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.

爱尔兰纳税人面临“黑洞”
作者:英国《金融时报》 约翰•默里-布朗 2010-04-02

爱尔兰房地产无论还剩下多少泡沫,现在都已被粗暴地刺破——本周,该国财长布赖恩•勒尼汉(Brian Lenihan)透露了位于爱尔兰银行业核心的“黑洞”。

忧心忡忡的纳税人在问,一个小型、灵活、对企业友好的经济体,怎么会预见不到即将来临的灾难?

与冰岛和拉脱维亚一样,爱尔兰经济开放、规模很小,金融业相对庞大,严重依赖外债,应对意外冲击的财政能力也有限。

监管松懈,放贷草率,加上房地产开发商投资欠考虑,所有这一切都导致了泡沫的滋生。欧元利率较低也是因素之一。但即使经济学家也曾认为,软着陆是最有可能的出路。

爱尔兰房地产开发商肖恩•邓恩(Sean Dunne)曾以3.79亿欧元(合5.12亿美元),在都柏林葱郁的巴尔斯布瑞芝商业区(Ballsbridge)买下了前身为Jury’s酒店的7英亩土地。当时他说:“这当然疯狂之举。之所以疯狂,是因为爱尔兰人把这个地区推到了这个价。”

但由于目前五家本土银行的资本金短缺总额估计高达320亿欧元——其中三分之二很可能最终由政府提供——纳税人很可能甩不掉这些过分行为留下的烂摊子。

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。

Nama是爱尔兰政府银行救助计划的核心措施,受到了国际投资者的广泛支持,但在本国仍争议很大。

在上世纪90年代初北欧银行业危机期间任瑞典财长的布•隆德格林(Bo Lundgren),去年在访问都柏林期间表示,在瑞典,政党间达成共识算得上应对银行业危机的先决条件。

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)。”

这家主要面向房地产业的银行于2009年1月被收归国有。随着一连串治理丑闻的曝光,目前该行正受到刑事调查。

随着该行前董事长和财务总监上月被捕,并接受审讯,该行已成为整个国家的替罪羊。

不过,所有的银行都已经失控。

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”。

私人部门信贷的迅速扩张只是征兆之一。但当局忽视了这个早期预警信号。

当时身为经济学者的霍诺根曾发表过一份研究报告,探讨了2004年至2006年间,30个欧盟及非欧盟经济体信贷增长及存贷款失衡的情况。

结果显示,爱尔兰、冰岛和拉脱维亚都亮起了警灯。

即使房价从高点回落1年后,该国最保守的金融机构——爱尔兰银行仍声称,该行账上仅有不足1%的贷款为不良贷款。

本周公布的数据显示,在截至2009年12月的九个月,不良贷款比率在全部贷款中达到10%,在房贷账目中达到27%。

国际货币基金组织(IMF)去年6月份估计,2010年全年,爱尔兰各银行亏损总额可能高达350亿欧元,相当于国内生产总值(GDP)的20%左右。

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。

分析师估计,根据监管部门规定的新资本金目标,总共320亿欧元的资本金短缺中,政府可能必须承担240亿欧元。

将这个数字与爱尔兰仅300亿欧元且逐年减少的税基,以及占GDP 11.7%的财政赤字进行对比,政府面临的挑战之艰巨就十分明朗。

要不是爱尔兰欧元区成员国的身份,以及欧洲央行(ECB)的资金援助,就连爱尔兰政府高官也承认,该国将变成下一个冰岛——冰岛危机已导致该国四家国际银行全部倒闭。

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