AIB Subordinated Liabilities Order

One item that hasn’t been discussed on this blog in recent weeks is the Subordinated Liabilities Order issued by Minister Noonan in relation to AIB’s debt instruments. I guess everyone knew this was coming so the order in itself was no big deal. However, the order is now getting some attention (here and here) due to the fact that it appears to mess with existing capital hierarchies. In particular, it appears to have left the preference shares owned by the Irish government untouched while adjusting the terms of subordinated debt.

This seems to me like a bad idea. I’m all in favour of seeing subordinated bondholders in AIB get wiped out given the enormous extent of state support that has been required to keep the bank going. But if you are going to do this, then you should respect the hierarchy of claims that exists.

Many of us have questioned the wisdom of the protection of senior bondholders in Irish banks at the expense of a potential sovereign default. However, those who have argued in favour of protection of senior bondholders have generally made points about the need to maintain the reputation of the domestic banking sector in light of its huge ongoing funding gap. If this is our approach, then is it wise to get a reputation as a country which randomly up-ends existing claims hierarchies at the whim of a Minister?

Pension Reserve Fund Set to Make €1.8 billion Loss on AIB Shares

NAMAWineLake blog performs yet another valuable public service and points out that Brian Lenihan’s statement of October 30 told us that “AIB’s upcoming €5.4 billion will be fully underwritten by the National Pension Reserve Fund Commission (NPRFC) at a fixed price of €0.50 per share.”  Unfortunately, the shares closed on Friday at €0.337.

This means the Pension Reserve Fund looks set to make an instant loss of €1.8 billion when it purchases these shares. There is, of course, an alternative. Cancel the underwriting, nationalise the bank and appoint an assessor to value the shares. If, for instance, the shares were valued at their closing price on Friday, this would cost us €364 million. Which sounds better? Losing €1.8 billion or losing €364 million. Is it worth €1.4 billion to retain a tiny private ownership share?

It is also worth raising the question of whether the current process we are going through with AIB is the right one. Rather than being so sure that the bank just needs another €5.4 billion to fix it, why not remove the current upper management immediately, introduce new management charged with fully assessing the bank’s loan book and then decide what to do with it?

If AIB is deemed to be deeply insolvent at that point, we are already (albeit slowly) developing a template for dealing with banks of this kind. This would involve splitting AIB into a good bank and a bad bank, leaving the €4.5 billion in subordinated debt in the bad bank and perhaps negotiating with with the holders of these securities to reduce the amount of public funds required to cover the losses.

If the losses at AIB are larger than the authorities currently envisage, then there are strong arguments against continually putting taxpayers money in to protect other providers of risk capital.

AIB Sell Stake in Polish Bank

AIB have (finally!) sold their 70% stake in Polish bank Bank Zachodni for €3.1 billion (press release here). The bank reports that the disposal

will generate c. €2.5bn of equivalent equity tier 1 capital towards meeting AIB’s Prudential Capital Assessment Review requirement set by the Irish Financial Regulator.

As I understand it, there are two elements to this €2.5 billion figure.

Page 225 of the bank’s 2009 annual report states

The market value at 31 December 2009 of the shareholding in BZWBK S.A. of €1.5 billion (2008: €1.3 billion) exceeds the carrying amount including goodwill of the investment by €0.09 billion

In other words, the stake in Bank Zachodni was valued at €1.4 billion on AIB’s balance sheet. So AIB has sold this asset for €1.7 billion more than this carrying value, triggering a corresponding increase in the bank’s equity.

In addition, because the Polish bank’s balance sheet was integrated into AIB’s consolidated balance sheet, the disposal allows AIB to deduct €10 billion from its risk-weighted assets (see page 35 of the 2009 annual report). With a target Tier 1 equity ratio of 8%, this implies a reduction of €800 million in the amount of equity the bank is required to have to meet its target (this is the part of the general Honey I Shrunk the Bank survival strategy). Added to the €1.7 billion gain on the sale, you arrive at the €2.5 billion figure.

This is a positive outcome but it’s not too far ahead of expectations as I understood them. For instance, a nice analysis from Barclay’s Capital a few months ago assumed the sale would generate a profit of €1.3 billion, which would put this €400 million ahead of that. The Barcap analysis foresaw the bank converting €3.3 billion of its €3.5 billion in preference shares into common equity, with the state then having €3.3 billion of €5.5 billion in common equity for a 60 percent ownership stake.

Keeping everything else unchanged, the additional €400 million from today’s sale would see the state converting €2.9 billion to common equity, which would still see it having a 53 percent stake (2.9 / 5.5 = 0.53).

Of course, the baseline 60 percent stake of that analysis may have been a bit low (others have been more pessimistic) and there’s lots of other moving parts to this analysis. However, today was a step in the right direction for AIB in its quest for the ultimate prize: 49.999% state ownership.

More Comments on AIB’s Half-Yearly Report

I surely have better things to do with my time but, yes, I spent the evening reading AIB’s half year report (with the Airtricity boys doing us proud in the background.) As John already noted, the report has a lot of pretty bad news in it, so I thought I’d point out some sort of positive news (before getting back to the bad stuff).

Liquidity Situation

The good news? Despite concerns that have been expressed about a looming “wall of cash” moment, AIB looks as though it’s in a position to get through to the end of the year paying back all its debts, though this may require ECB assistance.

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State Gets 18% of AIB

AIB have released an interim management statement. As expected, the bank has not been able to pay the state its cash dividend of €280 million, so they are issuing shares for this amount instead. The NAMA bonds are referred to “enhancing our contingent liquidity resources.”

As an aside—and sorry to bring up Frank Fahey twice in two days—I’d note when I appeared on the radio with Deputy Fahey in February, he told listeners that the government would definitely be getting its cash dividend from AIB in May. I noted at the time that the coupon stopper was in place “to prevent the reduction of own funds by financial institutions which are still reliant on State aid to fulfil regulatory capital requirements” and so this was highly unlikely. To my mind, the fact that government politicians are sent out to continuously over-promise in relation to their banking strategy ultimately ends up just undermining their credibility.

Update: I just noticed that the Department of Finance press release contains the following:

The Minister explained:

“The €280 million in ordinary shares issued to the Fund will count towards the additional €7.4 billion equity capital requirement determined by the Financial Regulator so that AIB will meet the new base case capital standards.”

I’m not sure I understand this. The state is not putting any extra funds in, just receiving shares that dilute the existing ownership. Can the issuance of these pieces of paper in exchange for no money really raise regulatory capital? If this trick works, why can’t the bank’s ownership just issue a few million more shares to themselves for free? Then reaching the €7.4 billion target will be no bother.

AIB “too smart to buy this junk”

The AIB Chairman apologised today at the bank’s AGM for the self-inflicted problems caused by excessive lending to the property and construction sectors. At least, AIB avoided major losses in the US toxic securities sector  – as revealed in the Congressional hearings on Goldman Sachs, the GS view was that AIB was “too smart to buy this junk”.

See this report on the hearings and this extract featruing the committee chair Senator Carl Levin:

Levin chides Sparks for selling “junk”: In his second jousting session with Sparks, Sen. Levin questioned the former executive about the bank’s Hudson Mezzanine deal, reading an email from a Goldman salesperson in which she said that the client, Allied Irish Bank, was “too smart to buy this junk.”

“I didn’t believe it was junk. We didn’t believe it was a junk. A sales person said that,” Sparks said.

“Yes, if a sales person believed it was junk, you were selling junk,” Levin replied.

AIB Watch: April 4th Edition

Super Tuesday turned out not to be so super at giving us a better picture of what’s going to happen to AIB. Indeed, I’ve been puzzling over some aspects of the announcements and coming up with a decent picture of what’s likely to happen requires a fair few calculations and assumptions. But here goes. I’ll break this up into two bits. Capital requirements and NAMA transfers first and then asset disposals second.

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AIB Watch

Today’s media have lots of what appear to be leaks about what AIB’s capital requirements are going to be. I say “appear to be” because reliable leaks tend to lead to all the journalists singing off the same hymn sheet and reporting the same figures. In this case, Business and Finance are reporting a capital requirement of €7.5 billion, the Irish Independent reported a requirement of “up to” €7 billion and the Irish Times are reporting “some €6 billion to €7 billion”. So I’d take these with a pinch of salt for now.

What isn’t being reported, however, is quite how bad that news (if such it is) would be for AIB’s current shareholders. AIB’s 2009 annual report showed that the bank had risk-weighted assets of €120 billion at the end of last year. If €20 billion in property loans are transferred to NAMA and replaced with NAMA bonds (formerly known as free money from Europe) then (assuming a risk weight of one for the property loans) this would reduce risk weighted assets to €100 billion.

It has been heavily flagged that the Regulator will be looking for a core equity capital requirement of 8 percent, so this would require the bank to have €8 billion in core equity capital and I’d assume that the preference shares would not count towards this total.

The annual report tells us that at the end of last year, the bank had what it called “core equity capital” of €9.5 billion, but this included €3.5 billion in government shares.

Now consider what a capital requirement of even €6 billion would imply. If the bank needs to have core equity of €8 billion, then a requirement of €6 billion means that after the transfers and writedowns, AIB would have equity capital of €2 billion. This would mean losses of €7.5 billion on the transfers and writedowns. As far as I can see, this would mean the transfers wiping out the private equity in the bank.

Perhaps I’ve done these calculations wrong: Commenters feel free to tell me what’s wrong with the above. There certainly seem to be shareholders out there who don’t agree with it. In any case, we won’t have long to wait.

AIB Preliminary 2009 Results

AIB’s preliminary results for 2009 are here. There’s some new NAMA-related information but not much. The bank is transferring loans with previous book value of €23.2 billion to NAMA, down from earlier estimates of €24.1 billion. The provisions of €4.2 billion against these loans, corresponding to an 18 percent writedown, are presumably a holding operation until the actual transfer involving a larger writedown.

In relation to stories about AIB shrinking credit, I heard references on the radio this morning to the bank shrinking its loans to customers from €129.5 billion in 2008 to €103 billion in 2009. This is only correct if one accepts the accounting treatment of the €19 billion the banks expect to receive from NAMA as “financial assets held for sale to NAMA” rather than “dodgy property-related loans that have been written down a bit.” I’m sure the bank is restricting lending but it’s not as easy to get loan books down as fast as the “loans to customers” line suggests.

The EU and AIB’s Government Preference Shares

I have been sceptical all along about the government’s decision to use €7 billion of public money to purchase preference shares in AIB and BOI earlier this year at a time when the combined market value of these banks had reached a low point of about €1 billion.

When I appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Sector in May, I argued that the Irish banks would not have the resources to pay back these preference shares and that they would end up being converted into ordinary shares.

My recent presentation to the Labour Party also argued that the government’s preference shares were most likely going to be converted to ordinary shares, thus foregoing the automatic eight percent annual divided associated with these preference shares.

AIB’s statement in relation to its negotiations with the EU Commission brings us close to this event.

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AIB Debt Buyback

I’ve been looking into the AIB debt buyback program, details of which were announced on Monday (Irish Times story here.)  Why in God’s name would I be doing that during a rare sunny week in this country? Well, between the state guarantee and NAMA, pretty much everything the banks do these days has implications for the taxpayer, so it’s worth taking a look at.  That and the fact that I’m a nerd. Wonky corporate financey post below the fold.

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IMF on Costs of Financial Stabilisation

The Irish Times lead story cites the IMF’s Global Financial Stability report as having the following sentence: “The United States, United Kingdom and Ireland face some of the largest potential costs of financial stabilisation (12 to 13 per cent of GDP) given the scale of mortgage defaults.” It turns out, however, that the IT was a little behind on a (fairly silly) controversy about this sentence.

It turns out that the IMF’s cost estimates are not new at all but actually first appeared on page 17 of this report released on March 6, which was written as a companion to this report on the outlook for public finances around the world.  The March 6 paper reports a cost figure of 13.9 percent of Irish GDP, which amounts to €24 billion.  Table 4 also reports the cost for the UK at 9.1 percent of GDP.

For this reason, there was a bit of a flap over this when the BBC reported the 12-13 percent figure, with the UK Treasury pointing out correctly that the sentence and its accompanying table were wrong.  The version of the report on the website no long contains the parenthetical “(12 to 13 per cent of GDP)” that the Irish Times had quoted and the table has been altered—I think Ireland may have been listed in the original Table 1.8 but we are not now.  In any case, you can find the original source of the calculations from the above link.

So, not the IMF’s finest hour.  However, beyond the silliness, it is clear that the IMF’s assessment of the likely costs of financial sector support measures to the Irish taxpayer does not fit well with the government’s current stance that “under extreme stress scenarios” BOI only need €3.5 billion in additional capital, while AIB only need €5 billion.

AIB Re-Cap Announcements

So where does the substance of the AIB announcement leave us?  As has often been the case with the government’s approach to the banking crisis, this pushes us one step closer to some kind of resolution, while still maintaining lots of uncertainty as to what that resolution will look like. 

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Goodwill Hunting at AIB

I’ll write a bit more later on the substance of the announcements today from AIB and the Department of Finance. However, I thought I’d first discuss an aspect of today’s developments that hasn’t been discussed in most of the press reports. Together with the Minister for Finance (with whom they have good reason not to disagree) AIB have “formed a view” that they need to have an extra €1.5 billion in Tier 1 capital.

Those who followed AIB and BOI’s fruitless attempts to raise equity in recent months were probably surprised to hear that rather than just announce that AIB was taking an extra €1.5 billion from the government, the bank stated that it was planning to raise these funds itself.  Most media stories have focused on how AIB can achieve this by selling its minority stake in M&T, an American bank, and perhaps also selling its stake in a Polish bank.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. RTE and other media outlets have reported this as a simple story of “bank short of funds raises funds by selling assets.” The problem is folks, that plausible as this may sound, that’s not the story at all.

Continue reading “Goodwill Hunting at AIB”