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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 22, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

    Pat Kenny’s new show and the (other) only show in town.

    Harry McGee

    I didn’t get to see Pat Kenny’s new show, the Frontline,  last night (link here)  but will look at it on the RTE player tonight when I get home. My colleagues thought it was very worthy and very heavy and didn’t have the ping you would expect from a brand new show.

    What did ye think?

    I didn’t miss John Murray’s excellent The Business on Saturday morning on RTE Radio 1 (Murray always injects humour into it and it’s never boring!). Murray isnt’ immune to corny catchlines though. Here are some egregious examples from last Saturday!


    THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE ALL IRELAND BIZ QUIZ …..SHOCK RESULT- CORK BEAT KERRY! In a hard fought but thankfully sending-off free game. Cork came in 2.2 to 1.2 winners.


    But wait! The show’s website (check it out here) includes a bluffer’s guide to Nama by DCU economist Tony Boyle,  who has been one of the real star commentators on Nama because of his robust and independent views.

    It’s a really good (and jargon-free) synopsis that gives as good a basic explanation as I have seen. This is it in it entirety (it’s an easy read).


    The problem

    The banks have made large amounts of loans to property developers and builders which will now not be paid back as planned if at all because of the economic recession and the collapse in property prices and activity. Industrial and commercial buildings remain empty. Rural and urban sites acquired with borrowed money are not worth building on. Unfortunately this money was obtained from depositors and the wholesale financial markets and they want it back. There are only four groups of potential providers of money to cover the bad loans. Shareholders (they could provide more equity), depositors (could agree to let the banks have a portion of their deposits (not very likely), lenders who loaned money to banks (already used to some extent) and taxpayers.

    The taxpayers are the most likely because the state has access to resources, the state has a vested interest in the effective functioning of the banks, the state can take a different time perspective than private investors.


    The Governments solution is NAMA. This agency will buy the bad loans and some good ones from the banks at a price which reflects the current low value and an adjustment for the likelihood that property prices will increase over the next 10 years. The big issue is the price to pay. If it is too generous to the banks it is unfair to the taxpayers. If it is too hard on the banks they suffer very large losses and need Government capital to survive or else they go bust in some form or other. Ideally we would not have the problem but it is there and regardless of the type of response, NAMA, nationalisation, bad bank/good bank the problem of the bad debts remains and the need for an effective banking system remains.

    The Governments estimate of the loans valuation

    This week the Government announced that it would buy €77b worth of loans. This includes €9b in unpaid interest and €68b other debt. This €68b was associated with land/property assets of €88b. Assuming a decline in property prices since then of 47% these assets are worth €47b. Allowing for an increase of 155 in property prices over the next 10 years the assets would be worth €54b in the long term. This is the price which the Government will pay for the loan book of €77b, a discount of almost 30%.  Asmall part of the payment (5%) will be held back until we see if NAMA avoids a loss. The Government figures are an aggregate estimate. NAMA will assess each of the over 20k loans individually and the figures may be very different from those presented in the Dail.


    The price of the loans is very sensitive to our estimates of current property prices and expectations of future trends in prices. On the Government figures the taxpayer will break even and could make a profit.  A worst case scenario is possibly that prices will have decreased by 70% from peak, equity backing the loans is 15% and there is only a 5% increase in property prices over the next decade. In  that case we should be paying only €25B  and  not €54 as intended by the Government, an possible loss to the taxpayer of €29b.However, we have to put these huge figures into current perspective.  On current trends €29b is equivalent to about 18months of government borrowing.


    We have a broken banking system. Whatever we do will cost the taxpayer.  The Governments figures look optimistic to me in terms of the critical 47% drop in property prices but we are getting the money at a low interest rate which might not be the case if we nationalised and because time is of the essence and a significant portion of the land/property is in the UK/USA which will recover quicker than us I would now be inclined to support the NAMA approach. This is mainly because the alternatives also have critical downsides. Ideally we would not have the problem but that is sadly not the case.

    • robespierre says:

      There were a few early gremlins where I thought it looked a little too like daytime TV chatshows (You go girlfriend!!! Go Pat, Go Pat!) Boooo nasty bankers.

      What sets it aside is that Fintan O’Toole, a national treasure regardless of one’s politics and Dunphy among others articulated the concerns of people that are being blithely ignored. Populism is not always a bad thing.

      What will be interesting will be seeing how long it takes for the government ministers to duck for cover (the intrepid sharpshooting Willy aside) and the flotsam and jetsam to be lined out instead. That will have an impact on the show’s effectiveness.

      It wil also depend on how quickly party flunkies are brought in to beef up the audience. It has potential but it could go in any direction at this point.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      A problem for Frontline beyond the first few shows given the late hour will be the audience. It was obvious from the Q&A audience that for many years now getting the necessary people to fill seats was problem hence the students from UCD and TCD who could be depended on to turn up for the free sarnie and some tea. In effect for a show like this the audience are providing content free to RTE at some expense to themselves.

      People from outside of fairly immediate commuting distance from Donnybrook are disinclined to have to travel home late at night on a Monday simply because they were in the audience for a show. It’s grand for the Late Late, people might make a night or a weekend of it, but going to bed at 2am when you have to be up at 7am for work just to be in with a chance of saying two lines on the telly is not the draw it once was. Given that, I have to wonder if there isn’t something to being said for recording it a few hours earlier for broadcast later.

      When the show occasionally went outside of Dublin the audience was in the hundreds, but outside broadcast is considerably more expensive to do. And in defence of the presence of party hacks, saying they should be there is like saying a show about the League of Ireland shouldn’t have people from the clubs in the audience. Sure they are partisan, I would simply prefer that they be properly identified as party members/well wishers instead of joe soaps. There again as we saw with the Frank Luntz that is hard to do, with a locally prominent member of FF in one of the shows down as an undecided.

    • colm says:

      The Front Line looks cheap, the set is awful, and Pat was not briefed [or did not research NAMA].

      The show failed to explain to the audience what NAMA is, the risks, & the alternatives. The use of text and headlines would of helped.

      Compared with previous RTE current affairs progs, this is very poor

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