Is it time to let AIB go?
It sounds like the kind of decision a family around the death bed of a loved one faces. Though perhaps the comparison isn’t in the best taste, the reality is that the venerable 185-year old bank is facing insolvency and it is only the dogmatic government strategy of maintaining a duopoly of “Irish” banks not to mention over €10bn of public funds and significant ECB funds that is keeping the bank afloat. This entry examines the status of AIB and the cost of keeping it alive.
Firstly for our international friends, AIB is Allied Irish Banks PLC – note the plural “Banks”. It has nothing to do with the biggest failure in Irish corporate history, Anglo Irish Bank which is referred to domestically simply as “Anglo”. AIB was conceived in 1825 with the opening of a bank called Provincial Bank and over the next century and a half merged with other domestic banks to give us the Allied Irish Banks that we know today. Alongside Bank of Ireland it is seen as the rock of Irish banking.
During the property boom in the 2000s the bank was a late participant in the mania but there is evidence that once it arrived at the party it wasted no time in trying to catch up with the existing party-goers. The Minister for Finance estimates that the bank’s remaining NAMA loans are worth 40c in the euro (including long term economic value).
Its most recent set of accounts for the first six months of 2010 show that the bank had assets of €169bn, liabilities of €160bn and capital of €9bn. So it is a huge business in an Irish context but clearly solvent by reference to these results. Unfortunately the results don’t reflect the true condition of the loan assets. The cumulative provision for losses on NAMA loans in the interim results was 26% – that is, the loans were worth 74c in the euro. The most recent ministerial estimate is 40c in the euro. This should result in a further loss to AIB of €5.5bn. But NAMA loans form a small part of AIB’s total loanbook and the company will have some €81bn of non-NAMA loans (plus €4.5bn of €5-20m formerly NAMA loans) once NAMA has absorbed the poison. The cumulative provision on these loans in June 2010 was just €3bn (note 22 on page 83). Given that these loans include commercial property and business lending in a state which has suffered the greatest contraction in GDP amongst developed countries in modern times, I would suggest that provision is utter fantasy.
Like some shady cash-in-hand sole trader, AIB maintain a second set of books under the auspices of the Financial Regulator who in March this year set out the capital requirements for AIB and other banks (the Prudential Capital Assessment Review). In September using this second set of books, the Regulator announced that AIB needed raise €10.4bn by the end of this year. AIB’s strategy was to dispose of some assets and then to raise additional equity underwritten by the State. There is a detailed entry on these capital raising efforts here but in summary the bank disposed of its Polish operation (still subject to approvals) which yielded €2.5bn capital from the €3.1bn sale price and yesterday AIB held an EGM in which shareholders approved the sale of the bank’s stake in US bank M&T which should add €0.9bn to the capital coffers. The bank announced yesterday that it was placing the sale of the UK operation on hold (though there appears to be some back-pedalling on these comments this morning). Unless there is some dynamic between the UK sale and capital that means that the bank still needs €7bn in new capital in the next 60 days. And there is only sucker with that level of available funding that is willing to invest in what is likely to be an insolvent bank, and that’s the government who seem intent on placing just under one half of our National Pension Reserve Fund (that’s the €3.5bn invested in preference shares last year and the €7bn now needed as a proportion of the €24bn funds in the NPRF) in one basket (case) – AIB.
The government strategy seems chauvinistic (“we need a duopoly of Irish banks”), knee-jerked, immoral (not a word you’ll often see on here but taking money from the pension fund to prop up an insolvent bank is flagitious when there are other options to protect a functioning banking system), recklessly risky (one half of the pension fund is “invested” in one company in one sector). AIB should be taken into 100% state ownership immediately, the State should assess the value of any shareholdings in AIB (I expect they are worth nothing), negotiate with the €4bn+ of junior bondholders the company had at June 2010 and assess if senior bondholders might make a contribution to the insolvent bank. Only then should the State assess the systemic importance of AIB and should probably seek a buyer for the rump of that company. Even if the state is left with only one Irish bank so what? We have a Financial Regulator with 520 staff that should be able to regulate a restricted market to combat uncompetitive practices and when the Irish economy recovers other banks may see prospects here.
If on the other hand, we maintain the pretence that AIB is a viable bank then €7bn will need be found in the next 60 days. At the very best we are set to lose €1.8bn if we continue with the madness of the NPRF underwriting a share issue at €0.50 per share when the shares are presently trading at €0.35. With the healthiest Irish bank, Bank of Ireland, having to borrow 3-year funds at 5.875% last week (excluding costs) in a market where mortgages and commercial lending is still available at 3%, the prospects for profitability at AIB are slim in the context of the NPRF’s investment strategy which allows it invest in any market across the globe.
It is time to say our goodbyes and pull the plug.
Unfortunately this government is hell bent on holding on to this once trophy bank along with the top notch gangsters and X Politicians at the helm who will not vote themselves out of this sought after gig
Since the Minister of Finance himself says that the still remaindering loans are only worth 40c in the euro this alone tells me that the bank is gone beyond repair, as every one of his pronouncements on figures have been totally out. I expect that you wouldn’t even get 10 cent on the euro The cost is irrelevant as the down trodden taxpayers are going to pay up.This Bank is dead and powering billions into it is tantamount to treason.
Shut this toxic toilet down now and save us the poor taxpayers a little bit of pain!
Residents movement for political change