Enough, already, just pull the plug on Anglo before its too late ; September 2 2010

Id had it with the arguments that Anglo could be saved. Here is my oped in the Irish Times on 2 September 2010. Enough already…

OPINION:Ordinary folk have paid enough. Subordinated and senior debt holders should cover the rest

THE HORRENDOUS losses of Anglo Irish Bank come as no great surprise to informed analysts of the banking catastrophe. The Government s solutions amount to no more than insisting the taxpayer must, under all circumstances, bear all the losses Anglo will continue to create. This cannot be borne.

That there are significant additional losses to come from Anglo is undoubted. The Government and its proxies continue to assert, without placing in the public domain any detailed analyses, that the losses will be capped at EUR 25 billion. This is the same process that has successively asserted that the losses will be EUR 4.5 billion, EUR 12 billion, etc. Why are we expected to believe them now, when they have proven to be wildly inaccurate in the past? Analysts inside and outside Ireland believe Anglo s losses will be at least EUR 35 billion with potential for EUR 40 billion-plus.

Anglo, like all banks, is funded in five ways: deposits; borrowings /deposits of a short-term nature from other banks and central banks; longer-term borrowing (senior debt); longer-term borrowing with less protection (subordinated debt), and by shareholders. The question that arises is simple: which of these should be protected in full, and which in part? It is startling that, as of now, only the most junior party, the shareholders, have been asked to take the full consequences.

Some subordinated debt has been (voluntarily) renegotiated, but there remains some EUR 2.5 billion of subordinated debt in Anglo. This should now absorb the next EUR 2.5 billion of losses. It is unfortunate that the Government has guaranteed some of this, but this is a legislative act and can be unwound.

Beyond that, we are into the realm of senior debt holders. Anglo has borrowed some EUR 14 billion from such investors, of which some EUR 7 billion is repayable in September. It is now beyond time that these investors be informed that their investment is not fully payable. There is more than enough in the subordinated and senior bondholders to absorb even the most pessimistic estimates of losses to emerge from Anglo. We can, and I say we should, consider this.

We are told by the Government that to do so would be a sovereign default. This is palpable nonsense. Anglo Irish is a private institution, which has some elements of its capital structure guaranteed by the Government. It is not the State. The reason the guarantee was given was the fear that allowing Anglo to be wound down in 2008 would have precipitated a cascade of Irish bank failures. While this is debatable, we are now in 2010. The taxpayer has paid enough.

Governments have a genuine concern that if a state defaults, it may not be able to re-access bond markets. But even if we allow the fantasy that Anglo is the same as the State, assertions that this chimera would be locked out of the international bond markets are false, and are pedalled as a scare story to frighten the taxpayers and citizens into ponying up sovereign money to bail out private investors.

Bond investors look forward what they are interested in is the risk that they will not be repaid. A history of default will of course impact on the amount of money they will lend, and the price they will charge. But the evidence is that even serial defaulters can gain funds on an ongoing basis.

Academic evidence, including papers from the International Monetary Fund, indicates absolutely no evidence that sovereign investors are permanently excluded from the international capital markets after a default. Even in the rare cases of temporary exclusions, in the sense of not being able to issue bonds, this rarely lasts for more than two years. In addition, the evidence is that any increase in sovereign debt costs is short-lived and transitory. We have to decide: is the price for the taxpayer of any increased cost of lending if we discontinue support to Anglo, less than the cost of continued support?

There is in my mind no question now but that there is a moral, political, economic and social need for the subordinated and senior debt holders of Anglo Irish Bank to bear the remaining costs. There is a timing problem, however any announcement of the intention to force these losses on the senior bondholders would have to come prior to the renewal of the guarantee at the end of September. Thus, the next three weeks are critical.

There is an argument that this decision to withdraw the guarantee should be taken in conjunction with another. The State is now paying more for money than it would if it were to access the EU stability fund. The judgment of the bond markets is that the combined banking and fiscal crises are such that Ireland is no longer a sound bet. A very large part of this is the increasing concern that there is not the political will to deal with either of these problems, never mind both.

Pulling the plug on further taxpayer involvement in Anglo may best be done at the same time as announcing that we are to seek the assistance of the EU in restructuring our fiscal position.

It is time to seek to place ourselves in the hands of people who can run the State effectively and in the long-term interests of the citizens. Political or indeed national pride should not stand in the way of this.

Brian Lucey is associate professor of finance at Trinity College Dublin

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