Wednesday 23 April 2014

Donal O’Donovan: Great deal in theory for Britain – but a non-runner in practice

SWAPPING NAMA'S multi-billion portfolio of UK commercial property for Ulster Bank looks like a super deal for the British government, but is a non-runner in Dublin.

In theory – as long as the valuations square up – the giant asset swap would leave each country to sort out the fall-out from the property crash largely inside its own borders.In practice, it's a non-runner.

Having stuck a stake into the heart of IBRC, the last thing Finance Minister Michael Noonan can do is arrive into Leinster House to announce himself as the owner of yet another blighted bank.

Even without the former Anglo, he (read we) already owns more lenders than he would like. He's spent well over a year trying to convince Europe to take banks off our hands, and will not do anything radical that might jeopardise that project.

That's even before the question of whether tax payers here really would prefer to own Irish rather than UK assets.

On that point, I suspect we're a lot less sentimental than the officials at the Treasury would like to think.

Almost two-thirds of the nearly €12bn of assets NAMA has actually managed to sell since it was set up have been sold in the UK.

The relatively good performance of NAMA's portfolio of big commercial projects in and around London in particular has been a huge factor in putting the agency into profit over the past two years.

In contrast, Ulster Bank, with its huge concentrations of home loans, small business lending and Irish property deals, remains loss-making.

We were spectacularly lucky in 2010 when the bank opted not to participate in NAMA, but that boat has now sailed.

The Irish economy has benefited enormously from the billions the UK has pumped into Ulster Bank since 2008, but like ourselves, the UK now has to get on with living with the costs of its bank rescues.

Irish Independent

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