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Donal O'Donovan: Flawed banking system is blocking pipeline to cheaper loans

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Mario Draghi. Photo: Reuters

Mario Draghi. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Mario Draghi. Photo: Reuters

Back in 2012, when he wasn't long in the job and things looked very bleak in the Eurozone, Mario Draghi admitted that the transmission system for Euro area credit was broken.

In plain English; if the ECB President cut interest rates in Frankfurt he couldn't be confident it would make much if any difference to borrowers in Cork or in Cordoba.

Yesterday the ECB quietly told us that it was fixed. That will come as a surprise to Irish homeowners and businesses, whose cost of funds is double that of their German peers - despite the fact that theoretically they share an official interest rate and 'banking union'.

That's because its balderdash. The ECB case is that the system broadly works - if you squint your eyes and don't focus too much on the detail - then in broad strokes borrowing costs across the eurozone are falling in line with ECB rating action.

If its not happening on the ground here, then its for local reasons. To put it another way, the plumbing is working fine, we just happen to be living where some local pipes are blocked.

So if Irish borrowers don't have access to the same cheap loans as their German and French peers, then its down to a host of non-ECB related reasons - including a trade-off of higher interest rates for lower fees, and Irish banks' other costs - including what they pay to borrow on the bond markets. There's a lot of truth in that. Irish banks, still laden with crappy boom era "assets" and high fixed costs, can borrow at the same low costs as others from the ECB, but the markets are, for the time being, less forgiving. Irish homes are tricky to repossess, and that comes with a wider cost.

But the flawed banking system we have is a creation of the ECB as much as anyone. We can no more separate the banks from the 'transmission system' than we can the pipes from the plumbing.

Irish Independent