“Our worst fears have been surpassed,” Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said in the parliament in Dublin yesterday. “Irish banking made appalling lending decisions that will cost the taxpayer dearly for years to come.”
The Irish government, which has already nationalised one bank, Anglo Irish, is now widely expected to end up as the majority owner of every big bank in the country, except Bank of Ireland. Can you imagine the Malaysian government having to bailout half of the banks in Malaysia and ending up owning majority stakes in them, that's pretty bad.
Even Bank of Ireland, which must raise €2.66bn as part of the regulator’s capital demands, is expected to end up with the government as a near-40 per cent shareholder, compared with 16 per cent today.The agency aims to cleanse banks of toxic loans, the legacy of plunging real-estate prices and the country’s deepest ever recession. In all, it will buy loans with a book value of 80 billion euros ($107 billion), about half the size of the economy.
The information that has emerged from the banks in the course of the NAMA process is truly shocking. The black hole, equivalent to about 20 per cent of gross domestic product, is far bigger than expected. It emerged after the country’s new bad bank, the National Asset Management Agency, announced the acquisition of €16bn ($21.5bn) of mostly real estate loans, setting it on the road to become Ireland’s biggest property owner. But NAMA paid only €8.5bn for the loans, applying a bigger discount than expected – a reflection of their poor quality.
The regulator’s capital shortfall calculation is based on a requirement that banks increase their capital ratios – to 7 per cent for tier one equity, and 8 per cent for core tier one by the end of the year – as Ireland seeks to insulate its banks from the impact of ongoing loan losses.
Dublin-based Allied Irish needs to raise 7.4 billion euros to meet the capital targets, while cross-town rival Bank of Ireland will need 2.66 billion euros. Anglo Irish Bank Corp., nationalized last year, may need as much 18.3 billion euros. Customer-owned lenders Irish Nationwide and EBS will need 2.6 billion euros and 875 million euros, respectively.
“The regulator is taking the bank system by the scruff of the neck,” said James Forbes, senior equity strategist at Irish Life Investment Managers in Dublin. “Allied Irish has a lot of work to do to avoid majority state ownership, Bank of Ireland less so.
Ireland may not be able to afford to pump more money into the banks. The budget deficit widened to 11.7 percent of gross domestic product last year, almost four times the European Union limit, and the government spent the past year trying to convince investors the state is in control of its finances.
“The bank losses, awful as they are, represent a one-off hit. It’s water under the bridge,” said Ciaran O’Hagan, a Paris-based fixed-income strategist at Societe Generale SA. “What’s of more concern for investors in government bonds is the budget deficit. Slashing the chronic overspending and raising taxation by the Irish state is vital.”
The bank plan is the latest building block in the stabilisation of the Ireland's economy, which has suffered the most severe contraction of any industrialised country: gross domestic product shrank by a cumulative 12 per cent in the three years to 2009. The announcement came as the government announced landmark deal with trade unions, under which future pay rises for the 350,000 public sector workers will be contingent on equivalent savings from the improved delivery of public services.
After a fiscal tightening equivalent to 6 per cent of GDP since 2008, the government is still targeting €2bn of cuts in both 2011 and 2012 and a further cut of €2.5bn in the following two years to bring the deficit back to below the European Union target of 3 per cent of GDP by 2014.