Saturday 16 December 2017

How much does Quinn Group actually owe?

SEAN QUINN: How much?
SEAN QUINN: How much?

AS the crisis at the Quinn Group deepens, just how much does Sean Quinn's outfit actually owe its banks, bondholders and policyholders?

With information on the financial condition of the embattled group still merely dribbling out, it is already clear that estimates of the group's borrowings will have to be revised significantly upwards.

Ever since the Financial Regulator seized control of Quinn Insurance on March 30, the financial problems of its parent, the Quinn Group, have become impossible to ignore.

Contributing to the growing sense of unease has been not just the lack of financial transparency at the Quinn Group but also the manner in which the information that is out in the open has been gradually drip-fed to the public.

No doubt tomorrow's High Court hearing, where the Quinn Group will seek to have the March 30 decision overturned, will provide us with more, but still incomplete, financial information on the group.

However, even piecing together what we already know, it is clear that the group is in an even deeper financial hole than we previously thought.

The group's single biggest debt is the €2.8bn which it owes Anglo Irish Bank.

This makes it by far the biggest borrower from the nationalised bank.

There are many questions surrounding this debt?

How much did the Quinn Group owe Anglo before Mr Quinn began his ill-fated gamble on the bank's shares, a punt which is estimated to have cost him up to €3bn?

How much of the debt relates to his accumulation of an Anglo stake variously estimated at between 25 per cent and 28 per cent through direct share purchases and contracts for difference? Are all of these borrowings currently fully compliant, and, if not, have they been written down by Anglo?

If they have been written down, by how much?

While Anglo is by far the largest lender to the group, it seems to have very little security on the underlying assets, with most of its loans being secured on the Quinn family's shares instead.

The Quinn Group apparently owes a group of other banks led by UK bank Barclays a further €1.2bn, while it owes its bondholders up to €600m.

It is the bondholders who seem to enjoy the best security on the money owed to them.

The combined total owed to Anglo, the Barclays group and the bondholders seems to be €4.6bn, not the €4bn previously thought.

And then there is Quinn Insurance.

When applying for the appointment of provisional administrators almost a fortnight ago, Financial Regulator Matthew Elderfield revealed that, as a result of guarantees extended by Quinn Insurance to other companies within the Quinn Group, the insurance company's reserves were €448m less than previously thought.

The regulator also revealed that he had requested that Quinn Insurance prepare contingency plans "for implementation in the event of the failure of the larger Quinn Group".

The group was also in breach of its banking covenants at the end of 2009, according to the regulator's affidavit.

How much extra capital will be required by Quinn Insurance?

In its mooted €700m bailout of the Quinn Group, Anglo proposes injecting €150m into Quinn Insurance. This is likely to be the absolute minimum required. Not alone does the group seem to have been using Quinn Insurance as its in-house piggybank, the regulator will also have to satisfy himself that the business being written by Quinn Insurance, particularly motor insurance, was inherently profitable.

Even if €150m proves to be the limit of Quinn Insurance's capital requirements, that still leaves the group with total gross liabilities of €4.75bn.

Any increase in the capital requirements of Quinn Insurance would of course increase this figure even further.

What sort of assets are there to offset these liabilities? Quinn Insurance is probably the most saleable part of the group.

However, the money raised from such a sale would first have to go towards plugging any hole in the Quinn Insurance balance sheet.

The Quinn Group would only get whatever was left over once the capital needs of Quinn Insurance had been met.

The group's other assets look far less saleable. Who wants an Irish cement business in the current climate? The same could be said of many of its hotels and property interests.

While buyers could certainly be found for some of the group's other businesses, which include glass, radiators and plastics, any buyer, fully aware of the group's situation, would surely drive a hard bargain.

Meanwhile, Mr Quinn assured viewers of RTE's Prime Time programme last Thursday that: "The Quinn Group has plenty of money. We don't need money.

"We are cash rich.

"We have money in the bank."

If, despite Mr Quinn's assurances to the contrary, the group does hit the buffers, the main brunt will be borne by Anglo.

With the cost of bailing out Anglo already set to top €40bn, a major Quinn Group loss would almost certainly prove to be the tipping point in forcing the Government to abandon its current policy of keeping Anglo on life support and pull the plug on the disgraced lender.

Sunday Independent

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