Thursday 8 December 2016

Even with rates at record lows, Irish banks see little interest in borrowing

Dara Doyle and Peter Flanagan

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

Moody's Investors Service rates Bank of Ireland's senior bonds at its second-lowest investment grade and AIB's note has a junk rating
Moody's Investors Service rates Bank of Ireland's senior bonds at its second-lowest investment grade and AIB's note has a junk rating

Irish banks are brimming with deposits and seeing little demand for loans, even with interest rates at record lows. Soon they will be the ones loading up on debt.

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European regulators are drawing up rules designed to make sure banks improve their ability to deal with potential disaster. Lenders will have to sell hundreds of billions of euro in bonds in coming years to put more investors on the hook in the event of a bank's failure rather than taxpayers. The European Banking Authority estimates as much as €47bn of financing is needed across the continent.

As home to the euro-area's worst banking crisis, Ireland is an important microcosm of things to come. Following the implosion of a property bubble in 2008, Ireland injected €64bn into its financial system, forcing the nation to seek an international bailout. Since then, its banks have become largely funded by deposits. At Allied Irish Banks, its ratio of loans to deposits is 99pc.

"This is an issue for many deposit-funded banks," said Roger Francis, an analyst at Mizuho International in London. "They don't have much debt, but they will have to magic up some. We will see more debt issued by banks in Europe, even if loan book growth doesn't justify it."

The regulations cover the minimum requirement for a bank's own funds and eligible liabilities. They are due by the end of the year and force banks to issue securities which can be written down or converted to equity to recapitalise a lender if it fails. During the financial crisis, the senior bond holders were largely spared at the expense of taxpayers.

Following meetings with bank executives, Dublin-based securities firm Davy estimates that Irish banks will have to sell about €1.3bn a year of debt. Spokespeople at AIB and Bank of Ireland declined to comment. The Central Bank said lenders may have to sell debt to meet any shortfall, while declining to comment on specific capital requirements.

For Irish banks, the money is purely to satisfy regulators rather than meet demand for their services. AIB's total loans fell 9pc in the first half of 2016 from a year before, while Bank of Ireland's dropped 8pc.

They will still have to incur the cost of selling the debt, which is more expensive because of the extra risk. Investors typically demand a yield premium to hold bonds that may be "bailed in" if a bank collapses. The difference in yields between two bonds issued by Barclays - one potentially vulnerable to losses and another that would be protected - has averaged about 60 basis points in the past 12 months.

The yield on AIB's senior bonds due March 2020 stood at 0.71pc on Thursday, down from 0.89pc at the end of June. Bank of Ireland's April 2020 senior note yields 0.39pc, compared with 0.14pc for Irish government bonds maturing 2022. Moody's Investors Service rates Bank of Ireland's senior bonds at its second-lowest investment grade, while AIB's note has a junk rating.

"The crucial thing for us is that the banks get a bit more time to get their credit ratings back up to where they were before," said Stephen Lyons, an analyst at Davy.

"These bonds will be seen as a bit more risky when the banks issue them, so the banks will likely have to pay a bit more." (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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