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News : Irish Economy Last Updated: Jun 27, 2013 - 8:48 AM


Last rites read for Anglo Irish Bank - - the damned builders' bank
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Feb 7, 2013 - 5:47 AM

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The last rites were effectively read early on Thursday morning for Anglo Irish Bank - - the damned builders' bank - - when the Oireachtas voted for its liquidation. However, the dénouement of the defunct bank that had been rebranded as the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) in recent years, will extend for several decades when the resultant public debt of over €30bn will be repaid. The bank will remain a potent symbol of monumental misgovernance, catastrophic regulatory failures, a failed political system where the buck stopped nowhere, an electorate with a significant number tolerant of the corrupt machine politics model of Tammany Hall that had been imported from Irish America, a self-interested elite, the surrender to powerful vested interest groups, a passive academic community, a media including RTÉ, the State broadcaster, intoxicated by the windfalls from the bubble advertising boom and the missed best opportunity since the foundation of the State in 1922, that was available in the 1990s to build a sustainable economy for the long term.

However, the windfalls from the property bubble went into more property and the Irish became the second biggest national group for commercial property investment across Europe.

Michael Noonan, finance minister, told the Dáil that the leaking of a plan to liquidate IBRC as part of a promissory note debt deal with the European Central Bank, forced the Government to legislate for its winding up.

In his speech [pdf] Noonan said that as soon as the information relating to the proposal to liquidate IBRC was made public, there was an immediate risk to the bank. "Given this position, I as minister for finance, took immediate  action to secure the stability of the bank and the value of its  assets, valued at €12bn, on behalf of the State. To this end, I vested the powers of the board temporarily in an employee of KPMG (a Big 4 accounting firm) and a KPMG team is now in control of the bank on my behalf."

The Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Bill 2013 [pdf] provides that the net debt owed by IBRC to the Central Bank and its associated floating charge security will be transferred to NAMA, the State's toxic property loans agency, using NAMA bonds, to ensure that there is no capital loss for the Central Bank.

Noonan said the liquidator had already taken over and secured IBRC premises in Ireland, London and New York.

All eligible deposits up to €100,000 for an individual and €200,000 for two individuals holding a joint account in IBRC are covered by the Deposit Guarantee Scheme in operation in the State and eligible deposits beyond this limit are guaranteed under the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee Scheme. Most of IBRC's deposit accounts were moved to AIB and Permanent TSB last year and they are unaffected by the liquidation.

Noonan said that it was critically important that deposit account holders, mortgage account holders, and those indebted to IBRC understand that their situation following the liquidation should generally remained unchanged.

The Bill was passed in the Dáil by 113 votes to 35 and referred to the Seánad. President Michael D. Higgins cut short a visit to Rome and returned home to Dublin on Wednesday night to be available to sign the legislation into law.

Bloomberg reported Thursday morning that European Central Bank policy makers sought more time to weigh a proposal presented by Ireland today to restructure the cost of bailing out Anglo.

A decision is unlikely within the next 24 hours as some members of the ECB’s governing council want to discuss the blueprint with their own central banks first, according to a person familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified, as the matter is private.

Reuters on Wednesday reported that IBRC's liquidation was necessary so that the Irish government no longer had to make €3.1bn of annual payments on the promissory notes stretching out until 2023. The next payment was due next month.

Last month, in a proposal for restructuring €28bn worth of promissory notes, Patrick Honohan, Irish Central Bank governor, proposed to the ECB governing council that the Irish unit would hold a long-term bond for a minimum of 15 years. The council however viewed the proposal as "monetary financing", which is prohibited by EU treaty.

Shane Ross TD, a cheerleader of the two leading bankers of the crisis, said in Dáil Thursday morning, that the situation was a "humiliation" for the Government and the country and it was "close to a fiasco".

The Sunday Business Post reported in 2011 (now behind a paywall) that ["Ross wrote articles in the Sunday Independent on April 27, 2003, March 28, 2004 and December 19, 2004 that singled out former Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank chiefs Michael Fingleton and Seán FitzPatrick for praise.

In his piece ‘Fingers sidelines a sorry Soden’, Ross outlined Fingleton’s ‘‘cracking set of figures. Michael Soden’s Bank of Ireland bored us all to tears with another trading statement’’.

The article goes on to compare the results. ‘‘The building society is on the verge of sale. The figures were sparkling. Members with adequate savings or mortgages are in for a €7,000-plus bonanza.

‘‘Fingleton’s return on total average assets at 2.03% was far superior to Soden’s at 1.22%,” Ross wrote.

‘‘He even leaves superstar Seán FitzPatrick’s Anglo Irish standing, with only 1.54%. All Fingleton’s figures are spectacular.”

Ross praised Fingleton after a meeting of a rebel group of shareholders in 2003. ‘‘Fingleton’s stewardship can be criticised.

Sure, he needs more heavyweights on the board.

Sure, he has been overzealous in his pursuit of defaulters. Sure, he earns an awful lot of money (€835,000).

Sure, he has been less than transparent. But Fingleton, for all his faults, has delivered the only thing that matters in business: profit.”]

In February 2012, Minister Joan Burton reminded Ross of his past admiration for the longtime chief of Anglo Irish Bank.

"I recall his commentary on many occasions, particularly coming up to Christmas and the New Year, on luminaries of the Irish collapse. I believe Mr Seán FitzPatrick was always his nominee to be governor of the Central Bank or minister for finance."

From Anglo Irish Bank's Annual Report 2006

Anglo's rise and IBRC staff numbers

We operate to the highest ethical and governance standards as we aspire to be a model corporate citizen. For this reason we invest heavily in the development and training of our staff, as well as maintaining the highest levels of integrity in our relationships with our stakeholders- -Anglo Irish Bank Annual Report 2007

Anglo Irish Bank was founded in 1964 as Dublin City Bank and became a publicly quoted company in 1971. It had 1,900 employees in December 2007.

In 1986 Seán FitzPatrick, a chartered accountant, became chief executive; Dublin City Bank merged with Anglo Irish Bank Ltd and assumed the latter's name.

December 2008/January 2009 - - Seán FitzPatrick, chairman, David Drumm, chief executive, and a number of board members resigned after it emerged that FitzPatrick had taken measures over an eight-year period, to conceal details from shareholders, of up to €122m in loans he took from the bank.

Seán FitzPatrick transformed Anglo Irish Bank into Europe's most successful bank in results terms, as it recklessly lent with the tacit support of the Irish Government during the property bubble.

The Government announced the nationalisation of the bank in January 2009 and said it had received assurances from the Financial Regulator and Central Bank that the company was solvent.

The State was due to take control of 75% of the bank after announcing a plan in December to provide €1.5bn in public funds.

The Department of Finance said in a statement: "Anglo Irish Bank is a major financial institution whose viability is of systemic importance to Ireland. Anglo has a balance sheet of some €100bn with a substantial deposit base which the State is determined to safeguard. The Government has made clear that it will ensure its continued viability. Anglo Irish Bank will continue to trade normally as a going concern, with appropriate Government support as necessary. All Anglo employees remain employed by the company."

Anglo Irish Bank closed at 22 euro cent on the Irish Stock Exchange, on its last day of trading before becoming a State-owned bank.

On February 21, 2007, the ISEQ index rose to an-all time high of 10,041 and the Financial sub-index rose to 18,098. Bank of Ireland closed at €18.65; Anglo Irish closed at €16.64 and AIB closed unchanged at €23.95.

A year later, on February 21, 2008, AIB closed at €13.80, Anglo Irish Bank finished at €8.84, while Irish Life & Permanent closed at €10.20 and Bank of Ireland traded at €9.50.

A small number of issues dominate the Irish market and during the bubble, overseas residents, dominated by hedge funds and institutions, owned more than 60% of Irish bank shares. Ireland's biggest company CRH, accounts for 22% of Irish market capitalisation and about 90% of the issued shares are held overseas.

Mike Aynsley, a retired Australian banker, became chief executive in September 2009 and wanted to maintain a 'good' bank as a going concern but the European Commission blocked his plans.

It's extraordinary that the bank has been closed for business but has about 800 staff and  7 senior executives with pay packages worth more than €500,000 - - where the entity's main function is debt collection.

Figures issued to Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath in response to a Dáil question last November showed that there were 12 staff at IBRC in receipt of remuneration packages of €300,000-€399,000, 24 on €200,000-€299,000 and 44 on €150,000- €199,000. The packages include salaries, pensions benefits and allowances. Some 146 IBRC staff earn €100,000-€149,000, while 774 earn less than €100,000.

In April 2012, Alan Dukes, chairman of the State-owned entity and a former minister for finance rejected a request from the current minister to reduce salaries, saying that it had difficulty retaining and attracting staff, and that the packages paid to senior management were lower than those historically paid by the former Anglo.

The Financial Times in an editorial, 'Dublin's shame', said: "Ireland’s bankers have not covered themselves in glory in recent years. The credit binge they presided over felled the country’s largest lenders and saddled taxpayers with a €64bn debt.

As the Irish people have been paying heavily for this ever since, in the form of fierce austerity and plummeting real wages, one can understand why pressure has risen for those who presided over the mess to share a little of the pain. This week, Allied Irish Banks, one of Ireland’s nationalised banks, duly wrote to more than 15 of its former directors asking them voluntarily to forgo part of their pensions.

It is debatable whether the generous savings those bank executives built up during the fat years were truly earned, given the cataclysm that followed. But what is unarguable is the fact that after the rescue the Irish government had to slash spending on both its current and future pensions. Those who helped to dock the retirement income of others can hardly complain if they are themselves asked to take a hit."



The Guarantee

The subprime story in the US broke in February 2007 and the music stopped on international credit markets in early August 2007. Irish developers with huge loans stopped servicing their debts as politicians sang a 'soft landing' mantra.

“Liquidity, not capital, is the main issue in the current crisis,” the financial regulator wrote to Kevin Cardiff, head of banking at the Department of Finance in early September 2008. A week later, days after the Lehman investment bank crash, Anglo executives were in Merrion Street with assurances: despite the cash crunch, the outlook was healthy: “Loan book remains strong,” they said.

In the US, there was a full-scale panic with Treasury yields falling to World War 2 levels; two giant financial institutions AIG, and Citigroup, had to be bailed-out by the federal government. Yet, bizarrely the ’soft landing’ was still the narrative in Dublin.

Anglo had more than €50bn in deposits and €10bn in senior bond debt.

US Investment bank Merrill Lynch produced a document setting out various scenarios and in respect of Anglo, said only 3% of its loans valued at €72bn were impaired, according to the banks' management. It said Anglo needed to raise funding of €4.9bn by Oct 24th.

Early on September 29, 2008, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partner emailed Kevin Cardiff saying Anglo “borrowed €0.9bn from the Central Bank and do not have any reserves left.”

It was one day to the bank's year end and it was seeking a loan of more than €4bn from Irish Life & Permanent, which would be treated as a deposit in the year end accounts. However, IL&P needed a Central Bank guarantee to cover the loan.

Speaking points were produced for the taoiseach on September 30, 2008, the first day of the State guarantee.

The asset quality in the financial institutions, the document said, was good with a strong concentration in residential mortgages with a relatively low loan-to-value ratio. It said there is a "very significant capacity within the institutions to absorb and losses."

“There is therefore, a significant buffer before there is any question of credit impairments on the Exchequer on foot of the guarantee,” the note said.

Neary told the Taoiseach, days before the guarantee was issued "there is no evidence to suggest Anglo is insolvent on a going concern basis - it is simply unable to continue on the current basis from a liquidity point of view."

An extraordinary aspect of the fateful guarantee meeting of September 29th/30th, 2008, was that the chairmen and chief executives of AIB and Bank of Ireland were in Government Buildings for several hours and Macbeth's Banquo's ghost, representing the absent Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick was also surely there. On the Monday afternoon, September 29th, FitzPatrick and David Drumm, the chief executive, had gone to arch rival Bank of Ireland to propose a merger.

We do not know why FitzPatrick was told to stay away from the guarantee meeting but there must have been constant phone interaction with him. We also do not know what the respective roles of Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the late Brian Lenihan, finance minister, were on the type of guarantee that should be issued. Which of them was the main advocate?

There was no contact with European officials on the Monday evening from Government Buildings as it was likely anticipated that support for a blanket guarantee, covering both deposits and debt, would not have been forthcoming. Providing a lifeline to Anglo was the dominant consideration and the political leaders may still have foolishly believed that it was a liquidity problem rather than a solvency one.However, thirteen months after the onset of the international credit crunch and with the collapse of Lehman Brothers causing ripples across the global economy, there should have been no illusory glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel for the property market. It does appear that even though the Department of Finance had prepared a draft bill to nationalise Anglo, Fianna Fáil’s leaders just could not accept or take account of the implications of a collapse of the bank that was so synonymous with the Galway Races tent elite. They knew that interest wasn’t even being paid on huge loans by most of the high profile developers. Nevertheless, all debt was guaranteed without apparent consideration of the downside risks. The “cheapest bailout in the world so far” on September 30th, 2008 had by January 16th, 2009 become the biggest bank taxpayer burden in the world, when it was finally decided to nationalise Anglo.

The guarantee took away the pressure for a quick resolution of the banking crisis and as the second anniversary of the issue of the guarantee drew near, the markets lost confidence and the ECB worried about the increasing reliance of Irish banks on its emergency funding mechanism. The ECB vetoed “haircuts” or discounts on senior bank debt during the negotiations of the EU-IMF bailout in November 2010 because of fears of spreading instability to other countries. Coupled with the sense of victimhood exploited by opposition politicians in the February 2011 general election and the perceived harsh treatment from countries like Germany and France, there has been a rising clamour for debt default.

Bank guarantee documents

In May 2007, Bank of Ireland chief economist Dr Dan McLaughlin told a conference of housebuilders: “In Ireland there has been a spate of forecasts projecting a slowdown in growth, but in truth most of the current macro-indicators, (including retail sales, industrial production, foreign travel and unemployment) do not suggest any softening in the pace of growth. Consequently, I still expect 6% growth in 2007, easing to 5% in 2008.” McLaughlin added: “Indeed, there are a number of economic viewpoints about the Irish economy which are often voiced but have little in the way of support from the facts. One often hears that growth is unbalanced but a glance at the data from 2001 to 2006 shows average GDP growth of 5.3%, with all components growing in a 4.5%-5.5% range. Others complain that too many resources are being devoted to consumption but consumer spending in Ireland amounts to 46% of GDP which is not only below the eurozone norm (55%) but has fallen steadily for the past forty years. Household savings in Ireland is also relatively high (at around 10% of household disposable income), which is similar to Germany and substantially above the UK (5%) and the US (zero). This also means that many people benefit from a rising rate environment but this view is also rarely heard.”

So, “ ... little in the way of support from the facts”? Academic economists left the public arena to the bank economists and McLaughlin appeared in the broadcast media without fear of challenge from journalists or other economists. The facts he ignored showed that the economy was absolutely unbalanced: annual credit growth was at 30%; reckless bank lending was fuelled by foreign loans: bank debt to foreign banks had been 10% of GDP (gross domestic product) in 2003 and was heading for over 60% in 2007; there was no jobs growth in the exporting sector, while over 400,000 new jobs were created in construction, the public sector, retail and distribution; Ireland in 2007 ‑ a small country reliant on foreign firms for 90% of its tradeable exports ‑ had the most expensive housing in the developed world, with floor areas per person a fifth less than the Western European average.

In 2006, Finfacts contacted the Central Bank of Ireland seeking data on interest-only loans. We naively expected that the bank would have collected such pertinent data from the lending institutions as part of its normal data collecting function on credit activity. The bank did not have any data on interest-only loans even though beyond the sheltered workshop on Dublin's Dame Street, anyone with a clue of the buy-to-let market in particular, knew that the standard financing was a 5-year or 10-year interest-only loan. For big values, it was generally sufficient for an accountant to supply a statement of new worth.

2006: Interest-only loans aiding international property boom - - "In recent years, more than 75% of Bank of Ireland investment customers have availed of the bank's ten-year interest-only mortgage, according to Bank of Ireland Mortgages Manager Olive Moran."

One of the most striking illustrations of the dysfunctional nature of the office of the Financial Regulator, was that for most of 2008, the chief executive Patrick Neary was unaware of the discovery by his staff, that Irish Nationwide provided loans of up to €122m to Anglo Irish Bank's Seán Fitzpatrick, over an eight-year period, enabling him to move his director loans at Anglo Irish, off the bank’s books at each September 30th year end, to avoid disclosing them publicly. What amount would have triggered some office gossip or a whisper in a pub?

Up the chain of "command," the other two individuals who were guilty of monumental mismanagement, were  Brian Cowen, minister for finance and John Hurley , Central Bank governor .

“This product (interest-only loans) enabled consumers to buy property that they couldn’t actually afford and may have contributed to the house price bubble,” the Financial Services Consultative Consumer Panel, said in a May 2009 report. It was appointed by the minister for finance, to monitor the performance of the Financial Regulator from a consumer viewpoint “This shows the indispensable need to scrutinise new products in financial markets.”

“It is not good enough for the Financial Regulator to ignore products or players it feels are not within its remit,” it added.

Irish banks are resilient and have good shock absorption capacity to cope with the current situation - - Patrick Neary, chief executive, Irish Financial Regulator,  September 19, 2008: - two days after the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers.

Two weeks later, the Irish Government guaranteed all the deposits and liabilities of six Irish financial institutions. On October 02, 2008, Neary appeared on RTÉ's Prime Time television programme, and in possibly the most bizarre performance by a public official on Irish television, since its launch in 1961, said that bad lending by Irish banks had nothing to do with the current international crisis which was all about liquidity. He said the banks had plenty of capital to absorb any losses on property loans and he did not believe that over-exposure to the property market was a weakness of the Irish banking sector.

After years of delusion, it’s striking how stupid or in denial so many people in key positions were.

There should have been no surprise in September 2008 and despite the crisis overseas, the working assumption among the Irish ‘experts’ was that it would soon blow over.

Bar a day, a year before Lehman Brothers collapsed, Northern Rock announced that “extreme conditions” in financial markets forced it to approach the Bank of England for assistance. The announcement triggered the first run on a British bank in more than a century.

In February 2009, exactly 2 years after the subprime crisis broke out in the US, the Irish unit of Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), the biggest of the Big 4 accounting firms, delivered a report [pdf] on Anglo Irish Bank to the minister of finance.

It said:

“These annual impairment charges were €2.3bn and €3.0bn respectively per annum under the two scenarios for the years ended 30 September 2009 and 2010. The two PwC impairment loss scenarios exceeded Anglo’s worst case impairment loss scenario.”

Jones Lang LaSalle valued a sample of 160 properties held as security in relation to the top 20 land & development exposures on Anglo’s books.

Anglo Irish Bank reported a loss of €12.7bn for the 15 months to the end of December 2009 - the largest loss in Irish corporate history - after charging €15bn to cover bad debts.

Finfacts 2010:  Morgan Kelly: Whatever happened to Ireland?; Bank losses may push Ireland's debt-GNP ratio up to 140% in 2012

The median across 12 advanced countries of government-guaranteed debt issued by banks is about 6% of GDP. Ireland was the outlier in 2009  with a sovereign exposure of 55% of GDP.

The issue of ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and the Irish State bank guarantee of Sept 2008,is reminiscent of arguments about London-Dublin cable traffic during the Treaty negotiations in 1921. The main story of course was why the head of the revolutionary government had decided to stay in Dublin not communication problems.

There was no official ECB policy in Sept 2008 on issuing blanket guarantees and neither had EU finance ministers promoted it.

Ireland was the ONLY Eurozone country to issue a blanket guarantee and a week later Denmark made a similar move.

According to the IMF, the median across 12 advanced countries of government-guaranteed debt issued by banks during the crisis or in the case of Denmark/Ireland including existing debt, was about 6% of GDP.

In ascending order, US (2.5% of GDP), Germany (3%), Portugal, Spain, France, Austria, Sweden, Netherlands, UK, Australia, Denmark and Ireland.

Denmark’s exposure was 20% of GDP and Ireland was the outlier with an exposure of 55% of GDP — all the others had an exposure below 10%.

The news on the Irish guarantee was presented as a fait accompli to the ECB, Ecofin and Eurogroup heads on the morning of Sept 30, 2008, coinciding with the issue of the news to the markets.

Once the announcement was made, it would have been very difficult to reverse it.

As regards the Lenihan-Trichet phone conversation a week before the guarantee was issued, I doubt if Trichet gave the go-ahead on a blanket bailout. Unlike his gaffe-prone predecessor, he is always measured when speaking on policy issues.

This story is akin to a unit of a multinational making a major decision without any consultation with headquarters but assuming that everything would be grand because of a conversation a week before with the CEO.!

Decisions made in a panic situation seldom turn out right.

The banks had access to the ECB’s emergency liquidity program which was in place since Aug 2007.

The unlimited deposit guarantee could have been issued and the issue of guaranteeing debt could have been discussed with the ECB in a calmer atmosphere.

If the blanket guarantee was issued to save Anglo, it was an absolutely reckless move to make in the absence of detailed information on the state of the bank.

Remember the context - - yes the crisis had intensified in the previous 2 weeks after the collapse of Lehman - - but it had been 13 months since the onset of the credit crunch; the world’s biggest insurer had to be rescued by the US government and the prospects of an Irish soft landing had evaporated and what did the Department of Finance have?

A Sept 18th PowerPoint presentaion prepared by Anglo and the financial regulator both chimed with the mantra on ‘resilient’ banks.

The first chief executive of the Financial Regulator Liam O'Reilly, retired at 60 and joined the board of Irish Life & Permanent Plc. He became the first chairman of the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (CARB) in April 2007 and later a director of Merrill Lynch International Bank based at the IFSC.

Patrick Neary was appointed to the position of chief executive in February 2006. Prior to this, he held the position of prudential director of the Financial Regulator from 2003. In this role, his responsibilities included the protection of consumers’ deposits, funds and policies. He is a fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants (FCCA) and was previously Head of Securities and Exchanges Supervision and Deputy Head of Banking Supervision in the Central Bank of Ireland.

Neary was ousted in early 2009 with a golden handshake of €630,000 - - he received a special €202,000 pay-off and a €428,000 retirement lump sum, in accordance with the British 1909 Superannuation Act, and subsequent regulations, entitling retiring civil servants to a lump sum payment of 3/80th per year of service up to a limit of 40 years of service. Employees who joined the civil service prior to April 5, 1995, are entitled to receive their public service pensions on top of their State pensions.

In addition to the initial bonanza, Neary is entitled to an annual pension of €142,670 and every time the incumbent chief executive gets a pay increase, Neary's pension rises.

Prof. Morgan Kelly of University College Dublin and Brendan Keenan, Group Business Editor of Independent Newspapers on Sept 30, 2008, the day the guarantee took effect. Kelly in a stunning tour de force, accurately presents the enfeebled state of Irish banking:

Check out our  subscription service, Finfacts Premium , at a low annual charge of €25 - - if you are a regular user of Finfacts, 50 euro cent a week is hardly a huge ask to support the service.

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