Pillar of Salt? Two reactions to the BOI Report

David McWilliams is out of the blocks describing the latest report from Bank of Ireland in less than stellar terms:

The report shows that only 14 per cent of Bank of Ireland’s total owner-occupier mortgage book is in such a healthy situation. When we examine its buy-to-let portfolio, we see that only 6 per cent of these mortgages are in such a healthy situation. In total, 12 per cent of mortgage holders have a ratio of less than 50 per cent.

Seamus Coffey has a longer study of the report. From his piece:

In total, the loan-to-value of BOI’s owner-occupied loan book is estimated to be a rather convenient looking 100%.  The negative equity of the €10,567 million of loans with LTVs of greater than 100% is estimated to be €2,474 million.  The aggregate loan-to-value of the loans in negative equity is 131%.  On the other hand the aggregate loan-to-value of loans not in negative equity is 81%.  Finally, here is the spread of arrears and impairment across the different LTVs.

Unsurprisingly, arrears and impairment are more likely amongst those loans that are in negative equity though almost one-third of those in arrears are not in negative equity.  The portion of the loan book that has a loan-to-value of more than 181% has arrears of 15.5% by loan balance compared to just 4.8% for all loans which are not in negative equity.

Overall, not great news. However, Seamus continues:

If the €2,474 million of negative equity on mortgages in BOI’s owner-occupied Irish mortgage book then, being 18.4% of the total market, this would imply that the level of negative equity in the residential mortgage market is around €13,500 million.  As BOI’s loan book is better performing better than the rest of the market, and also has loans from before 2002 that newer entrants to the market do not have, this is likely to be an estimate from the lower range.

Worth discussing on this site: if Bank of Ireland is the least worst bank we have, and the bank’s own estimates don’t look that credible, what does this mean for the banking system as a whole?

By Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

34 replies on “Pillar of Salt? Two reactions to the BOI Report”

if Bank of Ireland is the least worst bank we have, and the bank’s own estimates don’t look that credible, what does this mean for the banking system as a whole?

It means Bank of Ireland, having already flown the coop, can charge yet more of its losses to the state, remain in private hands, can keep on squeezing homeoowners and small business dry, keep all “profits” for itself and its reinsitutied management bonuses, and can even expect to get the choicest cuts of AIB when that old horse is finally sent to the glue factory.

It means that all the crowing around here and elsewhere about the brilliance of the BoI sale was in fact a complete and utter load of nonsense, and that the sale itself should never have happenned, was bad for the country, and was little more than a reward for sharp suited failure.

It means that in Ireland, it is the most vicious stoat gets to keep all the rabbits to itself. It means we have the rule of the jungle rather than the rule of law. We have plutocracy instead of capitalism.

In other words, it means precisely nothing we didn’t already know.

Full Disclose: I have a Bank of Ireland account.

It means that a lot more debt problems are coming down the track. Given falling employment and rising long term unemployment how can there be any other outcome? The insolvency proposals recently are almost entirely loaded in favour of the financial institutions.

The government repackages various jobs and entrepreneur initiatives like a frantic cook rewriting a menu but keeping the dishes constant but the costs of doing business keep rising. If anyone believes that fuel costs can keep rising for example without a serious knock on effect on businesses and employment, they are kidding themselves.

I heard an academic on RTE over the weekend claim that the government’s target of 100k ‘gross’ jobs by 2016 is realistic. Pass that soma around please.


I have a Bank of Ireland account too. We are Spartacus!

We all know there’s a can of worms in these mortgage books. Why doesn’t the government force them to lay the cards on the table so that everything is in the open. Can’t start fixing things until you know the problem you are trying to fix. All this concealing, can kicking and hoping something will turn up is like a bunch of kids who broke Mum’s ornament and have tried to glue it back together and put it back on the mantlepiece in the hope that it won’t be noticed (or perhaps that all those who are capable of noticing are inside their own tent).

Rinse and repeat above for all European and US banks.

We all know there’s a can of worms in these mortgage books. Why doesn’t the government force them to lay the cards on the table so that everything is in the open.

Because the Government is afraid. The ECB, banks, and two generations of narrowly educated, market-indoctrinated technocrats, civil servants and economists have put the fear of god into every Government minister and almost all backbench TDs. The Government has been so terrorized by prophecies of a financial apocalypse that it will do anything to keep the banks, senior civil servants, and themselves on the take rather than actually tackle the issues.

We’re being lead by Chicken-Little leaders, right into the foxes den.

It’s a state of chassis but the Government cannot take responsibility for negative equity.

Part of the large percentage (40%) of owner-occupiers without a mortgage, fuelled some of this by paying the deposits for children.

Taking a broad measure of unemployment and allowing for a percentage in rentals, some of it partly paid by the State, 75% are in employment.

So the key issue is servicing mortgages.

The buy-to-let market was the craziest part of the market and units should be repossessed to increase rental stock.

Why is the State paying rent subsidy of a half a million euros to private landlords?

It would be nice if the Taoiseach could wave a German cheque at the airport like Albert Reynolds but that isn’t going to happen.

It’s easy to call people Chicken-Littles but do we really want FF to return promising a chicken in every pot?

How much money has been lost on Irish property to date since the advent of the crash ? If it wasn’t for those Lehman Brothers none of this would have happened.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for the link to the DMcW piece. These definitely are two different ways of looking at the same figures!

I think the negative equity findings are useful but I think the real insight from the numbers released by BOI is in the arrears figures.

– Around 85% of BOI’s owner-occupied mortgages are being paid at least according to the terms of the original agreement.
– Around 98% of all mortgages that have been restructured (O-O and BTL) are paying interest only or greater on their balances.
– Around 16% of mortgages in arrears have been restructured suggesting that many are back making full payments, though in arrears after missing some payments.
– Around 85% of mortgages with a loan-to-value in excess of 180% are not in arrears.
– Around 32% of mortgages in arrears are not in negative equity.


Your view corresponds to a glass three-quarters full and it is good to see this view being asserted.

However, assuming that three-quarters of the population is in good health should we worry about having a defective health system? Of course. Surely, the same response should apply to those in poor financial health

@ Seamus Coffey,

Thankfully someone still looks at Irish bank annual reports.

BOI’s Owner Occ. impairment provisions look a bit small. At Dec 11, 31.8% provisions as a %age of impaired. However if you look at tables 6 & 6a and do some (ropey) calculations*, you could infer provisions should be in the order of 51%.

*dodgy calcs as follows: (from table 6) Avg repossessed O.O. balance = 29,000,000/99 = 292,929. (from table 6a) Avg O.O balance AFTER provisions = 8,000,000/56 = 142,857. Assuming the avg balance ‘pre-impairment’ of the 56 is the same as the 99 ‘in possession’ properties, we’d get impairment provisions of 51%. Given the small sample, this is somewhat ropey. Though if you factor in that ‘more attractive’ properties are easier to foreclose etc; it wouldn’t be to hard to add a couple more percentage points to the impairment rates. I wouldn’t be surprised to see recovery rates of between 30% to 40%.

Looking at the asset quality section of the Bank of Ireland results shows clearly how precarious its situation is still. Coverage ratios are poor across the board while overdue or impaired loans are more than twice the current equity value.

So far we have not hit the stress case outlined in the PCAR but we are well on our way and the pace of decline in the mortgage market does not appear to be abating.

This is worth another airing


In his 1926 book Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt: The Solution of the Economic Paradox, (a book that presaged the market crash of 1929), Soddy pointed out the fundamental difference between real wealth – buildings, machinery, oil, pigs – and virtual wealth, in the form of money and debt.

Soddy wrote that real wealth was subject to the inescapable entropy law of thermodynamics and would rot, rust, or wear out with age, while money and debt – as accounting devices invented by humans – were subject only to the laws of mathematics.

Rather than decaying, virtual wealth, in the form of debt, compounding at the rate of interest, actually grows without bounds.

Soddy used concrete examples to demonstrate the flaw in economic thinking. A farmer who raises pigs faces biophysical limits on how many pigs he can take to market. But if that pig farmer took on debt – a promise to repay at a future date – he would in effect be issuing a claim or lien on his future production of pigs. If he borrowed the equivalent value of 100 pigs, he could represent the loan on his balance sheet as “-100 pigs.”

While debt as the farmer’s accounting entry is negative, negative pigs do not really exist. If the farmer should suffer a series of lean years and be unable to pay the interest, he might soon owe more pigs than could be raised on his farm. After a year, with interest looming, he’d show “-110 pigs”; in 5 years, “-161”; in 40 (assuming a patient bank), “-4526.” When the bank finally came to call on the pig farmer to collect repayment of its loan, it could well find that most of the virtual wealth that had grown so appealingly on its books had to be written off as a loss.

on the other hand seafoid, what ends up happening is the farmer loses everything… while the bank gets more real wealth

transpose to modern day…. the banks will end up as the new landlord class…. worse than the brits ever were

I see there’s interest in the LTV ratio…but when was the value calculated ? Sure the bank would have the original value as a datum,but the current ? It would be some endeavor to calculate current value for tens of thousands of properties on an automated basis…one I doubt Boi systems are capable of.


“How much money has been lost on Irish property to date since the advent of the crash ? If it wasn’t for those Lehman Brothers none of this would have happened.”

All financial bubbles burst,sooner or later.Lehman Brothers is in no way responsible for the delusion that made a whole country become property speculators .Morgan Kelly wrote about it in 2006,two years before Lehman’s bankruptcy.

I suppose the main issue for the banks is that the trend of mortgages getting into trouble isn’t improving @all @all . Has anyone projected the numbers out a few years ?

In retrospect it was stupid to pay off the bondholders at 100 cents in the Euro 🙂

“… … what does this mean for the banking system as a whole?”

More than I care to think about.

@ Seafóid: Soddy was my first excursion into the dreamworld of economics. I cannot rem how I came upon his book – serendipity I believe. I have 2005 inscribed on the flysheet. So I must have had a bee in my bonnet back then! I have the 1933 US edition.

“How much money has been lost on Irish property … …? Depends on when you purchased, I guess. Pre 1996 – your either even Stephen or still ahead. After that – you have a problemo! If’n you have to sell, that is. If’n you can hunker down, and have enough disposable to pay your mortgage you will emerge – like the residents of Grozny after Ivan got through with his bombardments. 😎

Negative equity is not a problem if the economy grows rapidly and consistently. This cannot happen now. The structural fundamentals are in the slurry tank. If I take my optimism pill I see 0%. My pessimism pill gives a -3%.

Given all the competent, voluble practising economists we have – both academic and non-academic – has anyone figured out why it fell to an economic historian (normally dealing with the economics of periods long past) to highlight the unsustainable lunacy that was being perpetrated?

@PH: Its known as Lateral Thinking. Not on any syllabus I know of. You need to be a bit quirky in the way you frame things.

I was interested that David McWilliams defines a home mortgage as “solvent” if the market value of the house is greater than the book value of the loan. He states

“In all, just half of the Bank of Ireland’s residential owner-occupier mortgages are solvent. By solvent, I mean that the equity in the house covers the loans.”

So the promise to pay back the loan is assigned a value of zero – sort of like ex-post no-recourse loan contracts? Interesting perspective. I agree that in the current political/economic environment Irish households are bad credit risks but it seems excessive to treat them as having zero credit value?


+1 and two smileys.
“While debt as the farmer’s accounting entry is negative, negative pigs do not really exist. If the farmer should suffer a series of lean years and be unable to pay the interest, he might soon owe more pigs than could be raised on his farm. After a year, with interest looming, he’d show “-110 pigs”; in 5 years, “-161”; in 40 (assuming a patient bank), “-4526.” …”

Soddy’s book must have bee studied in Germany. They have decided to kill all the PIIGS while there is still some lard on their rear ends.

@ Desmond

Would it not be easy enough to take a download of the prices from a site like daft.ie and match it by area to the BoI book? I presume they could throw in a bit of averaging but it shouldn’t be too complicated. Even Richie Boucher could probably do it.

It wouldn’t be that easy,some potential problems:
1)BOI Addresses are by and large free text fields,and certainly wouldn’t have geocoding
2) Property characteristics other than location may be relevant to change in value(e.g. shoeboxes are moving out of fashion)
3)That would require co-operation with Daft,which I haven’t heard of
4)There could be regulatory/legal problems with using any system that was not very robust

Now I broadly think auto updating of house values is possible,but given Irish bank’s poor info systems…I’d be very suspicious as to if this is done(and if done what the error bounds are)


Precisely why the term everyone is led to believe has importance namely location, location, location, doesn’t.

It should only ever read rental yield, rental yield, rental yield.

Had those, including BOI, who lent the money at the top of the market to finance properties in D4 and D6 understood the stupidity of a net rental yield of less than 1% then the location, .. nonsense could and should have been assigned to the bin where such estate agent dross actually belongs.

As seafoid notes above a very simple rental yield analysis by location would and should give a very comprehensive picture of the likely real LTV when the dust finally settles. The PTT falls will be c75% to 80% for the market as a whole which means the CB adverse case numbers will be wrong by c30%.

@Gregory Connor

re “Solvent”

Solvency, as far as I know, in legal terms is defined as the ability to pay debts as they arise. In that sense it would be more accurate to assign the term to the householder rather than the house.
Nevertheless one has to start somewhere and the David McWilliams definition of solvency would appear to be based on the concept of anything greater than a 100% mortgage as being “insolvent”.
There would be several thousands who are occupying houses in that position but who would not be considered insolvent either by themselves or by any independent person.

It seems to me you are correct. By that definition the householder is assigned a zero credit value. But what other system could be used.

Another question that needs to be asked in the context of negative equity is this. Suppose I am a a householder in serious negative equity and struggling but have impending substantial expenditures that I consider of more benefit to my family than continuing to pay a mortgage.
In particular I have in mind the cost of third level education for say two or three children.
If this is a straightforward choice, will I pay my mortgage or pay my ‘childrens’ education. In addition how will banks looking at the personal circumstances of the mortgagee evaluate this situation?

@Joseph Ryan

The analysis coming from the US is that c60% PTT falls in house prices represent a tipping point. When your house loses 60% of its value that you had once thought it held the mood music changes and the infamous jingle mail makes its presence felt.

Given the recourse nature of the Irish mortgage market the analysis here will be different but there will come a point when the ‘whats the point’ barrier is reached and at that stage I believe thousands in the circumstances noted above will say ” f&*k the bank, son, go off and get educated. “

@ Desmond

I know what you mean and the addresses would be less than straightforward but would Wilbur not have given the BoI IT wallahs a kick up the behind ? I was looking at that Irish econ conference presentation by Rob Kitchin and there has been some great work done on mapping the bust so why wouldn’t BoI have something along the same lines ? They have a certain amount of mortgage capital to write off and it is in their interest to allocate it correctly.

McWilliams being disingenuous as per usual. Very little correlation historically between negative equity and arrears. Reality is most of high LTVs in BOI were probably BTL and the borrowers had an incentive to get as close to 100% LTV due to interest relief against rental income. Huge % of BTLs were retirees and the well off, negative equity on property more than offset by their own home and/or income and ability to pay. Almost zero chance of bad debt. Fact is that Blackrock stressed the Irish banks mortgage debts, they have been forced to carry capital to cover extreme losses and predictions of widescale defaulting have no basis, its unemployment that matters first second and third re arrears in every country who has had this kind of problem. The crude analysis of DMcW and his infantile conclusions versus Blackrock and their months of work with their reputation on the line…..mmmm ???

Meanwhile the “banking crisis” tag enters its 6th year of continuous use.
It is not more of a sorrowful mystery at this stage than a crisis ?

at least a decade of the sorrowful mysteries plus a few trimmings, maybe even a Rosary of Austerity

Re McWilliams,
I think he was trying to use accounting terminology and mark to market on the underlying asset, therefore the bank needs to charge the I/S with the delta and therefore reducing it’s capital base and thus in need of fresh liquidity. With proviso that this is the extreme of the value range as it would be scaled back by the weighted average of the actual good repayment base in order to give a rational impairment charge. That seems like a pragmatic accounting treatment of these assets, and maybe a bit more aggressive just to be on the safe side. So I think he was predicting that the capital base is going to be canabilised further if prices continuing falling using this methodlogy.

@Stephen re : Seamus Coffey writing the following

“….this would imply that the level of negative equity in the residential mortgage market is around €13,500 million”

Congratulations and many thanks to both of you Stephen and Seamus for finally getting a figure on the negative equity story.

This is a welcome change to the sensationalist “horse manure” which passses for commentary/analysis in the media when it comes to this matter. Even if 13.5 billion estimate is at the “lower range”( I am not an economist but my highest “guesstimate” was somewhere in the region of 15-16 Billion Euro ) it helps to put a “workable” figure on the negative equity story.

It is also essential to bear in mind that a lot of negative equity are on mortgages which are performing and this being amortised.

While every body is interested in hearing about negative equity examples where there is a a very lage “gap” between the loan and the value we also have to bear in mind that there are negative equity exmaples where the “gap” maybe as little as thrity thousand Euro on performing mortagages with a lage principle component and no desire by the owner/occupiers to leave the property in the foreseeable future.

This negative equity story is a bit like the national debt story (basically the sky is going to fall in , Irish Government are going to run out of cash within weeks,locusts are going to land at any moment and the majority of the population are going to have to roam the streets like scavenging beggars etc,etc) which I am glad to say either Seamus or Stephen put in context recently.

We have a problem with negative equity (or more specifically those which are in arrears) a large national debt, sectors of the public service which cost too much, a ludicrous currency and belong to an often bewildering European Union but IMHO these are challenges which can be dealt with if we use a bit of honest truth, concise figures, less sensationalist spin and once again demonstrate to our partners in the EU how a mature democracy is supposed to work.

Well done Stephen (and Seamus) for demonstrating why this site is an invaluable asset to people who want to get at the truth behind the manure. Now that we have a referendum coming up we are going to have to make a huge effort to get at the truth, so that we can make informed choices when we eventually vote, while we are bombarded with scare mongering on both sides of the NO or Yes campaign. 🙂

RBS, LLoyds and now PTSB all coming out with worse than forecast impairment figures. This would tend to suggest that BOI’s estimates on this front are sanguine. And assuming a push through effect, AIB is probably in the same boat.

The reports yesterday about property price falls shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with a toe in the market (and as for ‘half-finished’ houses dotting rural roads, how are they valued?). But for reasons that defeat me there isn’t a national political initiative to address the problem, in the same way that the ‘banking crisis’ is addressed as a national emergency.

It will certainly cost the government votes in the forthcoming referendum.

@ The Alchemist: In the olde days – not so long ago, and not so far away, you obtained a man’s rapt and immediate attention by producing a soldering iron and demonstrating its heating properties. You then suggested that he might wish to ‘address the problem – lack of answers (or initiative), but if not, you would insert the iron up his fundament and switch on the current, briefly, as a demonstration – you understand. Responses were swift and immediate.

The ‘soldering iron’ of negative equity/mortgage defaultings/loss of incomes has yet to be inserted and switched on. Then we will get results – just maybe not what we need. But there is always hope.

Would some moderator care cull the various political ‘quotes of the day’ – in respect of the Ref. and post the most egregious or hilarious or stupid, (sans comments of course). All we would need then is for Martin (spelt with a Y) Turner to insert a wee cartoon or so. 😎

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