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.

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.