Stark reality of losses at AIB and BoI must be faced
OPINION: While all the focus has been on losses at Anglo Irish, the other Irish banks are in denial about the scale of State support needed. It is time to face the facts: the three viable banks need over €17 billion, writes PETER MATHEWS
LAST WEEK, the scary reports of liabilities at Irish banks centred on the colossal Anglo Irish Bank loan losses, the scale of which I (and other analysts) had been only too aware of more than a year ago. The focus on Anglo Irish was understandable, as far as it went. But the banking sector crisis is not just about Anglo. The Government is missing the bigger picture entirely.
The Irish banking system is analogous to a household’s heating/plumbing system with inter-related boilers. The two big boilers are AIB and Bank of Ireland. There are other smaller boilers, including Anglo and Irish Nationwide, which got really badly damaged by using the wrong fuel and, as a result, they’re now broken beyond repair. The correct decision now is to “stop-cock” Anglo and Irish Nationwide out of the overall system, decommission them and wind them down, in an orderly way, over a period of five to seven years.
AIB and Bank of Ireland (BoI) are the economy’s two heavy duty “main boilers”. Both are now in highly unreliable condition, hissing and spluttering and stopping and starting unpredictably. Both need major refits and servicing. They are severely undercapitalised and poorly directed and managed. Yet both persist in pretending they’re in reasonable shape. They are not. And that’s absolutely the case for BoI, notwithstanding the insistent protests that it is okay because it has more or less raised the capital amount indicated as adequate last March.
But that was last March. And last March’s estimates for both AIB and BoI were not enough. BoI needs €6.5 billion, not €3.65 billion. And AIB needs €10 billion, not €7.4 billion.
The proof goes along the following lines. Gross loans in AIB listed for transfer to the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) totalled €24 billion. A (light) 40 per cent writedown on this figure amounts to €9.6 billion, which should be rounded at €10 billion. We note also that AIB will have to absorb large further losses on its mortgage loan book, its corporate loan book and its SME book and also on its personal lending portfolio. In addition, it may well have uncovered exposures on derivatives. For these reasons, and extensive relevant professional experience, I feel conscience bound to point out that AIB definitely needs recapitalisation now of not less than €10 billion. Furthermore, AIB should not be selling its stakes in Polish and US banks. They are the most profitable, cash-flowing parts of AIB. AIB is only doing this as a panic measure to try and plug its deepening capital shortfall.
Similarly, BoI needs a €6.5 billion recapitalisation. Why €6.5 billion? Because in BoI, the listed loans for transfer to Nama were €16 billion. Apply a 40 per cent write down. This amounts to €6.4 billion, which should be rounded to €6.5 billion. All comments applicable to AIB in the preceding paragraph apply also to BoI.
The Educational Building Society (EBS) also needs recapitalisation of €1 billion to cover its loan losses. Four months ago, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service was advised that the three viable banks, AIB, BoI and EBS, needed immediate capital of €10 billion, €6.5 billion and €1 billion. That’s €17.5 billion in total. The question arises: should the State provide all of this on top of the €7 billion already invested in AIB and BoI in 2009? Clearly not. How much of this €17.5 billion should the State invest? Perhaps €11 billion, in appropriate proportions, into AIB, BoI and EBS.
All of this will result in temporary State nationalisation of these three banks. This leads to another question: where will the €6.5 billion balance come from? The State will be in majority control, at levels in excess of 85 per cent, and able to force existing bondholders in AIB, BoI and EBS to take writedowns on their holdings of bonds, while maybe offering them, say, a small debt-for-equity swap as a sweetener to soften the blow. After, say, five years, the banks will have regained reasonable annual-maintainable normal profit levels in the range €3.5 billion to €4 billion, putting the State in a good position to realise, by way of stock exchange or private sales, its investment of €18 billion in these three banks, plus a profit.
Temporary nationalisation of AIB and BoI will merely formalise the reality that, without 100 per cent State support, both are insolvent. Removal of the State guarantee on deposits at this point would lead to a run on the banks’ deposits. However, we see the banks continuing their delusory charade that they are financially sound and independent!
Realism and optimism are essential for recovery. But optimism must be based on reality. As a country we’re facing a stark reality. Protracted denial in the banking industry, the Government, official Ireland and the professions must stop. Unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil-led Government is responsible for the financial destruction of our economy. Regrettably, the Green Party has collaborated in this destruction. These are the facts. The true situation has been denied by the Government for far too long.
Finally, after two years, only in the last few days have the Minister for Finance, the Government and (some of) the banks been forced to admit the true scale of the destruction. What a waste. What a shame.
So let’s stop the stupid denial. Let’s acknowledge the scale of destruction in the Irish-owned banking sector, not just the Anglo Irish story. AIB and BoI have not been honest with us. Their loan losses are also a shock-and-awe story and they’re only being revealed, on the drip, in drawn-out chapters.
Let’s measure truthfully all the appalling financial damage. Let’s insist AIB and BoI are recapitalised at the truthful, honest, correct and much more robust levels (thereby resulting in temporary nationalisation and bondholder participation through bond writedowns) to enable them to make necessary, much larger, loan-loss provisions than they’ve done to date. Let’s reverse the nonsensical, unwieldy Nama project. This can be done speedily and simply. We’ve got to stop what has become a slow-motion Nama/banks bailout nightmare. Let’s roll up our sleeves and face the challenge. And let’s get on with the work of recovery.