Friday 6 December 2019

NAMA told not to rush sale of its NI portfolio

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Colm Kelpie

THE sale of NAMA's Northern Ireland portfolio of loans and properties shouldn't be rushed but should be spread over time to potentially ensure a better return, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said.

London-based investment bank Lazard has been hired to prepare a sale of the agency's Northern Ireland portfolio, which is believed to have a face value of between €3.5bn and €4bn.

It is known that NAMA has already recouped €170m through asset sales north of the Border, reducing the size of the potential portfolio.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Villiers cautioned against a quick sale, suggesting that a "longer-term approach" could ultimately end up yielding more.

"There's often a case for saying that ultimately they might end up getting more back on their bad loans if they spread them over time, or they work with the entrepreneurs concerned. That's really the focus. Getting a sensible, pragmatic (approach), rather than rushing for some sort of fire sale of assets," Ms Villiers said.

LOANS

"Often a longer-time approach could end up yielding more in terms of return on those loans."

Ms Villiers said she had lengthy discussions concerning NAMA with Sammy Wilson, the former Finance Minister of Northern Ireland, until he was replaced by colleague Simon Hamilton last summer.

She said she had not discussed the issue with Mr Hamilton, but believes he would also have similar concerns that there could be a potential negative impact of "a mass, very fast, accelerated enforcement on all the bad loans".

"Decisions that NAMA makes, or whoever takes over from NAMA, will obviously have an impact on the Northern Ireland economy so the more thought that can go into assessing local economic conditions, and just taking a pragmatic approach that at least considers the option of spreading loan payments, rather than a very, very hurried approach to dealing with them," she said.

In February, NAMA chairman Frank Daly told the Institute of Directors that the agency's strategy was to supply asset sales to the market to the extent that it can absorb that supply.

Asked about NAMA's Northern portfolio, a NAMA spokes- man said yesterday: "We are engaged in a process which will take some time to review the various options and that's ongoing."

In February, Mr Hamilton suggested he would be open to the assets being sold sooner rather than later.

He said the assets held by NAMA could be used to boost the Northern Ireland economy "if they were managed in a way which unleashed their potential in the short term rather than waiting for them to realise their value in the longer term".

Meanwhile, Ms Villiers also said that there were genuine signs of recovery in Northern Ireland, assisted by greater optimism from the Republic.

UK Chancellor George Osborne announced the North's first Enterprise Zone for Coleraine, Co Derry, in the budget and Ms Villiers said the hope would be to replicate this elsewhere in the six counties if successful.

Irish Independent

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