Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Economics 23/09/2009: Cost of Nationalization

Today's note from Davy Stockbrokers throws into public domain a challenge and an accusation:

"Regrettably, the public debate on NAMA has been anything but rational and dispassionate. Confusion, misinformation and, at times, rank deception has run riot over the past several months... Tellingly, the brunt of discussion has majored on an anti-NAMA rant, with scant exposition of any credible alternatives."

If Davy is so dismissive of the 'alternatives' - of which there have been several rather involved ones - then Davy should be even more dismissive of the Nama proposal itself, for the Government still has no estimates for costs, returns, time horizons, detailed haircuts, borrowing terms for Nama bonds etc - after 6 months of working on it with an army of civil servants, highly paid consultants and having the likes of Davy on their side!

"Nowhere is this more depressingly obvious than in relation to the nationalisation option, wherein protagonists have tended to confine their treatises to a short paragraph or three, and where the potentially ruinous funding consequences for both the banks and sovereign have been glossed-over..."

Of course, unlike Davy or other stockbrokers, it is the independents: Brian Lucey, myself, Karl Whelan and Ronan Lyons who actually bothered to estimate - to the best of our resources - the expected costs of Nama to the taxpayers. Instead of focusing on the benefits and costs to the taxpayers, Irish stockbrokers focus on benefits to the banks and their shareholders. This is fine, and I will not accuse them of doing anything wrong here - their clients are, after all, not taxpayers, but shareholders. But it is rich of Davy team to throw around accusations of us, independnt analysts, 'glossing over' aspects of Nama - we are not the ones being paid by anyone for doing this work.

The emphasis on 'estimate' and 'expected' is there to address Davy accusations of 'rants' or 'deceptions'. If estimates are rants, Davy-own entire daily research output can be labeled as such.

But Davy folks are correct in one thing - we, the critics of Nama, have not produced an estimate of nationalization option cost. Instead, it was, me thinks, Brian Lenihan who promised to produce such estimates. May be Davy note was addressed to his attention?

Seeing the eagerness with which Davy folks would like to see some numbers on nationalization, below is the summary of estimates of such an undertaking developed by Peter Mathews (you can see his article on this in Sunday Business Post (here) and confirmed and elaborated by myself and Brian Lucey. (Again, note, one can only assume that our Davy folks do not read Sunday Business Post's Markets Section.)

I have argued in my Nama Trust proposal (aka Nama 3.0) (here) that we can avoid nationalization by buying out equity in the banks to support writedowns and then parking this equity in an escrow account jointly owned by all taxpayers. The banks will, then be owned by the Trust, not by the Government. Their shareholders will be Irish taxpayers as individuals, not the Government. The Trust will be there simply to provide a time buffer for orderly dibursal of shares over time.

Now, whether you call it 'nationalization' or 'Trust' or anything else, the problem with the banks in Ireland is that they need to write down something around 40% of the troubled assets values. This can be done by gifting them bonds (as Nama will do), or by buying equity in the banks in exchange for the same bonds, except, as below shows, at much lower cost.

In the first case, you get a promise of repayment from the banks and a pile of heavily defaulting loans. In the latter case, you get shares in the banks.

In the table above, the first set of red figures refers to the amount of equity capital that will be need for repairing banks baance sheets today (it can be issued form of bonds, just as Nama intends to do, which will be convirtible through ECB repo operations at the same 1% over 12 months). The amount we will need to put into banks under 'nationalization' or Nama Trust option is Euro30.88bn.

The bondholders will remain intact (so no additional cost of buying them out).

This upfront cost is over Euro 23bn cheaper than Nama. And it can be further reduced if we get at least subordinated bond holders to take a debt-for-equity swap, which they might agree to as they will be taking equity in much healthier banks.

The second and third red figures refer to the expected recovery on this equity purchase in 5 years time (not 15 as in the case of Nama). And all assumptions used to arrive at these two scenarios are listed. The figures are net of the original Nama cost. In other words, under these two scenarios, we can generate a healthy profit on Nama Trust, which we cannot hope to generate in the case of overpaying under the proposed Nama scheme.

In addition to the table above, I run another third scenario that assumes:
  • 5% growth pa in banks shares (as opposed to 15% and 10% growth under scenarios A and B);
  • Banks fully covering 1.5% cost of Government bonds (as in scenario B);
  • Banks paying a dividend to the Exchequer of 2% on loans (net of bad loans) and charging 0.5% management fee, so net yeild is 1.5% on loans (as in Scenario B).
The bottom line in this scenario was ca €9bn in net return to the Exchequer on 'nationalization' within 5 years of operations.

Back to Davy note: "...the potentially ruinous funding consequences for both the banks and sovereign have been glossed-over..." Well, let me glance it over.
  1. Nationalization can be avoided per my Nama Trust proposal, so there goes entire Davy 'argument'.
  2. If the banks balance sheets are repaired with a 40% writedown of bad loans under the above costings while Nama would achieve only 30% writedown at a much higher cost, what 'ruinous' consequences do Davy folks envision for the banks? Their balancesheets will be cleaner after the above exercise, than after Nama!
  3. If Irish Exchequer were to incur the total new debt of €30bn (per above proposal) and will end up holding real equity/assets against this debt, will Exchequer balancesheet deteriorate as much from such a transaction as it would from an issuance of €54bn in new debt secured against toxic assets such as non-performing loans? Again, it seems to me that a rational market participant (perhaps not the Davy researcher authoring the note) would prefer to lend to a state with smaller debt and real assets against it than to the one with higher debt and dodgy assets in hand.
Back to Davy: "...the retention of impaired assets on bank balance sheets ...would continue to cast a deep pall over perceived solvency risks in the Irish banking system, leaving this country still bereft of the necessary refinancing flows from which green shoots might grow."

I would suggest that this statement is itself either a deception (deliberate) or a wild speculation (aka rant). There is absolutely no reason why fully repaired banks (with 40% writedown on the loans under the above costings and as opposed to Brian Lenihan's proposed Nama writedown of much shallower 30%) cannot have access to the same lending markets as banks post-Nama would. However, under the above proposal:
  • Irish Government will take much lower (24bn Euro-lower) debt on its books, implying healthier bonds prices for the Government into the future - some savings that won't happen under Nama;
  • Banks enjoy much more substantially repaired balance sheets (again, not the case with Nama);
  • There is no second round demand for new capital from the banks (not the case with Nama as proposed).
So, again: judge for yourself. When is the insolvency risk for Irish banking system higher:
Case 1: more substantially repaired banks balance sheets and more fiscally sound positioned Exchequer; or
Case 2: lesser writedowns of bad loans and more indebted Exchequer?
If you vote for Option 1 (as any rational agent in the market would do), you vote for the above 'nationalization' exercise.

Lastly, Davy note lands a real woolie: "When all is said and done, NAMA is not a bail-out of developers, or bankers, but of a banking system and its host economy. In that respect, it is a bail-out of ourselves."

Under Nama, developers will be able to delay or avoid insolvency declarations and subsequent claims on their assets. If this is not a bail-out, it is a helping hand of sorts.

As per 'repairing economy' - there is absolutely no evidence to support an assertion that Nama will have any positive economic impact, but given that it will impose much higher cost than alternatives on households, it can have a very significant negative impact on the economy. Perhaps, Davy think that households are simply there to be skinned and that our economy does not depend on them.

Then again, Davy folks thought CFDs and leveraged property deals were gods-sent manna.

Now, let us get to the more rational side of economic impact debate:
  1. Under my proposal above, banks get deeper repairs, so they will be healthier and their reputational capital will not be based on a handout rescue, but on actually having equity capital injection. This is a net positive that Nama does not deliver;
  2. Under my costings above, the Exchequer and/or households end up being investors with a strong prospect of higher net recovery value over shorter term horizon than in the case of Nama. This is a net positive that Nama does not deliver;
  3. Under the above exercise, the banks will not be able to unilaterally take liquidity arising from the injection overseas, so whatever liquidity is generated, will have to stick to our shores, and thus to our economy. They still can use this liquidity to pay down their expensive inter-bank loans, but at least they won't be able to run investment schemes with taxpayers' money abroad. Shareholders might look badly on this one, since the shareholders will be not foreign institutional investors, but domestic taxpayers. This is a net positive that Nama does not deliver;
  4. Under the above exercise, we won't have to pay Nama staff and consultants any costs - banks will continue dealing with their bad loans. This is a net saving that Nama does not deliver;
  5. Under the above Irish taxpayers won't have to face a massive tax bill of 54bn, but a smaller (though still massive) bill of 30bn. This is a net saving that Nama does not deliver;
  6. Under the above proposal Irish banks will be able to access the same ECB window on the same terms as any other bank in the Eurozone. The will also be able to do the same with Nama, so there is no additional cost when it comes to borrowing.
  7. Under the proposal above Irish Government debt will be €23bn lower (and adding the second round recapitalisation demand under Nama - €29bn lower) than in the case of Nama, providing potential easing to our cost of borrowing. This is a net benefit that Nama won't deliver.
I can go on with these arguments. But I am afraid it will be a bit too much rant for our Davy folks.
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