Sunday 18 March 2018

€5bn bond sale lays foundations for return of economic sovereignty

NTMA chief executive John Corrigan
NTMA chief executive John Corrigan
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

The country stunned the markets and moved dramatically closer to taking back control of the nation's finances yesterday after borrowing €5bn over 10 years from private investors.

It's the first deal of its kind since before the EU/IMF rescue in November 2010.

"This has been extraordinary, and I don't use the word often," FInance Minister Michael Noonan said after the deal closed. "It puts us in a very strong position. A lot of ministers visiting various countries for St Patrick's day will have a fairly impressive piece of news," he added.

In a dramatic show of faith, 400 investors from around the world offered a staggering €12bn in new debt to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), which manages debt for the Government, in a matter of hours yesterday.

In the end, the agency borrowed €5bn, much more than the €3bn it was planning to raise.

While positive in terms of emerging out of the bailout, the deal will not mean a let-up in austerity for ordinary people, because the gap between what the Government takes in through taxation still falls short of what it spends.

However, the clamour for Irish bonds meant the interest rate we must pay on the debt dropped to 4.15pc. It compares to an interest rate of 15pc that investors were demanding in July 2011.

It is less than Spain or Italy pays to borrow, and they have never been in bailouts.

"This has been hugely positive and really eases the pressure for the rest of the year, it's fair to say this is beyond expectations in the market," according to Ryan McGrath, a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in Dublin.

The interest rate we will pay on the new debt is not much more than the around 3.5pc interest that we pay the EU and IMF for rescue loans under the bailout deal. Now an important "upgrade" of the country's credit rating could be on the cards, the Irish Independent has learned.

"We have certainly taken note of the successful 10-year issue, which we see as a credit-positive step in Ireland's ongoing efforts to regain market access as the economic adjustment programme nears its close," analyst Kirtsen Lindow of the Moody's rating agency told this newspaper.

That matters because Moody's is the only one of the main three rating agencies that classes our debt as "sub investment grade" or in market jargon "junk bonds".

If Moody's does lift its rating of Irish debt, our borrowing costs could fall even further, because it would be seen as a green light for even more investors to lend to us. The NTMA raised €5bn in a so-called syndicated 10-year bond deal.

It is seen as a major step towards exiting the bailout because the country now has almost enough money set aside to last until the end of 2014.

We have no need for any additional rescue loans.

The deal is also important because it helps the country meet conditions set by European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi for support from his bank next year.

Having such help available is regarded as crucial once we are formally out of the bailout from the end of this year.

The ECB support is only available to countries that show they are able to borrow consistently on the markets from a wide mix of lenders.

Irish Independent

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