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.

Bank Taxes and Buybacks

European politicians are engaged in frantic negotiations to deal with both the Greek debt problem and the wider question of the EU’s approach to the problems of peripheral countries.

On the approach to the Greece, I’m not encouraged by the reporting from the financial press which has focused on a bank tax and debt buybacks.

First, we’re being told that the idea of a tax on European banks to raise about €30 billion is emerging as a “popular consensus” approach to getting private creditors to “help pay for the estimated €115bn bail-out”.  As reported, it’s pretty unclear what happens with the €30 billion. Is it loaned to Greece and then later paid back to the banks that paid the tax? If so, it’s not really a tax in the usual sense of the word.  Anyone who understands this is welcome to explain it in comments.

However it’s structured, this seems to be the wrong approach to the wrong problem.  The goal seems to be to keep Greece’s debt burden exactly where it is (thus not solving the key problem) but to reduce the headline number for the size of a second EU-IMF loan (which solves a political problem in some countries).  In relation to private sector “burden sharing”, the approach still seems to view a Greek default as unthinkable (despite almost everyone viewing it as inevitable) while adopting a very strange approach to the demand for “private sector involvement”: Why should banks that don’t own any Greek debt have to pay a tax to contribute to a second bailout?

Maybe there’s a good idea hiding under this reporting: If so, I’m happy to have it explained to me.

Then there’s the increased focus on debt buybacks. The idea of debt buybacks is popular with both politicians and holders of debt. The politicians get to claim that there was no coercive default on the outstanding debt, thus saving face. The creditors usually manage to get the debt bought back at a nice premium to the current market value, so many of them make a tidy profit.

Academics that have looked at this issue generally don’t like debt buybacks. Here‘s a short article from VoxEU by some IMF staff. And here and here are two classic older articles written in the context of the 1980s Latin American debt crisis.

To briefly explain why buybacks are not as great an idea as they appear, consider the case of a country with debt and GDP of €100 billion, so the debt ratio is 100%. The market doubts this debt burden is sustainable and so prices the debt at 60 percent of its face value.

Now a programme is announced whereby funds are provided to allow the country to buy back all its debt. Those behind the plan imagine they can go into the market and start purchasing debt at 60c and get the debt ratio down to 60%.  However, because the debt ratio would be sustainable at 60% and at that point the government would be able to pay back all of its debts, there would be no need in such a situation for there to be a market discount on the price of the debt.

So, as the programme is announced and the government intervenes to start repurchasing its debt, the price of the debt would jump above 60c.  The final price of the debt would depend upon a number of factors including the terms on the money being provided externally to fund the programme. But the end result would probably be significantly less debt relief than obtained, for example, by a straight swap of new for old bonds involving a forty percent reduction in net present value.

In relation to the wider Euro area problems, I’m somewhat optimistic that Thursday will see a harmonisation and reduction of EU programme interest rates, extension of maturities, as well approval of EFSF loans for debt buybacks. Personally, I would like to see the remit of EFSF extended to allow it to lend directly to banks, replacing excessive ECB funding as well as Emergency Liquidity Assistance. Of course, I doubt if this is even being considered.

We’ll see what happens but my prediction is that political face saving will take precedence over economically efficient solutions.

Update: The FT has an answer to my question about the bank tax which mixes it together with the buyback plan: “According to officials, it would amount to a 0.0025 per cent levy on all assets held by eurozone banks and would raise €10bn per year for five years. The cash would go to the bail-out fund, which would then use the money to conduct a Greek bond buy-back.”

NTMA on Ireland’s Funding

I had missed last week that NTMA had released an information note on Ireland’s financing situation. The note clarifies that funds from the EU and IMF that had been earmarked for bank recapitalisation can be used to fund fiscal deficits if, as the government is currently assuming, there are no further recapitalisation costs. Based on these assumptions, and projecting that fiscal deficits come in on target, they note that Ireland can get to the end of 2013 with minimal new funding.

Worth noting, however, is that there is an €11.8 billion bond maturing in January 2014. So, it would seem likely that if market funding is not accessed at some time before summer 2013 (or perhaps earlier), then the government will have to open negotiations on a new funding deal from the EU and IMF. I doubt if letting the clock tick all the way down to December 2013 would be a good strategy.

New Projections of Interest Rates on EU Loans

The topic of the interest rate on Ireland’s EU loans has attracted a lot of attention. Unfortunately, however, hard information on the loans and comparisons with the loans being offered to Portugal is not always easy to come by. The purpose of this post is to provide the information that is publicly available on this issue and to present new calculations of the likely interest rates on Ireland’s loans.

The most common media reference point for the cost of Ireland’s loans is this information note released by the NTMA in November. That document projected the cost of Ireland’s loans from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM) at 5.7 percent and the cost of Ireland’s loans from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) at 6.05 percent.

With €22.5 billion being provided to Ireland by the EFSM, €17.7 billion by the EFSF and €4.8 billion coming from bilateral loans, the NTMA note assumed the interest rate on the bilateral loans would be the same as the EFSF rate. Thus, the estimated average cost of the EU loans was 5.875 percent. (I am leaving aside in this note the question of the cost of funding from the IMF, which is determined according to standard, if somewhat complex, IMF procedures.)

In a briefing note for the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, I noted that market interest rates had risen since the November briefing and the pricing of the first EFSM bond had not gone as well as anticipated. Based on those considerations, I suggested that the cost of EFSM funding was likely to be 6.09 percent while the cost of EFSF loans would be 6.44 percent.

The period since that briefing note was written has seen a number of EFSF and EFSM bonds issued to Ireland and Portugal, so now seems like a good time to attempt to get a more accurate picture.

Here’s a link to a spreadsheet that describes each of the bonds issued by EFSF and EFSM as well as the conditions on which they were disbursed to Ireland and Portugal. I have made estimates of what the interest rates will be on funds that are not yet drawn down by assessing their likely average maturity (to match the planned 7.5 year average maturity for Ireland and Portugal), calculating current market interest rates for those maturities (based on the mid-swaps benchmark used by the EFSF and EFSM) and then adding in the estimated margins.

A quick summary:

1. The average interest rate on EFSM loans for Ireland is projected to be 6.13 percent.

2. For Portugal, the EFSM loans project to have an average interest rate of 5.34 percent. The lower rate than for Ireland is because the EFSM’s profit margin on Portuguese loans is 77 basis points lower than for Ireland.

3. The average cost of EFSF loans for Ireland is projected to be 6.29 percent. This is lower than I had estimated in January because I had used the assumption underlying the NTMA’s November document that the margin over funding cost that would determine the effective borrowing cost for Ireland would be 317 basis points. Based on the one EFSF bond issue for Ireland so far, I now estimate that this average margin will be 305 basis points.

4. The average cost of EFSF loans for Portugal is projected to be 5.76 percent.

5. Based on the assumption that Ireland’s bilateral loans (not yet drawn down) will carry the same average interest rate as the EFSF, the average interest rate on Ireland’s EU loans will be 6.21 percent, 33.5 basis points higher than estimated last November. The average interest rate on Portugal’s EU loans is projected to be 5.55 percent, 66 basis points lower than the projected rate for Ireland. 

6. The current terms on Greece’s EU-IMF loans have been widely reported to be 4.2 percent for a 7.5 year average maturity after Greece was granted a 100 basis point reduction at the March 11 meeting of the Heads of Government of the Euro Area member states.

For those interested, here’s a rough description of how the calculations were done. Continue reading “New Projections of Interest Rates on EU Loans”

Lowered Ambitions

Ok, so it’s true. The headline in the Times piece says it all.

THE GOVERNMENT has conceded it is seeking a smaller reduction in the interest rate of the EU-International Monetary Fund bailout package than the 1 per cent originally sought, and only on the remaining money it has yet to draw down.

In what the Opposition portrayed as a U-turn and a tacit acceptance that a cut is no longer achievable, Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday said the maximum savings the Government could achieve from an interest rate cut were €150 million per annum, compared to €400 million if the rate on the whole loan was cut from 5.8 per cent to 4.8 per cent.

Mr Kenny, speaking in the Dáil, based the reduced figure on the fact the interest rate reduction would not apply to the €15 billion in European loans already drawn down, and only to the €24.6 billion remaining.

Let’s be clear about this. There is no reason whatsoever why the EU could not grant Ireland a one percent reduction on all its borrowings (not just those yet to be drawn down) as was previously granted to Greece. The EU has decided to add a particular margin on to its borrowing costs. The EU can decide to reduce it.

The lowered ambitions appear to be a combination of preparation for a deal barely worth accepting and (more relevantly) an attempt to use a fake argument (“can’t change the interest rate on funds already withdrawn”) to present the “feasible” rate reduction as not that big a deal.

I suspect “lowered ambitions” could prove to be the epitaph for this government.

Bailout Interest Rate White Flag Department

Journalists sometimes get things wrong, so I’m going to phrase this as follows. Tell me this isn’t true:

Minister of State Brian Hayes has said the Government is looking for a 0.6% reduction in the bailout interest rate during its ongoing negotiations with the EC and the ECB.

Mr Hayes told RTÉ’s Drivetime programme that this would amount to a saving of €150m per year on the remaining amount of the loans which has not yet been drawn down.

All the signs are now that the government has gone into white flag mode on this one (what with the little-remarked-upon previous concession on Anglo-INBS bank bondholders, the flag’s had a busy week).  The key thing to watch for here is the approach of claiming lower and lower figures for what an interest rate reduction can achieve, with the benefit now down to €150 million per year.

Look, this isn’t rocket science. Greece, which hasn’t been very successful in implementing its package, received an interest rate cut of one percent in March. No Irish government could possibly be looking for less than a similar cut of one percent. We are borrowing €45 billion from the EU, so a one percent cut would save us €450 million a year, three times the figure being quoted. With an average maturity of seven and a half years, let’s call it seven, this would save the Irish taxpayer €3.15 billion or about €700 a head. It’s not a game-changer on the debt stability front but it’s not worth dismissing either.

Focusing on getting a cut in the remaining loans that have been drawn down is a red herring. It doesn’t matter that the EU has already sourced funds to lend to us as what we’re discussing cutting here is the EU’s own margin on these loans.

The only possible reason to define down the potential gains from an interest rate cut is to prepare the public for failure to achieve this cut, at which point we’ll be told that it wasn’t important.

Any hope that we might show some backbone on this issue (a la Namawinelake) is fading.

Update: Looking at yesterday’s Dail proceedings, one can find Minister Noonan stating that a one percent reduction in our interest rate will save us about €200 million a year. I know the Minister has the combined brain power of the Department of Finance officials on his side but it still seems to me that one percent of €45 billion is €450 million.