September 14, 2009
Last Thursday, the share price of Bank of Ireland rose by 10 per cent following the announcement by the Green Party that it had secured amendments to the Nama bill, which might allow the party to support it.
The shares rose again by 9per cent last Friday. What other evidence do we need that this travesty will result in a direct transfer of wealth from the taxpayers of Ireland to the shareholders of the Bank of Ireland?
The financial markets are telling us exactly what is happening. The taxpayer will bail out the shareholders of our big banks who would have been wiped out if it weren’t for Nama. Why should a democratic government broker a deal which bails out stockholders and unsecured bond holders, both of whom have no right to be treated with such generosity?
Your guess is as good as mine. The markets realise that Nama is going to pay over the odds for the loans and then through a rather clumsy use of the ECB’s discount window, the banks get financed.
My fear is not what has already been said about the transfer of wealth from us to them, but the extent of it.
Now that the banks realise that they don’t have to worry about the bad loans they made in their relentless pursuit of profit, where will they stop? What is to stop them putting every bad loan into Nama?
In fact, how can we be sure that, in future, the banks will not use Nama as a large skip for their bad loans, from today’s developer loans to defaults on mortgages, car loans, credit cards and kitchen extension loans? Why wouldn’t they?
Every time they repackage and roll up their ‘‘across the board’’ defaults into one large digestible block, they will simply drop it into Nama and – guess what? – their share price will rise again. Because the new bank bosses, like the old bank bosses, will be paid bonuses related to the share price of their companies, they will have a personal and institutional incentive to continue hurling their rubbish into the skip.
So the banks have engineered yet another one-way bet. In the boom, there was the ‘‘property can only go up’’ bet. They borrowed all they could from other European banks, safe in the knowledge that they were becoming ‘‘too big to fail’’ but were assured that they would never be ‘‘too big to bail’’. The reason they were assured of this is that is how Ireland works.
We use our bond market not as an innovative way to finance development, but as a tip where we hide the mistakes of the present and lumber the next generation with the bill. This is what we are now doing and it is despicable.
And who will be the real beneficiaries of all this? Some Canadian bank or other foreign bank? Foreign banks will come in and buy our banking system when the Irish taxpayer has absorbed all of the mistakes of the past five years. They will get banks in a first world country at third world prices, with the added insurance that all the debts have been taken off their books by a pliant and shell-shocked population.
And do you know who will make sure this happens? The very investment banks which are advising the government now. The investment banks make their fees on arranging deals and they will lead the government up the Nama garden path with both eyes firmly on their exit strategy of a sale to some other investment bank.
Then what will happen is the old banks will charge way over the odds for banking in Ireland, so that they can pay the state back the levy the state imposes on them at the end. But who pays the banking levy?
We do – the poor bloody customers. So we will get taxed twice. We will get taxed on the proportion of the Nama rubbish which is tossed onto the national debt and we’ll be taxed again to pay for the levy. That’s if we get that far before a public debt crisis in Ireland.
The Carroll decision in the High Court last week will be important because the Dutch farmers’ bank that owns ACC may yet decide to opt for a fire sale of some assets in Ireland. The reason they will do this is (a) to get out of Ireland as quickly as possible and (b) to preserve their AAA status and not risk contamination from their association with Ireland.
Any sale will prove that the mantra ‘‘there is no market’’ is a lie. There is a market; it is just a very cheap one. This will give us an idea of the extent of the overpayment and, by the unforgiving logic of finance, the extent of our wealth transfer to shareholders.
You couldn’t make this stuff up. A much cleaner and fairer idea would be to wind down the banks now. Before we do this, we’d have to go to the ECB and argue that Nama is the wrong way of going about things. We value the ECB’s liquidity and believe there is amore productive way of using it.
When the guarantee goes next October, or when we announce that we will not continue it, the foreign banks that have provided liquidity to our domestic banking system will run for the door. To prevent the system seizing up, we need liquidity from somewhere else.
So why not say to the ECB: forget the Nama bonds, just replace the short-term liquidity that will flee the country. This way we can negotiate with the bank creditors in an orderly fashion and create a new banking system out of the old one. The shareholders, unsecured, and senior bond holders would take the hit.
The ECB injects liquidity into the system so that the system doesn’t freeze up and, in return, it is off the hook from the nonsense that is the Nama bonds. We institute a deposits guarantee and begin to wind up our banks.
It is at this stage that we go to the foreign banks and ask them would they like to be partners in a new bank. The government is therefore a broker in the deal, rather than a principal.
We sell the banks’ branch network and some other assets. The creditors get this cash. Then we start again. The developers are declared bankrupt and off we go.
No Nama, no old banks, no debts, no problem. By the way, it’s not radical, it’s called capitalism.