AIB Subordinated Liabilities Order

One item that hasn’t been discussed on this blog in recent weeks is the Subordinated Liabilities Order issued by Minister Noonan in relation to AIB’s debt instruments. I guess everyone knew this was coming so the order in itself was no big deal. However, the order is now getting some attention (here and here) due to the fact that it appears to mess with existing capital hierarchies. In particular, it appears to have left the preference shares owned by the Irish government untouched while adjusting the terms of subordinated debt.

This seems to me like a bad idea. I’m all in favour of seeing subordinated bondholders in AIB get wiped out given the enormous extent of state support that has been required to keep the bank going. But if you are going to do this, then you should respect the hierarchy of claims that exists.

Many of us have questioned the wisdom of the protection of senior bondholders in Irish banks at the expense of a potential sovereign default. However, those who have argued in favour of protection of senior bondholders have generally made points about the need to maintain the reputation of the domestic banking sector in light of its huge ongoing funding gap. If this is our approach, then is it wise to get a reputation as a country which randomly up-ends existing claims hierarchies at the whim of a Minister?