The Power of Inaction: Bank Bailouts in Comparison

In this new book, Cornelia Woll examines the political economy of bank bailouts in a variety of countries; it includes a comparison of Ireland versus Denmark.  More details here.

Evidence on the likely impact of the patent cliff

NUIM’s Chris Van Egeraat has posted some recently presented work responding to this Department of Finance working paper (.pdf) on the patent cliff, first brought to my attention, anyway, on this blog by Frank Barry.

Chris looks carefully at the actual products coming off patent and finds only one, Nameda, which is big enough to cause a wobble. As he notes, the amount of information is pretty poor in this area, so caveats remain.

What the bankers knew on the night of the guarantee

Readers will definitely be interested in this piece by Tom Lyons on what the Ireland’s top bankers (and Indecon’s Alan Gray) knew, chiefly about the state of Anglo Irish Bank, in the run up to the crisis. There is at least one record of the events of the night as set down by Dermot Gleeson.

The (reported) state of knowledge is pretty much the same:

  • No one knew how deeply damaged Anglo’s balance sheets were, or could be;
  • Much of the focus was on restoring confidence in the system, with everyone talking in terms of liquidity rather than solvency issues, and in terms of preventing a run on the banks.
Despite this invaluable reporting by Tom Lyons one wonders why it took 2029 days to put these accounts into the public sphere. Brian Cowen was right when he argued in his GeorgeTown speech (.pdf) that “if we are to learn from the crisis it is necessary to understand why many of the actions taken seemed sensible at the time”.
Cowen goes on to write:

We had to deal with this crisis in real time. Our view at the time was that we would get one shot at calming the markets.

Tom Lyons’ piece seems to back up this account.

This piece by the FT’s Vincent Boland, featuring TCD’s Constantin Gurdgiev, The Irish Examiner’s Mick Clifford, and (ahem) myself has more reaction to the fallout from the Anglotrial.

Ending the Sean FitzPatrick Myth

16th April 2014: Sean FitzPatrick has been found not guilty of all charges relating to the Maple 10 transaction. First the judge (for some of the charges) and then the jury (for the remaining charges) examined the evidence carefully, and declared him not guilty. The Maple 10 scheme was truly outrageous, but there is no reason to second-guess the verdicts as given.

From a broader perspective, these not-guilty verdicts might encourage a deeper understanding and better public response to the Irish credit bubble and financial collapse. It is a myth that Sean FitzPatrick caused the Irish financial collapse. Sean FitzPatrick was a major character in the Irish credit bubble, but not a fundamental cause. The collapse is better explained by the extremely “light-touch” financial regulatory system which was deliberately chosen by the democratically elected government of the Irish state, and to a lesser degree by the deeply-flawed Euro currency system chosen by member states. Over the short term, the Irish public benefitted handsomely from both the flawed Euro currency system and the very flawed light-touch Irish financial regulatory system. The Irish electorate was keenly enthusiastic for both.

The Maple Ten scheme was an outrageous transaction whose sole purpose was to unwind another outrageous transaction – the accumulation of a disguised 29% ownership of Anglo Irish Bank by Sean Quinn using contracts for difference (CFD). CFD’s are only legal in some countries, are a naturally toxic trading vehicle, and evade corporate governance rules by disguising true share ownership. Ireland during the boom was a world leader in the use of CFD’s, and Sean Quinn’s disguised 29% ownership position using CFD’s was particularly outrageous.  The Irish financial regulator was simultaneously monitoring (or not monitoring) two very large and very dubious financial transactions in a relatively tiny domestic financial system. To lose track of one large, dubious financial scandal may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose track of two looks like carelessness.

During the bubble period macro-prudential risk regulation by the Irish Central Bank was also (with hindsight) very poor.

The fundamental causes of the Irish financial collapse were two flawed systems – a flawed Euro monetary system and a very flawed Irish financial regulatory system. Both of these systems were built up in broad view and with enthusiastic public support.

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See Corbet and Twomey for a technical treatment and empirical study of CFDs, with a focus on Irish CFDs.

Draft National Risk Assessment


Comments welcome until 30th June to nra at