Business Irish

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Danes count cost of their foray into Irish market

Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

AND so, another banking name and another banking boss exit the Irish landscape.

National Irish Bank is to be re-branded Danske and merged with sister company Northern Bank. Chief executive Andrew Healy, one of the longest-serving bank bosses in Dublin, is moving on to consider "new opportunities".

As the news broke yesterday and Danske unveiled a host of other changes to its Irish business, the Danish banking giant insisted the initiatives "confirm our commitment to Ireland".

One wonders, though, if Danske is only committed to Ireland because they've sunk massive investment into the country and haven't yet figured out a way to get out.

Certainly, spinning off 56pc of NIB's loan book into a 'non core' unit that will be wound down ASAP looks like the start of a retreat.

It's easy to see why Danske might secretly want out.

The bank paid just under £1bn to buy NIB and Northern Bank back in 2005.

They were buying into an NIB that generated a "contribution after bad debts" of £43.8m in 2004, a bank that had just 25pc of its lending tied up in 'property and construction'.

Instead of getting a nice little earner, they ended up with a bank caught in the eye of one of the biggest storms the financial industry has even seen.

Losses have been horrific and have dwarfed achievements elsewhere in the Danske Group. Ulster's parent RBS is big enough for Irish losses to be a (troubling) sideshow.

Danske is a much smaller operation, with pretax profits of just €213m in the first quarter -- earnings that would have been almost twice as good if it weren't for NIB's €184m loss.

The problem for Danske is that retreat from Ireland isn't costless, for one thing they've spent a fortune on infrastructure, for another, a fire sale would crystallise even more losses. Hanging on in there gives them at least the chance, however remote, of recouping some of their massive losses through a profitable (albeit small) bank.

Irish Independent

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