Saturday, September 12, 2009

Economics 12/09/2009: More NAMA lies exposed

One interesting observation on Nama and a quick follow up to the developing story on ECB alleged unwillingness to deal with nationalized banks.

We, on the critics of Nama side, have expended much gunpowder arguing that there is a natural, legally binding order of rights contained in each asset class held by investors in and lenders to the banks. This order requires that first to take the hit in any balance sheet adjustment will be the shareholders. Then the subordinated debt holders and lastly the secured debt holders. This argument is used by myself and others to show that taxpayer must be last in the firing line - after all of the above take their dose of bitter medicine.

Yet in all of this excitement we forgot the humble contractors. Now, many of the loans Nama will buy into will be written against properties on which some work has been performed in the recent past, or is even ongoing today. The problem is, our heroic developers in many cases have not paid their bills to the contractors providing this work. As far as I can understand, these unpaid contractors are the holders of the priority right on repayment in the case of liquidation of the development firm - ahead of the bank holding lien on the property.

Of course, Nama can go and tell the larger contractors that, look guys, you forget your claims on work done, write it off as a loss on your taxes and we will look after you when time comes to finish the properties. Smaller contractors will be simply told to get lost - suing the state (Nama) is a very expensive business for them. This is dandy in the banana republic we live in. But estimated (rumored) 30% of the properties Nama will claim under loans purchases will be outside this state - in countries like the USA, UK, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania. Nama has no sway there and their courts are not going to toe Brian Lenihan's line of National Interest. So in these countries, the unpaid or underpaid contractors can seize the properties ahead of Nama, leaving Nama with loans devoid of collateral.

This should be fun to watch as our legal eagles from Nama fly over to, say,
  • Newcastle to fight the UK system that treats people supplying work as real corporate citizens with real rights; or
  • Plovdiv to fight Bulgarian courts, where a leather-jacketed Petar would have to explain to them that if you owe money to his cousin, you either should leave now and forget about that unfinished apartment complex 'with amazing views of the local dump' or risk never seeing your own little 4-bed in Howth ever again.
Have our Brian Twins thought of that little pesky complication?

Now to the issue of ECB. Several of us - again from the Nama critics or sceptics - have done some digging on the issue. What my colleagues now firmly claim is that per their sources, there is a mandate on the ECB to actually treat publicly owned banks in exactly the same way as privately held banks so as not privilege the former over the latter.

Here is what I have found:

Per ECB own research paper The European Central Bank: History, Role and Functions written by Hanspeter K Scheller (link to it here) (Second revised edition, 2006), Annex I provides excerpts from the Treaty Establishing the European Community, Part 3 Community Policies, Title VII: Economic and monetary policy, Chapter 1 "Economic Policy":
"Article 101
1. Overdraft facilities or any other type of credit facility with the ECB or with the central banks of the Member States (hereinafter referred to as ‘national central banks’) in favour of Community institutions or bodies, central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of Member States shall be prohibited, as shall the purchase directly from them by the ECB or national central banks of debt instruments.
2. Paragraph 1 shall not apply to publicly owned credit institutions which, in the context of the supply of reserves by central banks, shall be given the same treatment by national central banks and the ECB as private credit institutions."

Emphasis is mine. This clearly states that the pro-Nama supporters are simply wrong in claiming that the ECB will treat nationalized banks or Trust-owned banks any different from the privately held banks.

Further quoting from the same ECB publication:
"Article 21 Operations with public entities
21.1. In accordance with Article 101 of this Treaty, overdrafts or any other type of credit facility with the ECB or with the national central banks in favour of Community institutions or bodies, central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of Member States shall be prohibited, as shall the purchase directly from them by the ECB or national central banks of debt instruments.
21.2. The ECB and national central banks may act as fiscal agents for the entities referred to in Article 21.1.
21.3. The provisions of this Article shall not apply to publicly owned credit institutions which, in the context of the supply of reserves by central banks, shall be given the same treatment by national central banks and the ECB as private credit institutions."

So the same stands. Now, last year, the ECB issued clarification on Article 101 prohibitions of financing (here) which actually stresses that this prohibition (restricting Central Banks from providing ‘overdraft facilities or any other type of credit facilities with the ECB or with the central banks of the Member States … in favour of …public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings' and Article 21.1 of the ECB Statute that mirrors this provision):
  • also applies to any financing of the public sector’s obligations vis-à-vis third parties (so technically, either Nama as a state-own undertaking cannot borrow in the future from the ECB via debt issuance of its own - which will imply that Nama own bonds will have to be priced for sale in private markets only, implying horrific cost to the taxpayers of financing Nama work-out, or nationalized banks will have exactly the same access to the ECB lending in the future as Nama will) and
  • crucially, that in dealing with publicly owned credit institutions there is no restriction of Article 1 under the ECB statues.
In fact, the legal opinion clearly states that Article 1 is designed to restrict National Central Banks' and ECB being used to finance 'public sector' - i.e to raise funds for the Exchequer, not for the credit institution operations.

Here is another interesting factoid. Chart below clearly shows that many European countries operate state owned banks. In Germany, for example the market share of state-owned banks is in excess of 40%.Source: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1360698

Are pro-Nama advocates saying that these banks have no access to ECB's discount window as well? Or will ECB treat them somehow differently from the nationalized Irish banks? If the latter is true, should this be kept hidden from the Lisbon Treaty debate? (Now, personally, I do not believe Irish banks, if nationalized, will have any trouble in raising funding either via ECB or via private markets, so the above question is a rhetorical one).

Now, logic of Article 1 as stated above, actually suggests that the ECB will have harder time allowing Nama - a state-owned non-credit institution explicitly prohibited from obtaining financing from the ECB - to swap its own bonds for ECB's cash than it would allow state-owned bank - a credit institution explicitly allowed to obtain such funding from ECB - to do so. ECB's own paper and legal opinions are confirming, therefore that it is Nama, not the nationalized banks, that would have much harder time getting support from the ECB!
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