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December 2008 Archives

Banking Package

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The Minister for Finance has stated that the €5.5 billion package for the banks is a good deal for the taxpayer. In reality, the return to the Exchequer is derisory given the risks involved, the cost of borrowing the funds for the package, and the fact that the proposed preference shares are neither convertible nor cumulative and have no priority over ordinary shares in the event of a liquidation.

In addition, the government has agreed to act as funder of last resort for the two main banks if their private fund-raising is unsuccessful and, most extraordinarily, it has offered Anglo Irish a blank cheque by agreeing "to make further capital available if required so that it remains a sound and viable institution". If this bank is sound and viable why does it need €1.5 billion of State funding and why is its share price sinking like a stone and valuing the entire bank at a mere fraction of this support?

All this largess comes on top of several hundred billion of guarantees which have increased interest costs for the state's own funding needs.

Surely, it is completely unacceptable for the very same people - ministers and bankers - who created the crisis to also negotiate the solution using "our" money. Where are the sanctions to ensure that their reckless behaviour is not repeated and why should the taxpayer shoulder all the risk and none of the rewards?

 Letter published in the Irish Times on 29th December 2008.

Bank Recapitalisation

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Given that the state is committing €5.5 billion to the banks using borrowed money sourced via the National Pension Reserve Fund, the net return to the Exchequer is really only two-thirds the proposed divided payments. The Minister for Finance has stated that the deal is a good one for the taxpayer. In reality, the return is derisory given the risks involved and the fact that the shares are neither convertible nor cumulative and have no priority over ordinary shares in the event of a liquidation.

In addition, the government has agreed to act as the funder of last resort for the two main banks in the event that their private fund raising is unsuccessful and, most extraordinarily, it has offered Anglo a blank cheque "to make further capital available if required so that it remains a sound and viable institution". This begs the question as to why it needs €1.5 billion from the taxpayer if it is already sound and viable. All this largess comes on top of several hundred billion of guarantees which have already increased interest costs for the state's own funding needs.

Notwithstanding the offer of billions which the Exchequer can ill afford, the combined market value of the three banks has sunk by a half billion over the past week. This speaks volumes and suggests that another, even larger, funding round will be required next year as the economic decline accelerates, unemployment rises and property prices tank.

As further preference shares will no longer be an option, the government will be forced to do then what it should have done at the outset, namely, nationalise the banks, reform them into three distinctive banking entities with new balance sheets and management and then refloat them on the stock market to raise further capital and ensure that taxpayers benefit from the upturn.

The blame for the domestic banking crisis can be laid squarely at the foot of the Government, Financial Regulator, Central Bank, bank directors and some property developers.

Where is the "moral hazard" to ensure that their reckless behaviour is not repeated and why should the taxpayer shoulder all the risk and none of the rewards when the perpetrators of this debacle continue to enjoy enormous salaries and other perks?

Rescuing the Banks

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Given that the economy will contract by a massive 4% next year and that State's guarantees to the six banks will expire just a year later, delays in restructuring the banks are simply making matters much worse for shareholders, borrowers and the economy.

Instead of inviting management of the banks to reluctantly submit proposals for rationalisation and recapitalisation, the government should take off its gloves and exercise real leadership by appealing directly to shareholders and announcing cash offers, based on current share prices, to temporarily nationalise the quoted banks.

To ensure acceptance by all six guaranteed banks, it should make it patently clear that the State's existing guarantees cannot be extended and that a special levy, or other sanctions, will be applied to any profits of banks which don't accept the offer. The acquisitions would cost about €4 Bn and warrants should be issued to existing bank shareholders so that they benefit from the restructuring.

On acceptance of the offers, the government should form three distinctive banking entities with realistic balance sheets and new boards and senior management teams. They should be seeded with mezzanine finance from institutional and private equity sources and immediately refloated on the stock market to raise a final round of new capital. The government could, if desired and appropriate, gradually reduce its holdings during the next decade.

Supplementary Budget

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Here are some suggestions for the Minister for Finance to consider when he is obliged by circumstances to present a supplementary budget early in the new year in response to the disastrous economic downturn which is still gathering momentum.

They should be implemented in the context of a realistic, attainable five-year plan for which the support of the social partners and opposition should be sought. Given that these are unlikely to acquiesce even though they offer no alternatives other than to strut, whine and oppose, the government should, for once, show real leadership and forge ahead on the grounds that there is no alternative and early action is crucial. Most people will accept pain provided it is seen to be fairly distributed and there is hope at the end of the tunnel. The alternative is much higher unemployment, cutbacks, emigration and extreme hardship which will take a decade to unwind.

As those who gained most from the Celtic Tiger should pay the most, the income levy percentages should be extended on a sliding scale from 0% for the lowest paid up to, say, 10% for those on the highest incomes. Alternatively, a new higher tax rate should be introduced for those earning more than, say, double the average industrial wage.

Given that payroll costs account for half of all public sector expenditure where salary rates are well ahead of equivalents in the private sector and internationally, the Government should roll back the first benchmarking exercise and plead "inability to pay" other than to the lowest earners under the new national wage agreement. It should only recommence payment of increases once major reforms have been confirmed by An Bord Slash.

Taxpayers can no longer be asked to subside "gold plated" pensions for politicians and public servants when the value of their own pensions (if they have one) is dropping through the floor. The Government should establish a realistically funded contributory pension scheme in lieu of the present prohibitively expensive and inequitable "pay-as-you-go" arrangement. As a stop gap, full PRSI should be applied across the public sector and, in recognition that PRSI is income tax in all but name, earnings limits should be removed for all workers in the private sector.

The foregoing measures will arrest the catastrophic deterioration in public finances and enable the new standard VAT rate of 21.5% to be reduced substantially. This will help the lower paid as well as assisting tourism and curtailing cross-border shopping.

Finally, the Dail should immediately start sitting for four full days every week for at least forty weeks a year. To ensure genuine debate and better decision making, backbenchers should be pressurised by constituents to exercise greater freedom of expression in Dail debates, and voting linked to constituents' needs rather than party loyalties should become the norm rather than the exception.

Lead letter published by Irish Times on 8th December 2008.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2008 is the previous archive.

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