On the day that we found out that, contrary to the mantra of “everything was done on the basis of the best possible advice” the Irish government failed to follow the expert advice it received from Merrill Lynch when it decided to introduce a blanket guarantee, the state broadcaster brought on David Murphy to explain the implications. Viewers of the Six-One news were treated to the following exchange:
Sharon ni Bheolain: So with the benefit of hindsight and knowing now what we do know particularly about the value of those assets underpinning the loans, can we say that the blanket guarantee was the wrong way to go or is that an oversimplification?
David Murphy: I think in hindsight the guarantee probably was the right way to go and that’s exactly the conclusion that Patrick Honohan came to in his recent reports on the banks. The question though is “did they guaranteed too much?” and they did include subordinated debt in the guarantee. That was something that Merrill Lynch warned against. Merrill Lynch did make a number of warnings about introducing the guarantee. It said that Europe won’t be happy and that was right. It said that there will be a negative knock-on consequence for borrowing money in financial markets and that was right too. But it looks as if the government probably did choose the right option finally.
David reckons Patrick Honohan says that with hindsight the guarantee issued was the right way go. Let me turn the microphone over to Governor Honohan:
the extent of the cover provided (including to outstanding long-term bonds) can – even without the benefit of hindsight – be criticised inasmuch as it complicated and narrowed the eventual resolution options for the failing institutions and increased the State‘s potential share of the losses.
As I have discussed here before, Honohan’s arguments in favour of some sort of guarantee do not in any way mean his report backed the full blanket guarantee that was introduced. Rather than backing the guarantee with the benefit of hindsight, he opposes it even without this benefit!
So the only argument David Murphy can produce to defend the blanket guarantee is the claim that someone who opposed it (albeit in diplomatic language) was exactly in favour of it. Perhaps David had another argument and I have missed it.
More seriously, I heard An Taoiseach on the radio today defending the decision to introduce the blanket guarantee on the grounds that this was required to keep access to funding open for the Irish banks. Again, I’d defer to Governor Honohan, who argued in his report that the inclusion in the guarantee of existing long-term bonds “was not necessary in order to protect the immediate liquidity position. These investments were in effect locked-in.”
So, let’s recap. The government did not, in fact, follow the best possible advice that it paid for when introducing a blanket guarantee. Governor Honohan is not an advocate of blanket guarantees. And blanket guarantees are not necessary to deal with short-term liquidity problems.
Still, at least the government has David Murphy’s support.