Saturday 7 December 2019

Bad bank is now seriously eyeing up the exits

Hollister in Dundrum Town Centre.
Hollister in Dundrum Town Centre.
Frank Daly,Chairman (left ) and Brendan McDonagh,Chief Executive at the publication of the National Asset Management Agency
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

NAMA has its fair share of critics, but one thing its senior figures can never be accused of is turning a deaf ear when it comes to hearing how the political winds are blowing.

Earlier this year Michael Noonan asked the agency's top brass, including chairman Frank Daly and Brendan McDonagh, to examine the feasibility of shutting their agency down over a faster timescale than their original 10-year target.

The Minister for Finance knows better than to ask his officials out loud for something he can't have, and old-hand public administrators like Daly and McDonagh know how to deliver for the minister.

So it is no surprise then that we are now seeing a rash of sales by NAMA, even before the findings of the review have been delivered. News that NAMA is buying out the other lenders to the Dundrum Town Centre to copper-fasten its control of the shopping centre is being read as evidence it too is being prepped for sale.

The Northern Ireland exit is the biggest deal yet for NAMA, but it is actually at the lower end of the scale of sales achieved by the special liquidators of IBRC.

It's that process that has set the pace when it comes to loan sales.

The Northern Ireland sale was prompted by inward enquires from US investor PIMCO, who ultimately lost out in the bidding to Cerberus, a sign that buyers are casting their net wider and wider in the hunt for assets but also that they want deals of real scale.

QUESTION

It begs the question of what's next for assets on this side of the Border – in particular, how big will NAMA sales here go?

Big deals bring in lots of cash but are not without risks to the wider economy. Bundling up masses of assets to be sold at once raises real questions about "concentration risk", the danger of handing too large a slice of the market here to any investor or group of investors. Not doing it risks losing the interest of buyers, who may not be here forever.

In Northern Ireland those factors applied but the decision came down in favour of taking money off the table today. Impressively, it was done without alienating the political regime there. It's notable that NAMA's Northern Ireland sale represents a clean break.

That was not the case, for example, in last year's sale to Starwood of a €200m portfolio of loans linked to properties in the Republic, previously the largest sale by the agency. In that deal NAMA formed a joint venture to continue to hold a stake in the assets and also provided so-called "vendor financing", which in practice means a share of the consideration is deferred.

Joint ventures and financing deals make a lot of sense if you are going to be around for the medium to long term, but with NAMA now seriously eyeing the exits we should expect fewer deals featuring those kinds of loose ends.

Irish Independent

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