'For a quick wind-down of Anglo you'd be talking about another €20bn'
Published 01/09/2010 | 05:00
A QUICK glance around the plush new offices of Anglo Irish Bank's top brass seems to confirm everything that's wrong with the bank that's hoovering up €300m of taxpayers' money each week.
The carpets are luxurious and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer bright views over the city skyline. The office is a gleaming testament to the Celtic Tiger era when bright and shiny were the order of the day.
The irony of his "plush" surroundings isn't lost on Anglo's battle-hardened chief executive Mike Aynsley, but he's quick to point out that the move was actually cost-effective.
The new headquarters used to be the centre of Anglo's private banking empire, hence the plushness. "The previous management -- thank you very much previous management -- signed the bank up for a 35-year lease with no right to break so we're stuck with them [the offices]," says Mr Aynsley.
It's an irritating hangover from an 'old Anglo', but it's far from the worst legacy Mr Aynsley and his lieutenants have to deal with.
The embattled bank yesterday revealed first-half losses of more than €8bn and Mr Aynsley admits another €6bn could be lost before 2010 is out as the horrendous state of the loan book bites.
The bank's plan to reinvent itself as a small 'good bank' and a larger 'bad bank' has also come under scrutiny, with the EU reportedly leaning towards a "nay".
All in all, Mr Aynsley's probably had better weeks -- though his cheery demeanour betrays little.
The mood turns serious, though, when he's pressed to put a number on how much state support Anglo will actually need. About €24bn has been committed already, but Anglo yesterday warned it could need more.
Mr Aynsley points out that the tally for the support Anglo needs has "stopped moving by the fives and tens of billions" with a figure of €24.5bn to €25.5bn now in sight.
Whether it ends up in that spectrum depends on how Anglo gets on with transferring the remaining €20bn of its toxic loan book to NAMA.
"You can't be definitive [on how much] until you know exactly what NAMA is going to pay you for every single loan," Mr Aynsley says, unable to satisfy the public demand for clarity on Anglo's cost.
A question on whether the contribution of taxpayers to Anglo will definitely be under, say, €30bn is met with a weary response. "That's trying to pin me down to crystal ball gazing," he says. He is clear on one thing though -- whatever the cost of splitting Anglo into a good bank/bad bank is, the cost of winding down the bank immediately would be far higher.
In the spring, Anglo said the liquidation of the bank could cost the Government €27bn to €35bn -- numbers that are now not too far ahead of the €24bn-plus bill taxpayers now have to foot under Mr Aynsley's plan.
"The gap [between the liquidation and good bank/bad bank] is not narrowing," says Mr Aynsley. "If your business as usual cost goes up, your wind-down costs go up too. For a very quick wind-down you'd still be looking at €20bn plus, additional [to the €24bn already committed]."
Mr Aynsley is similarly firm in his views that the good bank/bad bank split is the best route for Anglo, since the 'good bank' would be a viable business lender that could generate profit for the State.
He admits that the European Commission may not sanction the plan, but he insists there is absolutely no prospect of Brussels pushing for an immediate liquidation.
"The State couldn't afford it [liquidation] and the Commission knows that," he says, adding that a shutdown would be "just ripping up money for the Irish taxpayer".
If the Commission rejects Anglo's plan to separate into a good bank and bad bank, Mr Aynsley sees two other alternatives that might realistically be recommended.
"They [the Commission] may say the scale of the state aid requirement doesn't justify supporting separation, so the operation [Anglo] must be wound down over a long period of time," he says.
"Another option would be for them to come back and say they're not happy about the long-term viability of the good bank . . . but are happy that it exists in the short term if it takes part in consolidation."
Whatever the option, the Australian insists he's in Anglo for the long run, even if the unthinkable happened and he was forced to implement an immediate liquidation.
Over time, he may just come to appreciate the pleasantness of the new surroundings bestowed on him by the old Anglo that has cost the country so much.