A Review of NAMA in 2010
namawinelake | December 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Categories: NAMA | URL: http://wp.me/pNlCf-TR
It was Dr Michael Somers, the former head of the NTMA that highlighted a flaw in the Irish character in his speech at the MacGill Summer School in beautiful Donegal in July this year – the flaw being that we tend to focus on process in this country at the expense of objective. It would be unfair to say that NAMA has not achieved its objectives yet. After all this year was mostly going to have been about establishing the agency, recruiting staff, setting procedures and of course valuing and acquiring the target loans from the financial institutions. With loan acquisition, NAMA missed its target (set out in the draft NAMA Business Plan in October 2009) of transferring the first tranche in December 2009 (actually transferred on 10th May, 2010) and to have completed the transfers of €77bn of loans in July 2010 (€71bn of loans have been transferred to date, though only 60% have been subjected to granular due diligence and valuation). But overall NAMA has transferred a colossal volume of loans, €27bn of which have been agreed by the EU and with the loan acquisition process being described as “reasonable” by the Comptroller. NAMA has paid banks some €30.2bn of bonds (presumably 5% are subordinated bonds which will only be honoured if NAMA makes a profit) which are exchangeable for cash equivalent and can be made available for lending to the wider economy. Although up-to-date numbers are not available, it is likely that NAMA has spent close to €200m on professional fees in 2010 having conducted massive procurement exercises. The agency has an estimated headcount of 100 at the end of the year. The curious legal case involving Paddy McKillen was comprehensively beaten at the High Court and the betting is that the appeal to the Supreme Court will not be successful for Paddy. The NAMA CEO and Chairman have spread NAMA’s message positively from Belfast to Kerry, from Galway to the committee rooms of the Oireachtas (here and here), from the BBC to RTE (though it was the Economist that gave NAMA the greatest leg-up by saying “In the long run Ireland’s response is the better” in August 2010). And all in all, the agency has avoided scandal during its first 12 months of operation. So as processes go, the acquisition phase of NAMA’s existence can be judged a qualified success.
And the acquisition phase is important to NAMA’s success – the oft-repeated rule for the house flipper – “you make your profit when you buy” – is relevant to NAMA also. But it is the next phase, the management and disposal of assets, that will determine NAMA’s overall success and the early indications are not good. Bear in mind that the first tranche had started to transfer in March 2010 and was completely absorbed by the agency on 10th May, 2010 – that’s nearly eight months ago. Information reaching here suggests that not one of the first 10 business plans has been agreed, that is, signed by both the developer and NAMA. So much for NAMA’s claim that developers need submit plans within 30 days of their loans being acquired and that NAMA would determine in less than three months how to proceed with the borrower. And remember that in this phase NAMA controls practically all of the cards, unless the Construction Industry Federation wakes up to its responsibility in providing a united voice for developers. In the next phase, NAMA will be operating alongside the mighty beast that is “the market”. And whilst markets can be irrational, exuberant and dysfunctional they tend to be objective driven in terms of financial bottom lines. And that may well be the story of 2011 – the process-driven agency versus the objective-driven market. But that will be the subject of another entry.
Meanwhile, I give you yet another end-of-year review of NAMA, more comprehensive than most (if not all) and penned by a blog which focusses on the agency.
NAMA month by month
January 2010 – A quiet month for NAMA with the application for EU approval being submitted just before Christmas 2009, the valuation panel being appointed in December 2009 and loans being valued. Irish Times property pundits suggest that residential property would drop by 10% in 2010 with a pick up in prices in the second half. We’ll get to see how accurate they were when the limited Permanent TSB/ESRI house price series for Quarter 4, 2010 is produced at the end of January 2011.
February – Despite the best efforts of FG’s Senator Eugene Regan, the man from Brussels says “yes” to NAMA with the redacted decision published in April. News from the commercial court that a field in Athlone valued previously at €31m was now worth €600,000 – although far more difficult to index Savills claim later in the year that on average, development land has fallen 75-90% from peak.
March – the first tranche begins to transfer by 31st March (just about with only €0.37bn of loans from EBS and INBS transferred). We learn that NAMA is to acquire €36bn of loans from Anglo, up €8bn from a few months before and indeed that €36bn may well grow now that NAMA is considering acquiring Anglo’s land and development exposures of €0-5m. The publication of the NAMA Long Term Economic Value regulation tells us that NAMA is prevented from using data produced after 10th January, 2010 when assessing LEV – oh dear. Information continues to leak from NAMA to selected media outlets. Hopes for NAMA developer, the John J Fleming group flounder as a judge characterises its examinership plan for survival as “an aspiration based on hope”. We ended the year with news that John Fleming himself was seeking bankruptcy from his current base in Essex in the UK. The third of three major studies into vacant housing concludes we may have 350,000 of vacant homes, more than 150,000 than we should have. The Ghost Estates review published in October 2010 suggests that there are some 30,000 vacant new homes on certain estates.
April – NAMA at the Oireachtas – we’re all very impressed with Brendan McDonough. Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly is the latest to demand that NAMA be brought under the umbrella of the Freedom of Information legislation – demands thus far rejected by the Minister for Finance. NAMA issues details of the bonds and subordinated debt it is giving to banks in exchange for loans – the interest rate on the subordinated debt is tied to the rate on the 10-year bond rate (9% as of today) – nasty. Spousal transfers come into focus – not for the first time nor the last. The image of bulldozers reversing the construction boom hoves into view as NAMA confirms that some developments will meet their fate with a JCB. News that Grafton Street rents have fallen by 44% in one year, though they are still falling by 20% per annum. Brian Lenihan tells us that we can now buy homes with confidence with prices being realistic.
May – Tranche 1 completed. NAMA Chairman, Frank Daly forced to clarify comments in a speech to the Association of Compliance Officers – he didn’t mean to suggest NAMA would stop pursuing developers once it had recovered the amount NAMA paid for the loan. It costs €500 a year to maintain the NAMA website – really, that much? NAMA given a €250m recoupable working capital buffer advance which it manages to repay in October. Former IMF bigwig, Steven Seeling, joins the NAMA board. Developer Simon Kelly tells the Independent that there’s no point in NAMA taking back developers’ cars because they’re a drop in the ocean compared with the amounts owing – and judging by the wheels on show in December’s Prime Time Investigates, NAMA agrees with him. NAMA makes some friends in Belfast.
June – Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan tells the Oireachtas that despite the decline in values of Irish property since November, 2009 (the NAMA valuation date), the fact that NAMA’s portfolio includes other national markets means the effect of property value changes since November 2009 on NAMA’s loans has been “broadly neutral”. NAMA’s importance to the hotel sector is becoming apparent and indeed it seems that NAMA will have control over some 90 hotels in the State when it is finished with acquiring loans. Paddy McKillen’s Maybourne assets (Claridge’s, the Connaught and the Berkeley hotels in London) come into focus with reports that he is seeking to refinance the group and avoid NAMA – still no update as of today with debt repayment due by the end of December 2010. The IMF urges NAMA to begin disposals sooner rather than later – that was during a routine visit, what’s the IMF position now that they control the bailout? The Sunday Tribune claims NAMA CEO, Brendan McDonagh is on €500,000 a year. The RICS describes NAMA as a “thunderous cloud that overhangs the property market”
July – NAMA publishes its Business Plan – is that it? Dr Michael Somers, former head of the NTMA, attacks NAMA at the MacGill Summer School – NAMA is “bizarre” says Michael. The Mail on Sunday publishes story about NAMA’s Head of Portfolio Management, John Mulcahy, allegedly accepting hospitality on the yacht of the former owner of the Glass Bottle site, Paul Coulson. Paddy Kelly sticks the boot into John at the MacGill Summer School when he reveals that John valued Burlington Plaza at €350m in 2007. Deputy Frank Fahey entertains us all with his grasp of how NAMA bonds operate. NAMA publishes Quarter 1 accounts – loss of €7m. NAMA publishes Codes of Practice. Willie O’Dea suffering fierce stress worried that he might break NAMA’s anti-lobbying rules.
August – EU approves Tranche 1. Tranche 2 complete. Northern Irish Finance and Personnel Minister, Sammy Wilson, gives NAMA a thumbs-up. Top 10 developer, Cosgrave, gets planning permission for 1,500 dwellings in Dun Laoghaire. Suggestion that Dr Peter Bacon has been appointed as an adviser to NAMA, having been one of its conceptual architects. Start of the saga involving Top 20 developer, Paddy Kelly’s BMW 745i, repossessed by ACC, then returned with an apology only to be taken again in December. Sean Dunne, the Bane of Belle Haven, secures planning permission on land bought for €197m an acre in Ballsbridge.
September – NAMA at Cantillon and Galway. NAMA launches €5bn funding programme which now seems to have been abandoned. Big Bang announcement for the future of Irish banking sees NAMA abandon €5-20m exposures at AIB and BoI (later reversed by the IMF) and NAMA provide estimates of final discounts (67% for Anglo, 60% for AIB yet only 42% for BoI). The massive scope of NAMA’s operations in Northern Ireland is laid out. Both the Credit Review Office and the Irish Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Association report better credit availability. NAMA abandons Tranche 3. More details on the investors in the NAMA Special Purpose Vehicle as we find out that counter staff at AIB have put part of their pensions on the line. Rumours about NAMA’s first British sale with Derek Quinlan’s Mayfair carpark (understood to have stalled but is likely to be sold in 2011). Irish bond rates skyrocket which pushes up the price NAMA pays for loans. Liam Carroll’s Anglo HQ finally secures planning permission.
October – NAMA gets into hot water over developer salaries and seems to clarify that it doesn’t pay more than €200,000 per annum. NAMA’s under-resourcing is criticised by McDonalds chief. NAMA pays just €38m for the €288m loans in respect of the Glass Bottle site. NAMA obtains judgment against Paddy Shovlin and the Fitzpatrick brothers. Ratings agency Fitch say that NAMA may break even because of the deep discounts it is applying to loans. The court case of the year gets underway as Paddy McKillen seeks to have NAMA’s treatment of his loans reviewed. Paddy loses his case comprehensively though he has appealed to the Supreme Court and a decision is expected in January 2011.
November – NAMA at the Committee of Public Accounts. CIF commission report that is nasty to NAMA and NAMA responds in kind. EU approves Tranche 2. IMF bailout extends NAMA scope to include €0-20m exposures at AIB and BoI. NAMA lawyers up with the appointment of insolvency practitioners. Bernard McNamara’s property empire starts to implode with NAMA appointing receivers to Michael McNamara construction and Radora. Comptroller and Auditor General’s haphazardly produced report on NAMA judges the agency “reasonable” in its loan acquisition phase. Liquidator appointed to the Pierse group. NAMA’s Q2, 2010 accounts produced which show a year to date loss of €1m but should have shown a loss of €600m. NAMA repays €250m advance from the government. NAMA’s most valuable asset, the Battersea Power Station site, gets planning permission.
December – NAMA announces that it has acquired €71.2bn of loans at par value and paid €30.2bn in consideration. The NAMA CEO’s comments about the banks at the Committee of Public Accounts promise to develop legs in the New Year amidst apparent claims by the Committee that it was misled. Blackstone gives us a taste of the sort of characters NAMA will need engage with in 2011 and beyond. The Whelan Group is liquidated but we need wait until early January 2011 to find out what will happen to McInerney.
Performance against objectives (NAMA doesn’t have formal objectives so what follows is subjective)
(1) Facilitating lending – difficult to say because there are a number of factors that affect lending and the needs of the wider economy (demand for lending) is arguably more important than banks’ ability to lend (supply). The Credit Review Office and the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) both support the proposition that lending conditions for businesses are improving. That said, the economy has suffered a severe contraction, is likely to have stagnated in 2010 and with a prospect of marginal growth in 2011 (0.9-1.75% growth in GDP according to the EU/IMF/government) so demand for credit is subdued. And the outlook might make NAMA irrelevant – if Irish banks have to deleverage by cutting lending by €90bn in the next three years and if deposits continue to flee to perceived safer havens, then NAMA may be of only marginal significance to the factors affecting lending.
(2) Making a profit for taxpayers – too early to say. But NAMA is likely to have made a loss of €1bn+ in the first year which is concealed by NAMA not revaluing its loans (valued by reference to November 2009 and uplifted by an average of 10% for “long term economic value”). The hope must be that conditions improve over NAMA’s lifetime and that NAMA judiciously manages its vast portfolio so that a profit can be returned to the taxpayer. I would have said that it is too early to have an informed opinion on NAMA’s profitability prospects but I would be cautious. As indicated by the NWL index at the top of this page, the markets in which NAMA operates need increase in value by a weighted average of 10% (from 912 to 1000) for NAMA to break even at a gross profit level.
(3) Creating certainty about banks balance sheets – again NAMA has done its job reasonably well with valuing some 60% of the €71bn of loans it has acquired at a granular level and with some 40% of the valuations of the €71bn being approved by the EU. The difficulty is that, even after NAMA has completed its acquisitions (non land and development), banks will still have some €70bn of commercial property loans on their books and another €70bn of non-property commercial lending plus €120bn of personal lending including mortgages. And don’t mention off balancesheet exposures like derivatives. So no, there is not certainty in the banks’ balance sheets but that is not NAMA’s fault. I have some faith in the IMF-mandated exercise to examine non-NAMA loans and off balancesheet exposures in the first quarter of 2011.
(4) Stabilising property/construction sector – a flaw in the NAMA concept and one not apparently considered by Dr Peter Bacon, one of NAMA’s conceptual architects, was that the property market may not be at the bottom or indeed close to it. Property prices in Ireland have continued to decline this year (gradually according to the very limited Permanent TSB/ERI house prices series, more so according to the commercial indices). Looking forward, it is hard to see any recovery in house prices in the short term and despite the brave assertions of the commercial sector, rents are plummeting (20% per annum) and that presages capital values continuing to fall (already 60% off peak values). Yes other markets where NAMA has 33% of its assets show a mixed picture, increases in the UK, Far East and US, falls in Europe, Middle East and some exotic locales like Cape Verde. But in Ireland the picture has been almost universally negative. NAMA has arguably interfered with the natural trajectory of prices and stalled firesales but it has not halted the underlying decline in prices as the country responds to what is a depression.
There is no getting away from it NAMA is by far the worst fraud committed on the Irish people and the perpetrators will have to face the people just like Nicolae Ceausescu had to do when his time was up .No matter how out of touch politicians are with the people at some point the people show who really is master!