Saturday 20 January 2018

Irish Life pension fund to buy into NAMA ownership

Move will keep €30bn debts off State's balance sheet

The late Brian Lenihan. Photo: Getty Images
The late Brian Lenihan. Photo: Getty Images

Maeve Dineen Business Editor

IRISH Life's pensioners will come to the Government's rescue to prevent NAMA debts of up to €30bn appearing on the State's balance sheet, the Irish Independent has learned.

The company's employee pension fund is due to take a stake in the so-called 'special purpose vehicle' (SPV) which ultimately owns NAMA. The State has a 49pc minority stake.

The SPV's majority stake had been owned by a consortium of New Ireland Assurance; a group of clients of Allied Irish Banks Investment Managers; and Irish Life Investment Managers.

The arrangement had to come to an end when the State bought Irish Life because the EU statistics agency Eurostat said NAMA's debts could no longer remain off the State's balance sheet if the State owned a majority stake in the SPV.

Since then, the Government has been furiously looking for new investors to take up Irish Life Investment Managers' 17pc stake in the SPV.

Despite the controversy over NAMA, the SPV has been organised so that it is a relatively safe investment.

"It's been designed to perform broadly similar to a government bond," said one informed source.

The investment is guaranteed a percentage of NAMA profits but profits in excess of that go to the State.

Equally, the investors losses are limited if NAMA fails to return a profit.

The new move comes amid reports that Eurostat was becoming increasingly anxious in recent weeks about finding a new investor from the private sector.

Accounts

The privately owned SPV structure was devised by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and persuaded officials at Eurostat that NAMA should be treated as a private entity in the national accounts.

Eurostat has the final say in how EU governments present their accounts.

The SPV was set up with €100m of capital and is jointly owned by private investors (51pc) and NAMA (49pc) through an investment holding company, National Asset Management Agency Investment Limited.

The worst-case scenario for the Government would have resulted in an emergency firesale of Irish Life, but that would have required a buyer to stay in the SPV.

Special purpose vehicles are not unusual and the Irish scheme was closely modelled on one that had previously been set up by the French government.

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