Sunday 22 September 2019

Lenihan hits out at bond hecklers


Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last night dismissed a Daily Telegraph newspaper claim he had been humiliated and ridiculed by UK investors during a conference call last Friday, saying it was part of a campaign by "unhappy and angry" Anglo subordinated bond holders.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, he said: "Clearly the subordinated bond holders in Anglo and Irish Nationwide are angry and are hitting out through this form of journalism in sections of the London press."

The Telegraph claimed in a story yesterday that Mr Lenihan had been jeered and subjected to abuse, including chimpanzee noises, during a botched conference call with over 200 investors on Friday.

It stated that: "Lenihan had been speaking for less than two minutes on Friday before a mistake by Citigroup meant that the bank's clients were all able to be heard on the line."

As the 200-plus investors realised their lines were not muted many began to heckle Mr Lenihan ferociously. As he did his best to deliver his pitch, some traders began making what one banker on the call described as "chimp sounds", while another cried out "dive, dive".

A third man said: "Short Ireland," before adding: "Why not short Citi too?" As the call descended into chaos, with one participant heard to say "this is the worst conference call ever", Citigroup officials shut down the line.

Yesterday, Mr Lenihan's spokesman said the Daily Telegraph story concerning the conference call and the protection of subordinated debt holders was "pathetic and inaccurate". He continued: "The Telegraph clearly did not listen to the call.

"A number of media organisations were on the call. None offered a similar analysis to the Telegraph, which was not on the call. At the end of the call, spreads on Irish bonds narrowed which indicated that the 200 investors on the call were reassured."

The Department of Finance has been angered at a series of stories in recent days in the Telegraph based on briefings from angry hedge funds that hold subordinated Anglo bonds.

Russian billionaire and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich looks set to sue the Government over its decision to make subordinated bondholders in Irish Nationwide pay part of the bill for dealing with the building society's huge property losses.

"We urge Irish authorities to reconsider their position on INBS subordinated bonds and come out with a detailed plan on what is going to happen to this institution. We are fully prepared to vigorously defend our position using all possible legal means," his company said.

Elsewhere, a rift appears to be opening up between Mr Cowen, who yesterday said he remains committed to the Croke Park deal, and Mr Lenihan, who is known to be in favour of more radical reform.

Since last Thursday's banking announcement -- at which Mr Lenihan said there would need to be a "fundamental reappraisal of the public sector" -- several high-level government figures have said the Croke Park deal was dead.

"All items of public expenditure -- including pay -- are back on the block," said one senior source.

Mr Lenihan's brother, junior minister Conor, wrote on Friday: "If progress is not made soon, it will probably signal the end of the Croke Park agreement and the partnership process as we know it."

"An agreement on Croke Park is in place. The Taoiseach will be meeting with the unions in the coming weeks and we will be discussing the new economic reality and we will be encouraging any constructive ideas that will help us reach our 2014 debt targets," the Taoiseach's spokesman said yesterday.

However, Sports Minister Mary Hanafin claimed on RTE radio yesterday that Croke Park is still viable. "The deal can be saved and it would be our intention to make it survive," she said.

A significant majority of people also want the deal to be shredded, according to the latest Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll of 500 households conducted on Friday night.

Some 60 per cent thought the Croke Park agreement should be shredded. Most respondents believed a new agreement designed to achieve much bigger savings across the public sector was needed. But 40 per cent did not want to see the deal shredded.

Meanwhile, a big majority of the public want Brian Cowen to stand down as Taoiseach before the next election. Some 68 per cent said they no longer had confidence in his leadership, with many respondents saying they were disillusioned with him.

Once again, Mr Lenihan remains the firm favourite to succeed Mr Cowen as leader of FF, with 46 per cent saying they want to see him take the top job. Micheal Martin garnered 13 per cent of the poll, 9 per cent said they want Mary Hanafin and only 4 per cent favoured Dermot Ahern.

Sunday Independent

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