By John Murray Brown 2010-04-02
Any air left in the Irish property bubble was unceremoniously ejected this week, as Brian Lenihan, Irish finance minister, revealed the “black hole” at the heart of Irish banking.
Careworn Irish taxpayers are asking how a small, flexible, and pro-business economy failed to anticipate the impending disaster.
Ireland – like Iceland and Latvia – is a small, open economy, with a large financial sector, heavily exposed to foreign borrowing, and a limited fiscal capacity to cope with unforeseen shocks.
Lax regulation, reckless lending practices, and ill- judged investments by property developers all contributed to the creation of the bubble. Low euro interest rates were also a factor. But even economists believed a soft landing was the most likely resolution.
When Sean Dunne, a property developer, paid €379m ($512m) for the seven-acre Jury’s Hotel site in Dublin’s leafy Ballsbridge, he said: “Of course it’s nuts. It’s nuts because the Irish people have driven Ballsbridge to that price.”
But with the capital shortfall among the five domestic lenders now estimated at €32bn – two-thirds of which will probably end up being provided by the government – the legacy of these profligate practices will not be easily shaken off by the taxpayer.
The National Asset Management Agency – the bad bank launched this week with the transfer of the first €16bn of the €81bn of impaired bank loans – is turning a private sector liability into a public liability, the size of which will depend on property markets 10 years from now.
Nama is the centrepiece of the government’s bank rescue, which is broadly supported by international investors but remains deeply divisive at home.
Bo Lundgren, Swedish finance minister during the Nordic banking crisis in the early 1990s, remarked during a visit to Dublin last year that political consensus was almost a precondition for dealing with Sweden’s banking crisis.
Ireland’s stark political divisions were on display yesterday as Eamon Gilmore, Labour leader, goaded Brian Cowen, the Fianna Fáil prime minister, with accusations of “economic treason”.
Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank, says: “As the dust settles it is clear that most of the damage in this crisis, reputational and financial, has been done by just one firm – Anglo Irish Bank.”
The specialist property lender, nationalised in January 2009, is now at the centre of a criminal investigation after a spate of governance scandals.
With the arrest and questioning of its former chairman and finance director last month, it has become the national whipping boy.
However, all of the banks lost the run of themselves.
Mike Soden, former chief executive of Bank of Ireland, remarked yesterday it took 221 years for his former bank to grow its balance sheet to €100bn, “and four more years to get to €200bn”.
The rapid expansion of private sector credit is only one symptom. But it was an early warning sign missed by the authorities.
Mr Honohan, when an academic economist, produced a study on credit growth and the mismatch of loans and deposits across 30 EU and non-EU economies for 2004-2006.
Ireland, Iceland and Latvia emerged with red lights flashing.
Even a year after the peak of property prices, Bank of Ireland, the most conservative institution, was still claiming that less than 1 per cent of its book was impaired.
Results yesterday for the nine months to December 2009 showed 10 per cent of total loans were impaired, and 27 per cent of the property loan book.
Last June, the International Monetary Fund estimated that total Irish bank losses through 2010 could reach €35bn or about 20 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
The government has already provided €11bn – €3.5bn in preference shares – for Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland and €4bn for Anglo Irish Bank.
Given the regulator’s new capital targets, analysts estimate the government could be on the hook for €24bn of the €32bn capital shortfall.
Put this against a tax base of €30bn and falling, and a fiscal deficit running at 11.7 per cent of GDP, and the scale of the government challenge is clear.
But for its membership of the euro and the funding lifeline of the European Central Bank, even ministers concede that Ireland would be Iceland, where the crisis saw all four of its international banks fall.
作者：英国《金融时报》 约翰•默里-布朗 2010-04-02
爱尔兰政府组建的“坏银行”——国家资产管理局（National Asset Management Agency，简称Nama）正将私人部门债务转变成公共债务，其规模将取决于10年后的房地产市场。Nama计划收购总计810亿欧元的不良银行贷款，本周已拨款收购了160亿欧元的首批贷款。
爱尔兰严重的党派分歧日前表露无遗——工党领袖埃蒙•吉尔摩(Eamon Gilmore)向爱尔兰总理、共和党(Fianna Fáil)的布赖恩•考恩(Brian Cowen)发起猛烈攻击，指控他犯有“经济叛国罪”。
该国央行行长帕特里克•霍诺根(Patrick Honohan)表示：“随着尘埃落定，人们认识到，本轮危机的大部分损害，无论是名誉上的还是财务上的，都是由一家公司造成的：盎格鲁-爱尔兰银行(Anglo Irish Bank)。”
爱尔兰银行(Bank of Ireland)前总裁迈克尔•索登(Mike Soden)近日表示，该行花了221年时间，才将资产负债表规模增至1000亿欧元，“又用了4年多，就增到了2000亿”。
爱尔兰政府已经向爱尔兰联合银行(Allied Irish Banks)和爱尔兰银行提供了110亿欧元（其中35亿欧元以优先股形式提供），向盎格鲁-爱尔兰银行提供了40亿欧元。