Michael Taft: A good step; but a very small step: the Finance Minister’s announcement that the Government will seek a substantial write-down of the €3.8 billion in senior unguaranteed unsecured debt in Anglo-Irish and Irish Nationwide will be welcomed. Some will legitimately complain that this should have been done after the Anglo nationalisation, when that debt stood at approximately €16 billion. But that was the fault of the previous government. Most of the debt has been paid off and we are left with the bill – a €31 billion promissory note which will cost the Exchequer €43 billion with interest over the next 15 years. So this first step on senior bondholders is the new government’s initiative. But let’s put it in perspective – the impact will be very small and even if successful we will be left with a staggering bill for winding down, what the Minister has called, this ‘warehouse’.
Currently, the Government is committed to paying off a promissory note of €31 billion (€25.3 billion to Anglo, €5.4 billion to INBS and €0.35 billion to the Educational Building Society). This will entail a cost of €3.060 billion borrowed in each year up to 2023, with a further payment of approximately €2.8 billion in 2024 and 2025.
This is an intolerable burden – equalling 2 percent of 2011 GDP; a burden that would not be accepted in any other EU country; and for a bank that isn’t even a bank. So what difference would it make if the Minister gets his way? Some, but not very much.
In putting forward his suggestion for burden sharing, the Minister referred to the current discount. This, therefore, doesn’t suggest a complete liquidation. The Irish Times reports that Anglo’s November 2011 bonds (€750 million) fell to 70 cents following the Minister’s announcement.
The following calculation, therefore, assesses the impact of writing down the €3.8 billion in senior unguaranteed debt by 50 percent. This would mean a write-down of €1.9 debt, or 6 percent of the current promissory note. This would result in the following difference in annual payments:
• Current Annual Payment: €3.060 billion
• New Annual Payment after Write-down: €2.870 billion
While the new annual payment is my own calculation, any revisions would be trivial.
So after a 50 percent write-down of the senior unguaranteed debt, we would see the annual payments fall by €190 million per year. We would still be pay close to €2.9 billion. This is no less an intolerable burden.
However, we may be into a ‘running-to-stand-still’ situation. The Department of Finance’s projections of the overall cost of the promissory note, including interest, is premised on long-term borrowing costs of 4.7 percent – a technical assumption ‘based on the weighted average cost of funds raised by the NTMA in the bond market in 2010’.
That technical assumption no longer holds. With ESFS borrowing rates at 5.8 percent, we should expect the overall cost of the promissory note to increase. So if we apply that new interest rate and apply it to the promissory note minus the 50 percent write-down of senior unguaranteed debt – we will find the level of payments rise again over the lifetime of the note. In other words, there is little if any net gain.
The Minister for Finance should be supported – as a first step, as an opening of the door. But the fiscal impact will be minimal and the state will still be under an unacceptable and irrational burden.
It is now time for a more radical, thorough-going approach to write-down, if not entirely eliminate, the public exposure to the costs of winding down Anglo and INBS. A starting point comes from the TASC document on banking, ‘The Debt and Banking Crisis’:
‘Insolvent banks should not be further supported by public funds and should be allowed to fail. In Ireland this means that, at the very least, Anglo Irish Bank and INBS should be allowed to fail. No further payments for Anglo Irish Bank’s promissory notes should be made.'
That’s a good starting point.
Michael Taft is an economic analyst and trade unionist. He is author of the Notes of the Front blog and a member of the TASC Economists’ Network.