of risk; but all of that and the wider context of the 29th/30th September 2008 meeting will be for another day…

27th Saturday, Minister Lenihan is at a Fianna Fail fundraising event inGowranPark in Kilkenny when he takes a call from President of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet who reportedly tells Minister Lenihan to expect an urgent call from CBI Governor, John Hurley later that day. Minister Lenihan takes initiative and rings John Hurley
28th Sunday morning, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan meets with Central Bank ofIreland Governor, John Hurley at the Central Bank onDame Street,Dublin who advises Minister Lenihan that several banks inEurope are facing crisis including Fortis and DEPFA.Sunday Business Post publishes article by economist David McWilliams in which he advocates a guarantee, claiming banks face a liquidity problem, guarantee depositors/creditors but not shareholders.

Sunday, Green Party Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government, John Gormley claims to have met with Brian Lenihan to discuss the guarantee/nationalization. Minister Gormley claimed that the guarantee was discussed “on-and-off” for about a week. Minister Gormley claims that the option that he, Min Gormley, had gone for was the nationalization of Anglo and a Bill was drafted to effect that nationalization. Minister Gormley claimed on the Marian Finucane programme on RTE radio on 4th December, 2010 that there was a Cabinet meeting on the Sunday and the “arrangements” were made after going “through it in detail”

British Chancellor to the Exchequer, Alastair Darling says he spoke with Minister Lenihan who “assured him the Government would not give a blanket guarantee to the banks”

29th MondayEarly Monday” – meeting between Department of Finance, Financial Regulator, Central Bank and CEOs of AIB, Eugene Sheehy, BoI, Brian Goggin, EBS, Fergus Murphy and others. There were claims that banks were near “tipping points” (understood to be a reference to liquidity) and that there was speculation that one unnamed bank was at severe risk of going under. Nationalisation was discussed but dimissed.

Morning: Announcement of nationalization of Bradford and Bingley Building Society’s mortgages and loans and plans to sell off its deposit book toSantander

Announcement of nationalization of Fortis bank by Belgian and Luxembourgian governments and the German state/banking sector funding ofGermany’s Hypo Real Estate.

1pm, Anglo CEO and Chairman meet with Bank of Ireland CEO, Brian Goggin in 6th floor office of BoI HQ and ask BoI to take over Anglo. The response was “no”

After 1pm, Anglo CEO and Chairman contact AIB CEO Eugene Sheehy and ask same question and get same response

Mid-afternoon, Minister Lenihan leavesUpper Merrion Street to attend daughter’s birthday party in Castleknock,Dublin

5pm ISEQ closes down 13%, Bank of Ireland shares down 15%, AIB down 16%, ILP down 34% and Anglo down 45%. AIB and BoI CEOs call Brian Cowen’s office to state that the banks couldn’t sustain themselves for another day and needed a plan overnight.

6.43pm, Second Secretary at the DoF, Kevin Cardiff receives report from Merrill Lynch

8pm – An Taoiseach meets with Minister Lenihan and shortly after they are joined by Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, Governor of the Central Bank, John Hurley, Director General of the Central Bank,Tony Grimes, the Financial Regulator Patrick Neary, and core finance people from Brian Lenihan’s team, An Taoiseach’s top advisor, Joe Lennon, economics advisor, Peter Clinch, and Government press spokesman Eoin O Neachtain. There are suggestions of contact with or input from economist David McWilliams, businessmen JP McManus and Dermot Desmond and  former Minister for Finance and EU Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy.

9pm Dow Jones closes down 7% (738 points – the biggest one day drop) following the rejection of the €700bn Troubled Asset Relief Program in the US House of Representatives

after 9pm” (9.30pm) AIB/BoI chairmen and CEOs (four individuals) meet with Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan in Government Buildings onUpper Merrion Street. The delegation did not make “comment, reference or disclosure of the Anglo Irish approach earlier that day”. The delegation “urged Lenihan to nationalise Anglo and Michael Fingelton’s Irish Nationwide immediately” Brian Cowen is reported to have said “We’re not fucking nationalising Anglo” A plan was agreed that AIB and BoI would put up €10bn to keep it going until the following weekend, when it would more than likely be taken into state control and they would get their money back. A blanket guarantee of all deposits and debt totalling €440bn would be introduced.

 

30th TuesdayAt 12 midnight, Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea said (This Week in Politics, 15th May, 2011)

“Well my role was simply to get a phone call at around  midnight on the Monday night [from a senior civil servant], there was a cabinet meeting the following morning, and I was told something in a very short space of time roughly what the magnitude of this crisis was and this was the decision. I was informed as opposed to being consulted”

after 1am” (2.45am) the Cabinet was presented with a fait accompli, being told the matter could not wait until the morning and that its consent was required immediately. The virtual Cabinet meeting (other than the Taoiseach and Minister Lenihan, the others Martin, Hanafin, Gormley, Ryan, Smith and others were involved via telephone)

2am, according to British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling, it was 2am that the decision to guarantee the banks was taken.

2.30am Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary rings EBS Chairman, Mark Moran who immediately rings EBS CEO, Fergus Murphy to inform him of new arrangements

3am Financial Regulator, Patrick Neary phones chairman of Irish Nationwide Building Society, Professor Michael Walsh to inform him of the new arrangements

6am, Alastair Darling first heard about the guarantee on BBC radio’s Today programme with John Humphrys.

6am Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan telephones Jean Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup, FG leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore to inform them of events

Before Markets open – Department of Finance issues statement that it had decided to  “safeguard all deposits (retail, commercial, institutional and interbank), covered bonds, senior debt and dated subordinated debt (lower tier II)” at the six banks and “the guarantee will cover all existing aforementioned facilities with these institutions and any new such facilities issued from midnight on 29 September 2008, and will expire at midnight on 28 September 2010.”

7.30am INBS Chairman, Professor Michael Walsh telephones CEO, Michael Fingleton to inform him of new arrangements

Night/Early Morning – Minister Lenihan has said “I did not make any external telephone calls

on the night of 29 September and early morning of 30 September 2008 to seek advice in relation to the bank guarantee or other options for resolving the banking crisis. However, I did make telephone calls to the following people to advise them of the bank guarantee:

(a) Irish Ambassador to France, (b) Ms. Christine Lagarde, Minister for Finance, France – Brian Lenihan called her on her mobile phone and claimed that he had no choice and the Ms Lagarde’s reaction was “Oh my God” because of perceived competition issues with other European countries [RTE This Week 12th June, 2011]  (c) Irish Ambassador to UK (d) Mr. Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, UK[“a frank exchange”] (e) Monsieur Jean-Claude Trichet, President, European Central Bank”

Pointedly he did not contact the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel or Finance Minister, Peer Steinbruck

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Yesterday Northern Irish auctioneers Osborne King held a pretty successful auction of some 27 properties in Belfast, an auction which shared many of the characteristics of the three recent Allsop Space auctions on this side of the border – the properties were mostly foreclosed or sold on the instruction of the mortgage lender, the concept of a maximum reserve was adopted to represent a price above which the property would definitely be sold. In summary, of the 27 properties advertised in the Osborne King catalogue, 4 were pre-sold above the maximum reserve before the auction, and of the remaining 23 properties, all but 2 were sold, giving a 91.3% success rate. The auction raised GBP 2.09m (€2.4m) and on average prices achieved were 15% over maximum reserves. Here are the results:

A report from an attendee at the auction said that buyers were a mixture of ordinary folks and professional investors. Developer and Kentucky Fried Chicken entrepreneur Michael Herbert was reportedly there with his wife Lesley and was reported to have made a few bids but didn’t buy anything.

Lot1 is said to have been bought by what was described as the classic developer – stripey pink shirt, tan, big watch. There were plenty of bankers, solicitors and other property professionals along to gawk. The auction was reportedly well-run by Osborne King and they even laid on some nice pastries.

In terms of falls from peak, one of the biggest drops was seen with Lot10 – development land at 112 Comber Road, Ballygowan – which was seemingly originally bought by a developer from Newtownards for £1.7m in 2007. Yesterday it sold to “two lads” for £94k, a 94% haircut. Seems like Northern Ireland has experienced the same collapse in development land values as the Republic, with the latest from Savills being that development land has dropped by 75-90%+ on this side of the border. I’m not even going to attempt an analysis of sold prices here versus prices at the peak in Northern Ireland. As reported on here recently, residential property is down 45% from peak in nominal terms in Northern Ireland, compared with 43% in the Republic as measured by the CSO. In real terms, that is to say accounting for inflation which has been 14% in the UK since 2007 and practically zero in the Republic, then the fall in the Republic is 43% and 52% in Northern Ireland. Sobering.

The two lots that didn’t sell at the auction yesterday were both pubs. According to a recent report by the BBC, “the licensed trade in NI has been badly hit in the recession with a significant number of pubs closing”. Though having said that, some pub chains are generating profits. A NAMA-related pub was destroyed by fire in Coleraine, CountyAntrim two weeks ago.

So overall the auction appears to have been a solid success for Osborne King, and no doubt yesterday’s auction will have improved their prospects for attracting future business, particularly from banks and receivers. The recent Allsop Space auction had a 85% success rate, though that was down from the first two auctions which had 95%+ success rates. Also each of the Allsop Space auctions has seen an average of about 75 lots come under the hammer. And Osborne King might have some way to go to match Allsop Space’s live coverage of auctions with live internet bidding and results.

Lastly, and separately, Wilson Auctions held a major auction last week in Mallusk, just outside Belfast in which 60+ properties came under the hammer. The auction catalogue is here, the results are not yet posted online by Wilsons but this forum appears to have a record of the day’s prices, though you should probably treat these with caution.

UPDATE: 30th September, 2011. The BBC reports on yesterday’s auction.

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