I’d like to pass on a few comments on the question of who owns senior Irish bank bonds, an issue that has been discussed on a number of occasions by Seamus Coffey from UCC.
Here’s a nice chart from Seamus’s blog using data from Table 4.2 of the Central Bank’s Money and Banking statistics. The chart shows that when the September 2008 guarantee was put in place, only €23 billion of the €97 billion in outstanding bonds of the covered banks were classified by the Central Bank as being held by Irish residents while today that share is €50.7 billion out of €77.6 billion.
There are a number of reasons why one should be careful in interpreting these statistics.
First, as I understand it, the Central Bank don’t keep track of secondary market activity in these bonds and so don’t actually know who the current owners of these bonds are. The estimates are largely based on the first holder of the debt when it is issued.
Second, in some cases, the “holder” is a trustee that manages the debt issuance and the subsequent payment streams on behalf of the issuing bank. So, for example, if an Irish bank issues debt that is held by an Irish resident firm Custodian Plc who manage the payment streams, but the ultimate beneficial owner of the debt (who ultimately gets the coupon payments, etc.) is a German pension fund, then the Central Bank statistics will report the debt securities as being held by Irish residents.
Third, much of the €50.7 billion currently deemed to be held by Irish residents is stuff like “own-use” bonds guaranteed by the Irish government. If, however, one is debating the question of failing to pay out on unguaranteed bonds, then you are generally talking about bonds issued prior to September 2008 and these are largely classified in these statistics as “foreign resident” bonds.
Finally, this may be obvious but it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the fact that some of these bonds may be owned by Irish residents is hardly a sufficient justification for using taxpayer funds to redeem them, rather than letting the pension funds or private citizens lose money on a bad investment.
To be honest, the fate of senior Irish bank bonds is probably generating more heat at this point than it should. It seems to me that there is no chance of the government adopting a policy of failing to pay out on AIB or Bank of Ireland’s senior bonds, so what is genuinely at debate is the roughly €4 billion or so in senior bonds outstanding at Anglo and Irish Nationwide. For what it’s worth, I suspect that most of these bonds are currently owned by international hedge funds and distressed debt desks of investment banks. So far, their investment strategy has been working out really well.
In relation to the cost of the banking bailout, an issue that may loom larger in the future than senior bonds is the policy the Irish government should adopt in a potential sovereign default situation to future payments on the Anglo and INBS promissory notes, keeping in mind that their major creditor is a certain Frankfurt-based institution.