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Taxpayer beware as Nama makes spectacular loss

When it was announced by then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan during his emergency budget speech in April 2009, we were told it would get credit moving, we were promised it would not be a bailout for developers, we were told it wouldn't be a gravy train for advisers, consultants and public sector fat cats and we were told it would make a profit.

Set up to save the country from the greed and recklessness of the banks and developers, including Liam Carroll, Bernard McNamara and Sean Dunne, Nama was an unprecedented development in Irish history.

But, more than two years on from its inception, there is no question on all of these fronts: Nama has failed and failed spectacularly, and the taxpayer should be very concerned indeed.

As last Thursday's annual report revealed losses of €1.1bn -- a truly incredible loss given its short lifespan -- it was estimated that the organisation described earlier this year by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a "secret society" could need up to €1bn of taxpayers' money just to stay afloat, despite just three developers owing more than €2bn each, and nine others owing debts of over €1bn.

Because all of Nama's forecasts are based on property price evaluations from November 2009, which have plummeted considerably since, of the €1.1bn losses reported in Thursday's report, €1.485bn comes from revaluing loans at the end of 2010.

Given the continual slide so far this year, losses at the end of 2011 are very likely to be significantly worse, forcing Nama to seek more money from the taxpayer to cover what is likely to then be an ever-increasing hole in its balance sheet.

As a result, according to Namawinelake, a highly respected online blog about Nama, the bad bank could need a further injection from the taxpayer by the end of this year, given the scale of the losses already racked up, primarily due to falling house prices.

"Nama was created with a clean slate in December 2009. Perhaps it should be surprising, even shocking, therefore that the agency has racked up such a large loss in its first year of operation. Indeed, were it not for Nama's accounting treatment of part of the consideration it pays the banks -- the subordinated bonds which will only be honoured if Nama makes a profit -- then Nama might have been forced into a position today of asking the Government for further capital of at least €1bn. It is an astounding loss," the blog stated.

Now, these at the moment are paper losses which are hopefully going to be made up before its life is ended in nine years' time, but given the continued drop in prices, such hopes seem wildly optimistic.

Two years on, Nama is losing over €1bn already, and likely to lose an awful lot more; it has become a very rich source of earnings for advisers and consultants; it has become the bailout for developers; and of course credit in the Irish system is still non-existent, despite countless promises.

Mother of all quangos:

Nama, by paying €30.5bn for loans previously worth €72.3bn, has become owner of the world's biggest property portfolio, and has gone from an initial staff number of less than 10 to more than 150, and growing -- among the best paid public servants in the country -- with a salary bill of €10.3m.

In total, 122 senior personnel at Nama and the National Treasury Management Agency are being paid in excess of €100,000. CEO Brendan McDonagh, we were told by the report, was paid a salary of €430,000 and expenses, and a car allowance of €23,000.

He did, God bless him, forgo his bonus -- worth up to 60 per cent of his salary. I suppose losing €1bn in your first year may have something to do with that.

Chairman Frank Daly, the former Revenue tsar, pocketed €159,116 for his trouble, while Michael Connolly, the chair of the credit committee, received €146,374.

In total, board and committee fees for last year came to €589,341.

Gravy train for legal and financial advisers:

According to the report, Nama has racked up €46m in administration costs.

As part of that, throughout 2010, Nama spent approximately €100,000 a day on financial and legal experts. Legal advisers, including firm Arthur Cox, were paid €485 an hour for carrying out due diligence on loans transferred to Nama, according to information in this latest and previous reports.

Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) was alone paid €1.9m in January 2010 for offering "set-up advice".

Between April and May of 2010, PWC was also paid €60,000 a week or €400 per hour per consultant.

A further €15m was paid to Capita Asset Services and the banks for administering the loans. Despite McDonagh saying the banks performed "well below" acceptable standards in their dealings with Nama, the banks are to receive up to €72m this year for administering the loans.

According to its earlier report, accountancy firm KPMG was also paid €5.8m during the first six months in 2010 for loan evaluations.

The report said boldly that legal and tax fees amounted to €4m, a modest sum. However, a more in-depth read of the report reveals that fees to lawyers last year were actually €30m higher, due to "necessary expenditure on securing legal due diligence and valuation services". Nama said these fees have been recouped from the banks, but given that the taxpayer now owns the banks and has pumped over €70bn into them so far, we are paying for these fees either way.

Bailout for developers:

Last Thursday's report gave us confirmation that Ireland's destruction and collapse was a result of the greed, recklessness and sheer incompetence of property speculators who, through their actions, have brought this country to its knees.

You would think that these people would be somehow held to account, brought to task, made accountable for what they did.

In Nama's early days, Brendan McDonagh said they would. At an Oireachtas Committee last year, he declared, "I want to dispel any notion that Nama is a bailout for developers. It is no such thing."

Frank Daly chipped in that the "jets, the yachts, Bentleys or whatever" would not be supported by Nama.

But now we know the truth. Nama is going much softer on the developers than it has claimed.

Apart from the one or two sacrificial lambs like Liam Carroll and Bernard McNamara, who appear to be carrying the collective shame on their shoulders, many of the other big borrowers are now doing very well out of Nama.

Earlier this year, this newspaper confirmed that, despite the collapse in the value of their properties, a number of the leading developers are currently in receipt of salaries in excess of €200,000, and are continuing to live the lifestyles they enjoyed before the crash.

And apparently the Nama bosses have no problem with that, as long as they are paying the interest on their loans. That's the interest, not the core loan itself.

"If you are paying the interest, you can have the lifestyle you want," McDonagh said on RTE radio.

Asked why a coterie of developers should be in receipt of six-figure salaries, given the losses facing the taxpayer, my Nama source explained the agency's rationale.

"The way we see it, Nama could bring in a receiver to deal with a portfolio. Say the portfolio is €100m. The receiver will want a 1 per cent commission to handle that, or €1m from the off. Once you appoint him, the same receiver may well come back and admit he's only an accountant. Then you're looking at engaging property advisers etc.

"So if we can get a developer to work for us for €200,000, and get his team for another €200,000, at €400,000 that's a good deal for us and the taxpayer," he said.

And let's not forget the payment of €810,845 to Nama developers Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett of Treasury Holdings, in rent for office space.

But there is more: now we know that these developers could earn millions in incentivised bonuses should they meet the core part of their loans -- not the whole amount, but only the amount Nama needs to cover its costs.

"If a debtor fully co-operates with Nama, then the additional proceeds will be divided -- 90 per cent to Nama and 10 per cent to the developer."

So in a case where even though the full amount of the original loan has not been paid, once a development realises a profit of €20m above what Nama paid, the developer will get an incentivised bonus of €2m.

So, if it walks like a bailout, talks like a bailout and looks like a bailout, guess what? It is a bailout.

The Nama story so far has been a sorry tale of woe for the taxpayer. But, worryingly, that isn't likely to change any time soon.

In fact, it's likely only to get worse.

Sunday Independent