More on EFSF’s Ireland Bond

I got some flak the other day for this post on the EFSF’s fundraising efforts for Ireland because some people figured there was no problem. At this point, though, there does seem to be an issue. See here and here.

EFSF Scales Back Irish Bond Issue

This is hardly confidence-inspiring news. EFSF is supposed to save the Eurozone and offer Ireland cheap and long-term funding. What if the markets decide not to play ball and decline to offer the facility sufficient funding at low rates or long maturities?

The eurozone rescue fund has scaled back a planned bond issue designed to finance the bail-out of Ireland amid uncertainty over the level of demand.

The offering will provide a key test of investor sentiment after the announcement last week of new plans to tackle the eurozone debt crisis.

The bond from the European Financial Stability Facility will only target €3bn, instead of €5bn, and will be in 10-year bonds rather than a 15-year maturity because of worries over demand. A 10-year bond is more likely to attract interest from Asian central banks than a longer maturity …

Already delayed from last week, EFSF officials decided to price this week because market conditions could deteriorate if they held off any longer.

The bond is expected to price at yields of about 3.30 per cent, and about 130 basis points over Germany, the European market benchmark. This is a big mark-up since the middle of September when existing 10-year EFSF bonds were trading around 2.60 per cent and only 70bp over Germany.

Not good.

Update: Eoin points us to an Oct 13 statement indicating they intended a €3 billion issue. Thanks Eoin. It appears the FT over-egged this one. They’re probably right about the delay, the reduced maturity and the higher yield

ECB and State-Owned Banks, Again

There are a lot of reasons why attention has turned to the idea of leveraging EFSF via one of a number of possible methods. If this can be done, it takes a big step towards solving both the solvency and liquidity issues plaguing Euro area sovereigns and banks – on the liquidity front, a €2 trillion or €3 trillion fund is big enough to buy up Spanish and Italian bonds for a number of years, while €440 billion is big enough to absorb a lot of the potential losses.

The financial press are abuzz with various mechanisms that could be used to leverage up the EFSF. However, I was surprised today to twice read that Gros and Meyer’s proposal to have EFSF (or some vehicle funded by EFSF) register as a credit institution and borrow from ECB is likely to be illegal.

The Wall Street Journal reports

Klaus Regling, chief executive of the European Financial Stability Facility, told a podium discussion that “there are serious concerns” that such a scheme wouldn’t be allowed under the EU Treaty, which forbids the ECB from financing governments directly.

And at the FT’s Money Supply blog, Ralph Atkins writes

But Jens Weidmann, Germany’s Bundesbank president and ECB governing council member, has already made clear his opposition. Giving the EFSF access to ECB funding, Mr Weidmann argues, would be “monetary financing” – central bank funding of governments – which is banned under European Union treaties …

More crucially, an ECB legal opinion issued in March made clear that the European Stability Mechanism – a permanent fund expected to replace the temporary EFSF from 2013 – would not be allowed access to its liquidity because of the ban on monetary financing. “The ECB recalls that the monetary financing prohibition…is one of the basic pillars of the legal architecture of economic and monetary union,” its lawyers wrote then. I am not a lawyer, but to me that would also rule out giving the EFSF access.

The ECB legal opinion states

Article 123 TFEU would not allow the ESM to become a counterparty of the Eurosystem under Article 18 of the Statute of the ESCB. On this latter element, the ECB recalls that the monetary financing prohibition in Article 123 TFEU is one of the basic pillars of the legal architecture of EMU

Of course, we in Ireland have been here before. Back in 2009, a number of very serious people assured us that nationalising any banks would be inadvisable because the ECB was prohibited under the monetary financing clause from lending to nationalised banks. (That Anglo were at the time borrowing in a big way from the ECB didn’t seem to get in the way of what seemed like a great argument).

As I pointed out back then on a few occasions (e.g. here and here) this wasn’t true because while Article 123 of the current consolidated Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states

1. Overdraft facilities or any other type of credit facility with the European Central Bank or with the central banks of the Member States (hereinafter referred to as ‘national central banks’) in favour of Union institutions, bodies, offices or agencies, central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of Member States shall be prohibited, as shall the purchase directly from them by the European Central Bank or national central banks of debt instruments.

This is immediately followed by

2. Paragraph 1 shall not apply to publicly owned credit institutions which, in the context of the supply of reserves by central banks, shall be given the same treatment by national central banks and the European Central Bank as private credit institutions.

So while the ECB may recall the monetary financing prohibition, you could argue that they don’t recall it very well.  One could quibble that EFSF is not currently not a “publicly owned credit institution” but it’s hardly high octane financial engineering to create a vehicle funded by EFSF that counts as such.

EU Interest Rate Calculations

Well thanks Silvio! If it weren’t for the comical actions of Signor Berlusconi, I doubt if we would have obtained yesterday’s long-hoped-for interest rate cut on our EU loans. Certainly, the cut isn’t in any way related to the negotiating skills of the government – who were last seen essentially waving a white flag on this issue.

On the substance of the deal, like Namawinelake, I’m frustrated at the lack of useful detail about the new interest rate and potential changes in loan maturities.

An annual saving of €800 million is being widely cited but I have my doubts if the correct amount has actually been calculated. My guess is that the final savings could be a bit larger, perhaps as much as €1.2 billion annually.

The first open question relates to which funds the cut is being applied to and the second relates to the size of the cut in the interest rate itself. The statement merely says

The EFSF lending rates and maturities we agreed upon for Greece will be applied also for Portugal and Ireland.

However, Ireland is only borrowing €17.7 billion from EFSF and no reasonable multiple of this number delivers annual savings of about €800 million. It seems most likely that the reasonable assumption is being made that the interest rate will also be cut on Ireland’s €22.5 billion of loans from the EFSM, though as this is an EU vehicle, last night’s meeting could not announce such a cut.

If we applied a cut of “about two percent” to the “about €40 billion” of EFSF and EFSM loans, then my fuzzy math calculations come up with “about €800 million”. So that’s the likely source of the figure.

However, it seems likely to me that the terms of Ireland’s €4.8 billion in promised bilateral loans from the UK, Denmark and Sweden will be renegotiated, so a more accurate fuzzy math would apply “about two percent” to exactly €45 billion to arrive at “about €900 million”.

Then there’s the question of the size of the interest rate cut. The Irish media have clung firmly to the notion that the average interest rate on our loans was about 5.8 percent, despite plenty of evidence that the cost of the EU component was going to be higher than had been projected last November.

As I reported here a few weeks ago, by my calculations (spreadsheet here), the average interest rate on Ireland’s EU loan was going to be 6.21 percent. The Eurozone statement promises an interest rate

equivalent to those of the Balance of Payments facility (currently approx. 3.5%), close to, without going below, the EFSF funding cost.

That could imply a cut of 2.7 percent, which if applied to the full €45 billion would give “about €1.2 billion”. That may be right or wrong since we don’t have much information yet. But I suspect that once things are worked out, the savings will be greater than the €800 million being quoted.

Update: Sean O’Rourke just put my calculations to Michael Noon on the RTE News at One. The Minister conceded that it was likely that the interest rate cuts would be extended to the bilateral loans and that this would get the savings up to €900 million.

When a higher figure of €1.2 billion was put to him, the Minister noted that this might have included the likely reduction in future IMF rates (something I’ve written about before but wasn’t including here.)  The difference here comes from my comparison of the “about 3.5 percent” with my calculated current average EU rate of 6.2%.

With the average margin over cost of funds currently running at about 300 basis points, it still seems to me that a reduction of this margin to get the interest rate “close to” the funding cost sounds like a reduction closer to three percent than two percent. But I could be wrong.

Eurogroup Statement

Here‘s a link to the Eurogroup statement from last night. This is promising

To this end, Ministers stand ready to adopt further measures that will improve the euro area’s systemic capacity to resist contagion risk, including enhancing the flexibility and the scope of the EFSF, lengthening the maturities of the loans and lowering the interest rates, including through a collateral arrangement where appropriate. Proposals to this effect will be presented to Ministers shortly.

But I’m not holding my breath waiting for an impressive intervention.