One of the classic techniques of government spin-doctoring is to brief the press prior to a bad news announcement to the effect that the announcement is actually good news.
Today the Irish Independent reported that the soon-to-be-released IMF Article IV staff report enthusiastically praises the government’s approach to the banking crisis. The Indo reported that “the IMF says the Government is right in the action it has taken on the two key areas of banking and the public finances … The IMF backs the setting up of the National Asset Management Agency … It says NAMA offers the chance of taking bad assets from the banks, which is a precondition for their return to health. And the IMF agrees NAMA can be self-financing”
Sounds like a strong endorsement for the govenment, huh? Well, the report has now been released. It has lots of interesting stuff in it, which I’m sure our contributors will have more to say about later. Naturally, however, I was drawn to page 19 of the report:
25. Staff noted that nationalization could become necessary but should be seen as complementary to NAMA. Where the size of its impaired assets renders a bank critically undercapitalized or insolvent, the only real option may be temporary nationalization. Recent Fund advice in this regard is: “Insolvent institutions (with insufficient cash flows) should be closed, merged, or temporarily placed in public ownership until private sector solutions can be developed … there have been numerous instances (for example, Japan, Sweden and the United States), where a period of public ownership has been used to cleanse balance sheets and pave the way to sales back to the private sector.” Having taken control of the bank, the shareholders would be fully diluted in the interest of protecting the taxpayer and thus preserving the political legitimacy of the initiative. The bad assets would still be carved out, but the thorny issue of purchase price would be less important, and the period of price discovery longer, since the transactions are between two government-owned entities. The management of the full range of bad assets would proceed under the NAMA structure. Nationalization could also be used to effect needed mergers in the absence of more far reaching resolution techniques.
26. The authorities prefer that banks stay partly in private ownership to provide continued market pricing of their underlying assets. They disagreed with the staff’s view that pricing of bad assets would be any easier under nationalization. They were also concerned that nationalization may generate negative sentiment with implications for the operational integrity of the banks. Staff emphasized nationalization would need to be accompanied by a clear commitment to operate the banks in a transparent manner on a commercial basis. In particular, nationalized banks should be subject to the same capital requirements and supervisory oversight as non-nationalized banks. And, a clear exit strategy to return the banks to private operation would be needed.
What do people think? A ringing endorsement of the government’s approach?