Promissory Notes: The Movie

The text below is a secret draft of the opening scene of an upcoming Hollywood movie. The movie opens at some date in the near future with a conversation between a finance minister, let’s call him Baldini, and a European bureaucrat of Scandanavian origin, let’s call him Wally. (Any resemblance between the characters below and real individuals is purely intentional.)

Wally: Greetings Mr. Minister.

Baldini: Ahh, tis yourself Wally.

Wally: Mr. Minister, I bring a proposal from your European partners.

Baldini: Pray tell, Waldo, what’s the deal?

Wally: Well, as you know, our Greek sovereign debt restructuring has gone fantastically. Combined with the sale of Macedonia to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we’ve practically solved all our problems there. So we’re thinking it’s your turn. We’re proposing that you lengthen maturities on your debt and cut back on some of the principal to reduce your debt burden by over €30 billion. And, to be honest, you’re not getting another red cent from us unless you agree.

Baldini: Is that so? Well you know what Waldo, we’ve got a different plan, one that also reduces our debt by €30 billion but doesn’t involve defaulting on our sovereign bonds.

Wally: Really Minister, this isn’t a time for gallows humour.

Baldini: Indeed, there’s nothing funny about it. No, I’ve been talking with the brains trust here at the Ministry and they’ve explained to me that apparently we’re going to be writing a cheque every year for €3.1 billion until two twenty three and then a bit more after that. Now I’ve been trying to get my head around this business, but I’m just a simple fella, and I can’t figure out for the life of me what we’re getting in return for this money. So, I’ve decided to cancel it. I hear your Eurostat boffins have been counting all of these payments as part of our national debt, so we’ll give them a call in the morning to let them know they can forget about that.

Wally: Really Mr. Minister, this isn’t a time for jokes. I’m sure you’re well aware that the, ahem, promissory note payments are the main asset of a certain Anglo Irish Bank and, its terrible twin, the Bank of Fingers. And I’m sure you’re also aware our beloved ECB is owed a fortune by those two institutions. You can’t really expect to endanger the ECB in this fashion.

Baldini: Hold your horses Wally! Sure aren’t the ECB’s loans to these banks fully collateralised, over-collateralised in fact. Sure I’ve met those ECB eggheads many’s the time and there’s no flies on them lads. I’m sure that’s lovely collateral they have, so no need to worry.

Wally: But, Mr. Minister, don’t you know that the promissory notes have been used as collateral for the loans from the Irish Central Bank to Anglo and the Bank of Fingers?

Baldini: Is that so? Ah well, sure that’s Paddy Honohan’s problem.

Wally: Ah now Mr. Minister, come off it. You know well that without the promissory notes, these banks can’t pay back the emergency liquidity loans they got from the Irish Central Bank and your predecessor has guaranteed that state funds would be used to pay these loans back if necessary.

Baldini: Really? Ye think? I’ve wondered about that. Wouldn’t you imagine there was a major debate in the Dail about that guarantee? But you know what, I couldn’t find anything in the records. And we’ve had the lads here in Merrion Street scouring the place for that guarantee and still nothing’s come up. Sure ye can’t find anything anymore since we introduced that new PPARS2 IT system … No, I’m afraid me mind’s made up. No more promissory thingybobs anymore.

Wally: But this will mean that Anglo and INBS’s debts will have been monetised!

Baldini: I dunno Wally, you’re a quare fella. What’s monetised mean?

Wally: I’m going to have to talk to Mr. Drago about this. I suspect he won’t want to keep lending all that money to your other banks.

Baldini: Well sure we’ll see about that won’t we?

[Baldini raises one eyebrow at the camera. Fade to black].

The question is what happens next?

Suggestions for the casting of Baldini and Wally are welcome. Leonardo di Caprio has expressed an interest in playing the minor but crucial role of Lorenzo Beeni Silly.

Promissory Notes: We Need A Powerpoint Presentation!

Okay, here’s a real treat for all our fans of all things promissory-note related. A classic Burton-Lenihan exchange in the Dail today. My favourite bit:

Deputy Joan Burton: We need a PowerPoint presentation on this.

Deputy Brian Lenihan: We do not.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe: We need lots of money for this.

Full text below the fold.

Budget Calculation Update: Promissory Note Interest Payments

It was always going to be unlikely that the process of briefings for opposition parties would be kept secret. However, with what appears to be authoritative and pretty detailed information all over today’s Irish Independent, it may just be best if the Department of Finance publicly released the briefing information it provided to the opposition politicians yesterday.

One of the more mysterious aspects of the budgetary finances is the magic promissory notes. By my count, we will have issued about €30 billion of these by the end of the year: About €25 billion to Anglo and about €5 billion to INBS.

In this post earlier today, I pointed out that while the principal payments on these notes didn’t count against the general government deficit (because these will all be registered as part of this year’s deficit) they will still be part of our ongoing financing requirement in the coming years.

I didn’t write earlier about interest payments on these notes (the figures I was writing about were just my guess about the annual principal payments). One reason I didn’t discuss interest payments is that I wasn’t sure there were any: They could just be zero coupon bonds. However, it looks as though they are not. On Prime Time this evening, Joan Burton and government junior minister Billy Kelleher agreed that the annual interest cost of the promissory notes was going to be €1.5 billion. With €30 billion or so in notes issued, it now appears that the notes have an interest rate of 5%.

Now, as far as I know (and I’m happy to be corrected) these promissory note interest payments of €1.5 billion a year will count against the general government deficit.

Here I’ve updated the calculations from my Irish Taxation Institute presentation to incorporate the “if the promissory notes pay 5%” scenario. The bottom line?  If one adjusts last year’s budget projections for (a) New projections from the Central Bank for nominal GDP (b) A projected decline in revenue of €1 billion (c) €1.5 billion in promissory note interest payments, then the starting point for this year’s budget prior to any adjustments would be a deficit of €22.5 billion or 13.9% of GDP.

Note that even if one didn’t factor in negative effects of fiscal adjustments on GDP, then with a Central Bank GDP projection of €162 billion, hitting the original deficit target for 2011 of 10% of GDP would require adjustments of €6.3 billion (162*0.039). Factoring in the contractionary impact of budget cuts on GDP, it would likely take €7 billion in adjustments to get to a 10% target.

As I say, these calculations are based on a 5% interest rate on the promissory notes. My interpretation from Minister Kelleher’s apparent confirmation of Burton’s comments is that this is the correct rate. However, I think it’s time for the government to fully clarify the terms of these notes as soon as possible.

Eurostat: Irish Deficit 36% of GDP in 2010:Q1

I know that the NTMA have already admitted as much but just in case there were any remaining doubts that Eurostat are counting the promissory notes towards this year’s budget deficit, the picture below is a screencap from Eurostat’s publicly available database. Yes, our deficit in the the first quarter of 2010 was 36.51% of GDP. I believe the figure for the year will be about 20%. (Yes it’s my first time using a picture! Perhaps now you can see why.)

The Impact on the Exchequer

Ok, I promise this is the last time I’ll write about promissory notes for a while.

Pat McArdle, still keen to minimise the link between the cost of bank bailouts and our fiscal problems, writes:

That is not to say that large subventions to the banks were not needed – more than €10 billion has gone into Anglo alone. However, the Minister has been quite clever in the way this has been done. He has issued promissory notes which deliver the capital bang upfront but will be drawn down piecemeal over the next 10-15 years. As a result, the exchequer has had to raise only €200 million to capitalise the banks this year.

And also:

Nama, too, has been structured to minimise the impact on the exchequer. Though it is likely to pay over €40 billion for the assets bought from the banks, this will not be in the form of cash and so will not have to be funded in the markets.

I find it funny that the issuing of promissory notes is now regularly described as, like NAMA bonds, a stroke of genius on the part of the Department of Finance: Last year, advocates of NAMA often told us that overpaying for assets was the best way to recapitalise the banks because if we didn’t do it that way we’d have go out and get “real money” by borrowing on the sovereign debt market, i.e. that banks couldn’t be recapitalised with promissory notes. 

It is certainly true that promissory notes and NAMA bonds do not require going to the sovereign bond market to borrow the money. However, this stuff is debt and the people who have been worried about our ability to pay back all our debts (and they seem to getting worried againare well aware that we are accumulating extra debts in the form of promissory notes and NAMA bonds. In this sense, they have the exact same “impact on the exchequer” as regular borrowing.

Note, however, that the promissory note route will put more pressure on the Irish state to come up with money for the banks in the coming years than would a normal debt issuance. €10 billion in ten-year bond issuance requires forking over interest of about €500 million a year over the next ten years before the full amount has to paid off on maturity, hopefully via issuing another ten year bond. An interest-free promissory note for €10 billion would require average payments of €1 billion a year over the same period.

At the end of the day, debt is debt and those who lend to us aren’t easily fooled. I’d prefer to let history judge exactly how clever this debt issuance has been.