Bank of Ireland and the Government’s Preference Shares

Last month, we discussed how the the EU had prevented AIB from paying coupon payments on certain bonds, which will prevent them from paying dividends on the government’s preference shares, which in turn will trigger the right of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission (NPRFC) to acquire ordinary shares equivalent to the amount of the dividend. Bank of Ireland has now made a similar announcement.  Here‘s the press release. The highlight:

In accordance with the terms of the 2009 Preference Stock, the NPRFC would become entitled to be issued, on February 20, 2010 or on a date in the future, a number of units of Bank of Ireland Ordinary Stock (based on the average trading price of Ordinary Stock in the 30 trading days prior to February 20, 2010, assuming the Ordinary Stock was settled on that date) related to the cash amount of the dividend that would otherwise have been payable (€250m), should there be no change in these circumstances. The Bank is, however in ongoing discussions with the Department of Finance and the EC on this and other related matters as part of our overall engagement on the Bank’s restructuring plan and accordingly, this outcome is not certain.

So they’ve got a month to engage their way out of what would be a serious dilution of the current private ownership, even prior to any recapitalisation required by the losses triggered by NAMA.

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.