New Guidelines for NAMA Pricing

Following the approval of NAMA by the European Commission, the Department of Finance has published revised guidelines in relation to NAMA’s pricing of assets. This is a revised version of these regulations released before Christmas. Based on a quick read, there are appear to be a couple of changes, both of which show that the Commission is pushing the government towards paying lower prices.

The first relates to the discount rate used to value cash flows when coming up with long-term economic value.  These had provided for an adjustment of 0.8 percent above the relevant government bond rate. This adjustment is now 1.7 percent.  This change will lower the value of the assets.

Government bond rates are, of course, lower now than they were last September. This is probably what the Minister was referring to when he said “There will, however, be a reduction in the interest rates used for loan discounting purposes” a comment widely (and now it seems incorrectly) reported as being related to the Commission’s recommendations. We see now that the Commission’s recommendations, taken on their own, will imply lower prices paid.

The other change I can spot relates to the (to me) mysterious “Standard Discount Rate”. The regulations for this used to be as follows.

The standard discount rate that NAMA shall apply in the calculation of the long-term economic value of all bank assets shall be 2.75 per cent to provide for enforcement costs, and 0.25 per cent to provide for due diligence costs.

The 2.75 percent is now 5.25 percent. From previous discussions, the prize for best answer as to what the standard discount rate was went to Frank Galton: NAMA LTEV = LTEV*(1-Standard Discount Rate). Assuming that’s correct, then this latest change would also imply lower prices. Anyone who understands the standard discount rate (or can see any other interesting changes) feel free to explain it to us.

Commission Approves NAMA

I guess the news that the Commission has approved NAMA (statement here) will get some attention over the next few days but it’s hardly too surprising. EU guidelines allow governments to introduce an asset management agency of this type and it’s very hard to imagine that the Department of Finance had designed something that wasn’t guaranteed to get approved. However, as I’ve noted before, if you read those guidelines closely, they also suggest that the Commission isn’t in favour of packages that are overly friendly to providers of risk capital.  For instance, the guidelines state

(21) As a general principle, banks ought to bear the losses associated with impaired assets to the maximum extent …

(22) Once assets have been properly evaluated and losses are correctly identified, and if this would lead to a situation of technical insolvency without State intervention, the bank should be put either into administration or be orderly wound up, according to Community and national law. In such a situation, with a view to preserving financial stability and confidence, protection or guarantees to bondholders may be appropriate.

(23) Where putting a bank into administration or its orderly winding up appears unadvisable for reasons of financial stability, aid in the form of guarantee or asset purchase, limited to the strict minimum, could be awarded to banks so that they may continue to operate for the period necessary to allow to devise a plan for either restructuring or orderly winding-up. In such cases, shareholders should also be expected to bear losses at least until the regulatory limits of capital adequacy are reached. Nationalisation options may also be considered.

The relatively tough line suggested by these statements has been evident in the Commission’s rulings on payments to subordinated bonds and on various restructuring plans. This approach undoubtedly limits the government’s ability to overpay for the assets going into NAMA and with the assets falling in price with every passing month, the opportunity to keep the banks from actual or near insolvency via overpayment seems to be slipping away.

In my exchanges with our old friend John the Optimist, I have regularly pointed out economists shouldn’t necessarily be judged on their forecasts and I certainly have made calls here that have turned out to be incorrect. However, I will take this opportunity to point out that tomorrow is the one year anniversary of this column that I wrote for the Irish Times. Among other things which I’d still stand by, the column pointed out the following:

In addition to being unfair, it is questionable whether the bad bank proposal could achieve its goal of properly re-capitalising private sector banks. There may be limits on the price the Government can pay for impaired property loans under EU state aid rules. Banks may still have to write down their assets. It is easy to imagine a scenario where banks struggled with weak capital bases even after a bad bank scheme has been put in place.

And here we are.

Eugene Regan’s NAMA Submission to EU

As many of you may have heard, Fine Gael’s Senator Eugene Regan (who’s been having a busy few weeks) submitted a formal complaint about NAMA to the European Commission in January. Last week, Regan followed this up by submitting a detailed discussion of how the NAMA legislation is inconsistent with the EU’s guidelines on impaired asset schemes. The detailed document is here and the summary is here.

Forbearance and Bailouts for Builders

Today’s newspapers report (here and here) that control over Sean Dunne’s properties has been transferred to companies whose main shareholders are Ulster Bank, Co-operative Centrale Raiffeisen Boerleen Bank and Kaupthing (Iceland! Iceland!). Personally, I’m relieved that Mr. Dunne’s bankers are not in NAMA, so the Irish taxpayer won’t be at risk of making losses on his loans, either through NAMA overpaying them or through losses generated for state-owned banks. 

The fact that these non-NAMA banks have intervened on Mr. Dunne’s business reminded me of comments from Minister Lenihan in his Last Word interview on Monday. About ten minutes in, the Minister said the following:

There’s no one being bailed out here. Builders have to pay. We’ve already begun to see spectacular crashes among developers. They’re not being bailed out. That is another line of rhetoric we had to listen to for about six months last year, that this was all about bailing out builders. It’s not about bailing out builders and it’s very clear again to anyone who’s reading the newspapers now that it’s not about bailing out builders. Builders who are not paying their debts are going to the wall. That’s what NAMA’s all about.

I think what this misses is that all of the spectacular crashes that we’ve seen so far have come from developers who had the misfortune to borrow money from banks who didn’t get into the NAMA scheme. Perhaps I’ve missed them, but I can’t recall any stories about big developers being closed on by AIB or Bank of Ireland. Indeed, the contrary is the case. Instead there have been stories such as NAMA-bound banks lending Liam Carroll money to pay off unsecured creditors and accepting patently unrealistic business plans in order to give bankrupt developers more rope.

In addition, NAMA’s infamous draft business plan also states that eighty percent of the loans due will be repaid in full, though very little of the repayments will appear until 2013. This is essentially an official statement that NAMA’s officials are planning a program of forbearance for bankrupt developers.  When one factors in the fact that NAMA will have the power to extend further credit to certain developers, the difference between “extreme forbearance plus additional lending”  and “bailout” may appear to be something of a fine line.

All this means that, much as he would like to, it is unlikely that Minister Lenihan will be able to continue dismissing concerns about NAMA’s relationships with developers quite as easily as Matt Cooper allowed him.

Further Delays on NAMA

When the NAMA bill was being debated in the Dail last Autumn, the public was regularly told that the plan was to have the first tranche of loans transferred by the end of last year. Today’s Sunday Business Post reports that further delays are now expected due to delays in preparations at the banks and due to the absence of clearance from the European Commission. The story reports that a verdict from the Commission may not come until the end of February at the earliest.

Stories such as this and this from the today’s Sunday Tribune also make it clear that it is going to be very difficult to attract private funds to the banks. At this point, it is perhaps a legitimate question to ask whether events have not overtaken the whole NAMA-Long-Term-Economic-Value strategy to keep the banks out of some form of temporary nationalisation.