10 years on: Countdown to the Irish financial crash

Joe Brennan’s day-by-day account of the month before the implosion of the global banking sector and the Irish bank guarantee

A Lehman Brothers employee exits the company’s headquarters on September 15th, 2008 Photograph: Getty

A Lehman Brothers employee exits the company’s headquarters on September 15th, 2008 Photograph: Getty


Ten years on from the financial tumult that led to the government of the day having to guarantee the viability of the State’s banks in an historic and unprecedented move, we look at the events of September, 2008.

Each day this month, we will recall some of the stories that pointed to the dramatic unravelling of the global banking system.

Day Fifteen - September 19th, 2008

Regulator takes on hedge funds

The Irish Financial Regulator takes aim at hedge funds betting on declining bank stocks by introducing a ban on the “short selling” of Bank of Ireland, AIB, Irish Life & Permanent, and Anglo Irish Bank “to ensure the orderly conduct of the market”. It comes a day after the UK announced a similar prohibition.

Rumours abound

Jittery financial markets succumb to rumour and speculation. Bank of Ireland is forced to dispel reports that Spanish bank Banco Santander is looking to take it over. In New York, markets move on chatter that the Federal Reserve is planning to buy up banks’ toxic assets.

Rumours linked Bank of Ireland and Santander
Rumours linked Bank of Ireland and Santander

Anglo Irish pitches for INBS

It emerges that Anglo Irish Bank has pitched to regulators that it take over Irish Nationwide Building Society in an effort to shore up market confidence in its own financial situation and convince the Central Bank – and rival banks – to provide it with a funding line.

Day Fourteen - September 18th, 2008

Lenihan complains to RTÉ

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan rings RTÉ director general to complain about a segment on Radio 1’s Liveline programme that day featuring depositors worried about their savings in Irish lenders – fearing that it could trigger a bank run.

Brian Lenihan complains to RTÉ
Brian Lenihan complains to RTÉ

B of I shares plunge 14%

Bank of Ireland’s shares plunge 14 per cent, the most in two decades, after announcing that it plans to cut its full-year dividend by 50 per cent as chief executive Brian Goggin seeks to build up capital to strengthen the group’s balance sheet as bad debts are expected to jump. The company admits that retail banking in Ireland over the previous six months had been “particularly challenging”.

UK ban on ‘short-selling’

The UK Financial Services Authority announces a ban on investors placing new bets on financial shares falling – or what is known as “short-selling” – after HBOS, the country’s then biggest mortgage lender, lost almost 40 per cent of its market value over three days.

Day Thirteen - September 17th

HBOS rescue

HBOS, owner of Bank of Scotland (Ireland), is rescued by Lloyds TSB in a deal orchestrated by the UK government as global financial markets go into freefall in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse. Bank of Scotland (Ireland) had built up a €32 billion loan book at that stage, and Lloyds would decide two years later to hand back its Irish banking license and begin to wind down the book.

Lloyds TSB rescues HBOS.
Lloyds TSB rescues HBOS.

AIG bailout

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York moves unveils an $85 billion bailout of AIG, giving taxpayers an almost 80 per cent equity stake in the group as US authorities conclude the insurer is too big to fail.

Neary backs Irish banks

Patrick Neary, chief executive of the Irish Financial Regulator, says that the State’s banks are well placed to weather the storm, as they had little exposure to toxic US subprime mortgage investments and had “good shock-absorption” capital levels. However, it would later emerge that Anglo Irish Bank breached its regulatory liquidity ratios that day as deposits were pulled out of the lender, prompting it to ask the regulator for a special liquidity line in case more money with withdrawn.

Patrick Neary, chief executive of the Irish Financial Regulator, says that the State’s banks are well placed to weather the storm, as they had little exposure to toxic US subprime mortgage investments and had “good shock-absorption” capital levels.
Patrick Neary, chief executive of the Irish Financial Regulator, says that the State’s banks are well placed to weather the storm, as they had little exposure to toxic US subprime mortgage investments and had “good shock-absorption” capital levels.

Days Eleven and Twelve - September 15th–16th

Biggest bankruptcy in history

Lehman Brothers officially files the biggest bankruptcy in history early on Monday, September 15, 2018, with the US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, becoming the second major Wall Street firm, after Bear Stearns, to implode in the space of six months under the weight of the deepening credit crunch.

The $639 billion bankruptcy would rock the foundations of global financial markets and act as a catalyst for the so-called Great Recession.

Anglo shares slump 19%

In Dublin, Anglo Irish Bank shares slump 19 per cent to lead a sell-off across Irish financial stocks as the fallout from Lehman Brothers’ collapse became to unfold globally. Irish Life & Permanent shares drop more than 13 per cent, while AIB and Bank of Ireland decline by 6 per cent and 5.7 per cent, respectively.

Central Banks globally pump hundreds of billions of euro into markets in a coordinated effort to ease the worst crisis facing the financial system since the 1920s.

AIG borrows $20bn

New York regulators agree to allow ailing US insurance group AIG to borrow $20 billion from one of its own subsidiaries to shore up its balance sheet after its market value plunged by more than two-thirds in early trading on Wall Street.

Day Ten - September 14th, 2008

Shoring up Lehman

British lender Barclays ends its talks to buy fast-failing US investment bank Lehman Brothers. It would emerge later that the UK Financial Services Authority and treasury department effectively put a stop to the risky deal going through.

After a fall-back option of other Wall Street firms shoring up Lehman also fails because of lack of support from the US Federal Reserve, Lehman is directed by government officials to file for bankruptcy. Scores of bank employees arrive at the bank’s headquarters on 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan and begin to clear their desks.

Domino effect

Larger rival, Merrill Lynch, facing the prospect of being the next domino to fall, agrees to sell itself to Bank of America for about $50 billion. Bank of America, which had purchased ailing US mortgage provider Countrywide Financial earlier that year, appears to be the key beneficiary of Wall Street’s survival-of-the-fittest nature.

Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, said the crisis “is probably a once in a century event”. Photograph: Bloomberg
Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, said the crisis “is probably a once in a century event”. Photograph: Bloomberg

Once in a century

Major central banks worldwide and investors globally are put on notice for an expected panicked reaction when financial markets reopen the following day, on Monday, September 15th. Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who had retired in January 2006 after almost two decades in charge of the world’s most influential central bank, says that the financial crisis “is probably a once in a century event” and that more firms will go bust.

Day Nine - September 13th, 2008

Bank of America pulls out

A year to the day after UK lender Northern Rock asked for and received emergency aid from the Bank of England, US treasury secretary Hank Paulson makes it clear to officials working on last-ditch solutions for the fast-fading Lehman Brothers that Washington was not willing to support a government-led bailout.

Bank of America, which was seen as a potential rescue investor for Lehman, pulls out of talks on Saturday, September 13th, 2008 to buy the 158-year-old investment bank.

AIB steps up assets sale plan

US insurance group AIG reportedly steps up plans to sell assets or raise capital and announce plans ahead of a self-imposed September 25th deadline.

The main concern was the once-ultra-safe insurer’s massive sideline business that sold a type of credit insurance – called credit default swaps (CDS) – against bundles of complicated debt assets backed by US subprime mortgages going into default.

It was becoming increasingly obvious to investors hat AIG faced insolvency as it was on the hook to pay out on the CDSs as subprime borrowers were defaulting in their thousands. However, AIG was so large that its demise would hit the entire global economy.

Day Eight - September 12th, 2008

Insurance costs

The cost of insuring Irish bank bonds against default in financial markets spikes to their highest levels since US investment bank Bear Stearns’ near-collapse six months earlier as investors focus on the increasing reliance of Dublin-based banks on funding from the European Central Bank, the lender of last resort.

Panic stations

With Lehman Brothers on the brink of collapse as it headed into the weekend on Friday, September 12th, 2008, teams of top Wall Street bankers and government officials flooded the New York Federal Reserve building for the weekend to search for options for the group as panic takes hold. British bank Barclays and Bank of America top the list of potential buyers for the ailing business.

AIG shares

It emerges that US insurance giant AIG has hired JP Morgan to advise on ways to raise new capital, after credit ratings firm Standard & Poor’s threatened to downgrade its grading of the company’s creditworthiness. AIG shares fall by more than 30 per cent in New York.

Day Seven - September 11th, 2008

Stocks plummet

As New York commemorates the seventh anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks, Lehman Brothers’ worsening financial state and concerns over US savings bank Washington Mutual (WaMu) send banking stocks plummeting. WaMu loses more than a third of its market value, while investment bank Merrill Lynch drops 16 per cent.

Lehman Brothers chairman and chief executive Dick Fuld’s efforts to shore up support for the bank – saying the bank’s recent losses “have clouded the underlying value of our franchise” – fall on deaf ears in the market.

Recession warning

The European Commission warns that the UK, Germany and Spain could go into recession within a year as it lowers its economic forecasts for the wider European Union amid the global financial downturn and high energy and food prices.

Irish sell-off

Irish banking stocks suffer another sell-off as analysts at German investment bank Dresdner Kleinworth downgrade their ratings on AIB and Bank of Ireland to outright ‘sell’, warning that both may have capital shortfalls in 2009 as they set aside provisions for bad boomtime loans to property developers.

The front page of the Business section of The Irish Times on September 11th, 2008
The front page of the Business section of The Irish Times on September 11th, 2008

Day Six - September 10th, 2008

Lehman considers sale

Lehman Brothers is bounced by financial markets into rushing out its quarterly results, showing it made an almost $4 billion loss over three months as it wrote off more than $5 billion of toxic US residential mortgage investments.

The bank also reveals plans to sell its majority stake in its investment management unit, Neuberger Berman, and spin off some $25 billion of commercial property assets into a publicly-traded real-estate investment trust (Reit). Group chairman and chief executive of 15 years, Dick Fuld, abandons Lehman Brothers’ prized independence and leaves the door open for a potential sale of the entire firm.

Irish Banking shares plunge

Irish banking shares fall by as much as 8 per cent as investors fret about Lehman Brothers’ future and after Fitch Ratings stripped Irish Nationwide Building Society of an A-rating, pushing it down a level to “BBB+”, or three rungs above “junk” status. Fitch says commercial property lending on Ireland and the UK had “deteriorated further and faster than was previously anticipated in early 2008”.

‘We’ve reached the end’

Deutsche Bank’s chief executive, Josef Ackermann, tells a banking conference in Germany that he thinks “we’ve reached the end” of the credit crunch, that “global credit conditions are very positive”, and the real economy – sectors that produce goods and services – continues to do well.

Days Four & Five- September 8th & 9th, 2008

Anglo loan

Anglo Irish Bank’s then finance director, Willie McAteer, receives a €8.4 million loan from the bank to refinance borrowings from Bank of Ireland, which had been backed by shares in Anglo.

The loan averted a potential sale of the stock by Bank of Ireland, which would have damaged market confidence on Anglo. McAteer would ultimately plead guilty in late 2016 to receiving the Anglo Irish loan under fraudulent circumstances.

Lehman plunge

Lehman Brothers’ shares plunge 45 per cent to their lowest level in more than a decade amid concerns that the Wall Street bank will not be able to raise needed capital, as hopes of a rescue investment from Seoul-based Korea Development Bank fade. Leading credit ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch putting their gradings on the group on review for a potential downgrade.

EBS slump

EBS Building Society reports an almost 40 per cent slump in pre-tax profits in the first half of 2008, to €27 million, as its funding costs soar during the worsening global financial crisis. The fifth-largest Irish lender also reveals that it has become reliant on European Central Bank for some €2.2 billion of funding, indicating the growing level of stress in the Irish financial system.

Day Three - September 7th, 2008

US bailout

The then US treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, unveils a massive bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giants, marking one the most sweeping Washington government interventions in private financial markets for decades.

The US government agreed to pump as much as $200 billion of capital into the two firms in order to keep the country’s housing market functioning, giving Pauslon’s department a new class of “senior preferred” shares in each, as well as the option of buying almost 80 per cent of their ordinary shares.

INBS ‘rock solid’

Irish Nationwide Building Society tells the Sunday Independent that the lender is “rock solid” and continues to be a “strong, profitable financial institution with record levels of capital and liquidity”, as the lender continued to grapple with the fallout from an unfounded Reuters report that it was in financial trouble.

Day Two - September 6 th, 2008

Rescue plan

On Saturday, September 6th, 2008, the US government scrambled to put together the final parts of a rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-backed firms that help keep the US mortgage market running by buying loans from banks and holding them in their portfolios or repackaging them as mortgage-backed securities.

Lehman talks

State-owned Korea Development Bank (KDB) continued talks with Lehman Brothers over the possibility of a joint investment in the struggling Wall Street bank with some other South Korean banks. Initial news of KDB’s interest in the fourth-largest US investment bank had first emerged in late August, 2008.

Bank closure

Nevada regulators close down Silver State Bank, making it the 11th failure of a US Federally insured bank in a little over eight months as the world’s largest mortgage market continued to implode. The Federal Deposits Insurance Corporation moved the bank’s deposits to another lender in the state and warned that more small regional banks were in danger of collapse.

Day One - September 5th, 2008

INBS insolvency

The mounting global financial crisis in early September hit home at 6.15pm on Friday, September 5th, 2008, when news agency Reuters published a report that Irish Nationwide Building Society was in “talks with its lenders to avoid insolvency”.

The report would prove to be unfounded but its then-chairman, Michael Walsh, would later say that it caused a run on the society, resulting in depositors pulling €1 billion of their money from the society by the end of the month

Lehman investment

It emerged that Japanese investment bank Nomura Holdings was considering an investment in Wall Street peer Lehman Brothers, which had been under pressure since smaller rival Bear Stearns almost collapsed the previous March.

Stocks rally

US financial stocks rallied into the weekend amid hopes that then US president George W Bush’s administration would act decisively to extinguish the mushrooming credit crisis.

They were helped by a report that the treasury department was considering ways to inject money into ailing government-sponsored mortgage firms that help lubricate the country’s mortgage market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.