Saturday 18 November 2017

You can blame NAMA for lots, but not destroying the broken banks

In just one year, NAMA will spend, on fees, more than five times the entire cost of the Moriarty Tribunal to date.

Over its lifetime, the agency will spend on fees the equivalent of almost one- third of the entire budget adjustment made by the Government this week.

The agency has already spent millions of euro on working capital for developers, but prefers not to disclose the names of the fortunate recipients of this public money.

Apart from hapless developer Paddy Shovlin and debt-laden Bernard McNamara, NAMA has been very timid in the enforcement area, so far.

The agency also missed its initial deadlines for loan transfers and to cap it all some senior executives at the agency have awarded themselves 70pc increases in pay after just one year in existence.

When it comes to NAMA, the agency originally proposed by Peter Bacon in March 2009, there is an awful lot not to like.

In fact even its most ardent supporters don't expect the agency to make a profit, they simply hope its loss won't be terminal to the economy and will be recorded so many years from now, that nobody will really care.

But despite a plethora of flaws and a business model that can only be described as idiosyncratic and heavy on hope, it is still hard to see what the alternative to NAMA would have been.

In addition, a recent trend of seeing all the banks' problems as simply caused by NAMA writedowns is a dangerous delusion. The banks destroyed themselves, NAMA simply brought the moment of destruction forward.

Even nationalisation of the entire banking system would have required the removal of property loans to an asset management vehicle of some kind, to be managed out over a long period.

Or is anyone suggesting the Irish banks should have been allowed to manage (and make provisions against) €158bn of land, development and property investment loans?

Instead of concentrating their fire on NAMA's indefensible fee structure, critics have made more baffling criticisms of the agency, including that it has been too eager to chase down every penny owed by developers and forced losses on the banks up front.

In the latter case, this is precisely the point of such an agency -- to recognise and crystalise losses before they actually occur and in that way avoid Japanese-style lost decades, where the pain is simply dragged out, inhibiting lending even further.

In the Japanese case losses were spooned out gradually over years (or not at all), with several capital injections as equity constantly had to be replenished. It also made banks extraordinarily risk averse.

Without some kind of asset management agency, the Irish banks would have been left sit on €158bn of property loans. They could, of course, have been recapitalised to absorb potential writedowns on these loan books, but how would the loans be valued and by whom? By the banks one can only presume and everyone knows where that led in recent years.

Irish Independent

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