Saturday 23 March 2019

Shocking language shows how far bank had fallen

Anglo Irish Bank
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

The mix of humour and anger that radiates outwards from David Drumm throughout the Anglo Tapes is familiar now to most readers.

His language is a mix of jargon and expletives, but it catches the bank chief at a very particular moment in what we can now see was the slow collapse of the bank.

It was made almost a year to the day before Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised.

Twelve months earlier, Mr Drumm had been one of the most celebrated banking executives in the world.

That was when Anglo Irish Bank was named the best bank in the world by experts Oliver Wyman and the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of world political and business leaders in the Swiss resort of Davos.

So the latest call comes at the exact mid-point of Anglo Irish Bank's fall from grace.

The call, recorded on January 22, 2008, was also made as the US subprime mortgage market, which had been bubbling for almost a year, finally blew up.

Across the world, vast amounts of money were being pulled out of investment seen to be at risk of a property collapse.

Anglo Irish Bank, with its massive exposure to Irish and other property lending, was a prime target.

And we can hear that Mr Drumm was aware of the stark situation.

His complaint, in brutal language, about being "f***ed up the arse by the market", tells us how far the bank had already fallen.

Setting aside the choice of words, Mr Drumm is complaining that the bond market was closing on the bank, signalled by the collapse in the price its outstanding bonds were trading at.

Bonds are a type of debt; most of the time they change hands at in or around their face value. If they don't, it's a red flag, either that cash is exiting the market or that the issuer is seen as being at risk of not being able to fully repay the debt.

Either way, it means it is becoming difficult if not impossible to borrow at affordable rates.

For a lender like Anglo Irish with a relatively small base of customer deposits, constant access to the markets was especially vital.

Mr Drumm knew that. The price Anglo bonds were changing hands at had major implications for his business model.

What he failed to acknowledge was that the investors pulling their cash were reading the market correctly.

The Irish property market was completely overheated; banks including Anglo that had lent into it aggressively would now face an unprecedented wave of loan losses.

Up to now, one of the striking things to emerge from the tapes was just how well Mr Drumm was able to read the unfolding banking crisis, despite the brave face Anglo Irish Bank was putting on things at the time.

In this case, however, Mr Drumm was the one misreading the situation – the prices in the bond market were only reflecting the reality.

Irish Independent

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