Monday 23 October 2017

ACC not the pantomime villain some might suggest

When the definitive account of Ireland's property bust is written up it will be interesting to see how the role of ACC Bank, owned by Rabobank, is treated. For Ireland's property developers and Ireland's banks, ACC is a highly negative force, unprepared to see the value in a collective approach to managing the orderly decline of the Irish property market.

Time and time again in the last six months ACC has set its face against this collective approach to the problems besetting Ireland's developers.

First it refused to sign-off on a rescue plan for Liam Carroll's Zoe property group, describing it as a "deferred receivership''.

Then it refused to give its consent to a scheme of arrangement drawn up by George Maloney of Baker Tilly Ryan for the Fleming group, even though the plan was supported by the Irish banks.

Privately people in the property game are indignant at ACC's stance, for many of them the bank is a pantomime villain. In this account of matters, ACC recklessly pushed money at borrowers and is now adopting the most draconian approach to getting it back before it flees from the Irish market.

One suspects the Irish banks are not entirely pleased with ACC either. The last thing they need is large scale liquidations, which force them to crystallise losses up front.

There is also the practical problem of how they are going to dispose of all the assets they will acquire through the liquidation process. One suspects disposals will not be the first option, instead properties will be hoarded to avoid flooding the market.

This hoarding goes to the heart of the different approaches of ACC and the Irish banks. Irish banks have to operate and exist in this market for years to come. An orderly management of decline is their desired outcome, not fire sale prices and lightening quick liquidations.

The ACC approach appears to be to extract as much value from what remains of its bombed out Irish property loan book. It has a AAA-rating to preserve and exercising endless forbearance towards Irish property developers is clearly not on its agenda.

The Irish banks appear to be trying to avoid setting a new price level for commercial and residential property in Ireland. We all know why. ACC and other foreign lenders are less threatened by any new price level emerging. Hence the different approaches when rescue plans are presented in the courts.

Many will argue that ACC has done the State some service by forcing the property developers and construction companies to face their losses head-on.

From this episode of 'creative destruction' should emerge more realistic price levels, a more sustainable property market and even a chance of economic recovery.

On the other hand groups like Fleming are having to let people go on the back of being wound up, others will point out. It is also worth remembering that a large group of small trade creditors in the Bandon area were also supporting the scheme of arrangement.

Either way ACC is starting to get some retrospective approval locally for its hard-nosed approach.

Last week the bank won its appeal to the Supreme Court over the Fleming case. It called it right when it said the High Court "erred'' in the original decision to approve the scheme of arrangement for Fleming.

Last week a High Court judge said the bank had been "vindicated" by its success in the Supreme Court. One suspects this is about the only approval or vindication the Dutch lender is going to get in Ireland anytime soon.

Irish Independent

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