Tuesday, April 30, 2013

30/4/2013: 2012 Was Not a Year of Brilliance for the Central Bank

From the Opening Statement by Governor Patrick Honohan at the publication of the Central Bank of Ireland Annual Report 2012, 30 April 2013

"Two major elements of the Bank’s work during 2012 came to decisive junctures early this year – the liquidation of IBRC and related replacement of the promissory notes with marketable government bonds; and the introduction of an enhanced mortgage arrears resolution framework, which was announced in recent weeks. All of these measures are ultimately concerned with creating the environment for sustainable economic growth and reduction in unemployment."

It is my opinion that 2012 marked the year when the Central Bank has done the least to deliver on any meaningful reforms and change that can create or sustain "the environment for sustainable economic growth and reduction in unemployment". The bases for my opinion are:

  1. In 2013, the Central Bank attempted (key word here) to introduce an enhanced mortgage arrears resolution framework. The new framework is 'enhanced' only to the extent that the previous framework was proven to be a complete failure. However, looking forward and setting aside the failures of the very recent past, the new framework is not consistent with the goals for either reducing unemployment or enhancing prospects for economic growth. Some of my criticism of the new framework in the context of these two objectives can be found here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2013/04/1842013-legalising-modern-version-of.html
  2. In 2013, the Irish Government has undertaken a swap of one financial liability (promissory notes) with another (government bonds). This transaction has been deemed by myself, many others, including the IMF, to have near-zero impact on debt sustainability when it comes to the Irish Government debt. The transaction was net positive for cash flow, albeit moderately, and hugely positive for PR. while th CB of Ireland did benefit significantly from improved security underlying the ELA, this benefit came at a cost to the rest of the Irish economy in the form of the conversion of the quasi-sovereign debt (promo note) into long-dated sovereign bonds.
  3. Beyond the above two points, there has been very little progress on any tangible reforms in the banking sector in Ireland. We are still pursuing a duopoly model of the domestic banking market,  and there is no effective discussion, let alone effective resolution of the problem of lack of new entrants and lack of restructuring of the existent lenders. We have no new models of banking and lending in the country emerging after six years of this crisis and, if anything, we are now consolidating the strategic space in our banking services to a singular model of low-quality, low-access services supplied at an excessive cost. Both AIB and Bank of Ireland are pursuing this model, leaving customers to pick up the tab for reduced access to services and increased charges on the remaining services. This hardly supports Governor Honohan's claim that the Central Bank is working on creating and sustaining environment for growth.
  4. All banking sector performance parameters have been either not improving or deteriorating over 2012 within the directly state-influenced covered group of financial institutions.
Slapping ad hoc targets on the banks to reduce mortgages arrears and then introducing masers to give them power well in excess of that awarded to the borrowers is about as productive of a measure for dealing with mortgages crisis as giving hospitals management targets for reducing the number of trolleys in corridors while removing patients protection from malpractice.

The Central Bank-supplied 'framework' is thus simply not fit for purpose, neither by the criteria of dealing effectively and humanely with the debt crisis (by first removing the unsustainable debt in systemic, transparent and fairly-priced fashion, then by addressing future moral hazard), nor in terms of placing the burden of crisis resolution where the causes of the crisis rest (proportionally with both the banks and the borrowers), nor in respect of the Central Bank claimed objectives of delivering supports for economic recovery.

Updated: Central Bank of Ireland has made a claim of 2012 'profit' of EUR 1.4 billion. But wait, a business makes profit by taking investors' / equity holders' / lenders' or own funds, purchasing inputs into production, producing something and then selling that something to willing customers who pay for these goods from their own funds. Central Bank of Ireland took claims imposed by the Government of Ireland on consumers and taxpayers, gambled these claims on the banks, who were basically compelled to take 'as offered' these Central Bank-supplied 'goods' and then collected from these captive banks pay (which the banks promptly ripped-off their customers - aka consumers and taxpayers). The Central Bank subsequently relabelled these rip-off charges 'profits' and remitted them back (EUR 1.1 billion) to the Exchequer. So can anyone explain to me what Central Bank produced that someone voluntarily was willing to buy with their own cash?
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