Saturday, September 12, 2009

Economics 12/09/2009: ECB, repos and Nama

It has not became customary for the Government and public officials to provide 'expert commentary' on Nama that in effect attempts to deflect substantive criticism by making unarguable, non-falsifiable assertions on Nama that can neither be confirmed, nor rejected, yes sound plausibly informed.

The latest such 'argument' against Nama critics floated in political circles - opposition parties, FF backbenchers etc - is that, per DofF, ECB will not be willing to take repo bond off nationalized banks.

What does this mean? In the lingo of Nama-supporters, this means that if we nationalize banks (either via a direct nationalization or via equity purchases post-Nama), the nationalized banks will not be able to use Nama bonds (or any other repurchase agreements paper) to swap with ECB for cash. The threat then is that the nationalized banks will have no access to a liquidity window at ECB and will not be able to operate.

Is this a serious threat? If true, it is a serious concern, because in our 'confident' economy of Ireland Inc, a combination of severe recession and Brian Cowen's economic (taxation) policies have effectively assured that no deposit-based lending can take place, so our banks are now fully reliant for funding on ECB and interbank markets.

But is it true? This we do not know and we cannot know, for DofF will neither confirm of deny they are saying this. And furthermore, they will never actually show the ECB statement confirming or denying it.

So what can we conclude about this threat?

Two things, really:
  1. The latest DofF threat is bogus in its nature, for there are plenty proposals out there for repairing Nama that do not involve nationalization. If ECB is willing to support privately held banks (as opposed to plcs) and since ECB's definition of a 'supported' bank does not have a limit on how large share of public ownership can be as long as the bank remain private to some extent, then my proposal for Nama 3.0 or Nama Trust will work just fine. The alleged DofF 'fear' is misplaced and it is being floated out there simply to deflect public attention away from viable alternatives to Nama.
  2. The latest claim is also bogus in terms of its logic. Suppose the ECB refuses to swap repos coming through a nationalized bank from Ireland. Since nationalization covers the entire domestic banking sector in Ireland, the ECB then refuses to take any bonds from any of the Irish banks, making the entire system of Irish banking illiquid. Now, Ireland is a Eurozone country. This act by ECB will force at least one Eurozone country into a combined liquidity and solvency meltdown. What do you think will be the expected effect on the Euro? Oh, yes, it will overnight become a twin to the Zimbabwean currency. Will the ECB agree to destroy its own reputation, monetary system and currency only to avoid repurchase operations with a more stable and less risky (post-nationalization) banking system of its member state?
In short, the rumors that DofF is claiming that the ECB will not swap with nationalized banks are so out of line with reality, they either cannot be true, or someone in ECB is flying high as a kite. You judge which one of these two alternatives is a more plausible one.
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