Sunday 25 February 2018

TH€ PUNT: Boom time for debt collector

IT is a sad commentary of the state we are in that one of the few growth areas at the moment is mortgage arrears.

And one of the beneficiaries of this state of affairs is a firm few will have heard about – Certus.

The company styles itself as offering "outsourcing solutions to banks" but is in reality a debt collector for the sector.

It is managing the run-down of the former Halifax/Bank of Scotland (Ireland) loan book for UK bank Lloyds. Certus is managing about €8.5bn of former Halifax mortgages written in the Irish market, and says it is devising ways to deal with distressed borrowers.

It has lately started working with AIB, EBS, Permanent TSB, dealing with mortgage borrowers in distress.

The chief executive of Certus is Joe Higgins, who was previously in charge of Bank of Scotland (Ireland). According to its website, Certus employs 1,100 people from its Dublin headquarters and regional offices.

A sign of the growth of Certus is evident from the fact that it is the main sponsor for a seminar this Thursday when hundreds of banks are to gather to discuss mortgage arrears management.

The Irish Banking Federation gig will hear from Insolvency Service boss Lorcan O'Connor and the Central Bank's consumer protection director Bernard Sheridan.

Ronan Holohan, who is described as divisional director of retail credit risk at Certus, will also address the gathering of bankers.

Certus was initially set up to handle the loan book of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) but now says it is ready to expand its client base. It is one to watch.

Dose of reality from FitzGerald

IT was the magazine cover to end all magazine covers. "The Celtic comeback" screamed 'Time' magazine, along with a picture of Enda Kenny that was certainly more Greek idealism than Roman realism.

Not everyone is buying the idea that we are well on the road to recovery, however, least of all the ESRI's John FitzGerald (pictured) who is the son of Garret.

The bookish economist has always been one to call a spade a spade when it comes to the economy, and the interview he gave to 'The New York Times' deputy business editor Floyd Norris confirms the sense that he does not buy the line that the economy is surging ahead.

Mr Norris's piece, titled, "Ireland's turnaround may not be so rosy" draws heavily on Mr FitzGerald's research, and points to a quirk in the way gross national product and the balance of payments are calculated which exaggerates the strength of the Irish recovery.

Famously, Ireland's balance of payments versus GNP turned positive in 2010 and has forged ahead since. According to Mr FitzGerald, when the accounting quirk is accounted for, the ratio only barely turned positive this year.

The economist told Mr Norris it was common knowledge that the statistics were misleading, it was felt they couldn't be changed because of EU regulations.

Mr Kenny probably won't thank him for pointing out this anomaly, but he should. Governments should be making decisions with the best of information. It appears that is not the case when it comes to our economic calculations. Rather important, wouldn't you say?

Eurozone a little too calm

The lack of direct flights from Dublin make for a challenging trip to Luxembourg – a plane and train is usually the preferred route – but it does allow us to gauge how serious an upcoming meeting is.

A year ago, the meeting of eurozone finance ministers was one of the more dramatic events on the EU calendar.

The train to Luxembourg was always packed on the morning of such events, and there was a real buzz of anticipation among the press corps.

Not anymore. Last week the train was virtually empty, and the urgency that pervaded these meetings is gone.

That doesn't mean the euro crisis has passed, of course. It is still every bit as real as it was in 2010, 2011 and 2012. But the single currency no longer seems likely to break up at any minute

The sense of relief, and indeed boredom, in Europe is palpable, but The Punt can't help but think of a scene in Jaws: a bunch of anglers caught a shark and claimed they had killed the maneater. Everyone in town relaxed . . . and then the killing started again.

Europe feels a bit like that at the moment.

Irish Independent

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