Thursday, June 11, 2015

11/6/15: Anglo's Toxic Legacy: It Is Still Around Us, Today...

Here is an edited version of a note from 4Q 2014 that I provided to a non-commercial party interested in the matters of the Anglo Irish Bank that outlines my view of the sharp practices at the bank and the spillover from these practices across Irish banking, economic and political systems.

"As you know, Ireland was forced by the ECB and the EU to bail out its banks. The most egregious case involved Anglo Irish Bank - a mono-line property lender that was nationalised on January 21, 2009 and bailed out using Irish Government funding to the tune of EUR29.3 billion.

Funds for this bailout came from a combination of the Troika loans and taxpayers-owned National Pension Reserve Fund and thus, de facto, amounted to taxpayer financing of the bank.

Nationalisation of the Anglo Irish Bank, as we now know, came on foot of the bank, the auditors and regulators failing to report egregious sharp practices in the bank when it comes to the regulatory rules that date from the early 1990s through 2008 and include systemic and wilful overcharging of customers, breaches of liquidity rules, bank providing funding for its own directors on the basis of preferential treatment of public disclosures in collusion with another bank, INBS, bank engaging in misclassification of loans as deposits, and bank providing funding to its own customers for share price support schemes.

Any one of these sharp practices would have resulted in either a bank closure in a properly regulated regime, such as, for example, the U.S., and/or a complete wipeout of the equity value of the bank in the markets.

Two Examples

Take one example of one such practice. The overcharging problem at the Anglo Irish Bank continued from 1990 through 2004, with clients billed on average 0.3% concealed margin on their loans without notification of the customers charged and without disclosure to the auditors. Bankcheck review of the large number of loans revealed that 80% of these were involving overcharging. More importantly, from the point of view of the current situation, the Irish Government agencies, such as the IBRC and Nama, as well as the purchasers of distressed loans from Anglo borrowers, continue to charge the rates that include the original fraudulent mark ups, despite at least one official judgement on the matter issued by the Irish court. Taken in perspective, the overcharging - officially and on the record exposed in Irish and US courts - represents a quantum of estimated EUR1 billion of overstatement of publicly recorded and audited profits declared by Anglo through the period of 2004, and although we have no means for ascertaining the quantum of overcharging since 2004, the figure of at least around EUR2 billion total over the span of 1990-2014 is most likely a conservative estimate. This overcharging was notified to the Irish authorities repeatedly and on the record, with no action taken in response to notifications by the current Government, the Financial Regulator and/or the Central Bank.

In another sharp practice, the bank lent money to a single customer to cover margin calls on CFDs held against the bank own shares and, subsequent to the accumulated loans in excess of EUR2 billion, the bank arranged and funded a buyout facility for 10 investors (also clients of the bank) who were lent funds by the bank predominantly on unsecured basis to purchase shares underlying the said CFD positions. In simple, most basic terms, the bank used its lending book to prevent a share price collapse that could have resulted from the disclosure to the markets of the cumulated CFD positions.


In effect, thus, Irish taxpayers were compelled by the European component of the Troika, the EU and the ECB, in contravention of the IMF advice, to underwrite losses in a bank that was neither systemic to the Irish economy (it had basically no retail deposits and conducted virtually no retail business) nor operated within the confines of banking regulations and laws. On foot of the Anglo Irish Bank rescue, we were compelled to rescue an equally egregious Irish Nationwide Building Society - a counterpart to some of the sharp practices carried out in the Anglo Irish Bank.

Between 2007 and 2013, Irish Government debt rose by EUR155.8 billion - the largest jump in debt relative to GDP of any country in the euro area, including Greece. More than 22 percent of this increase is down to Anglo Irish Bank and irish Nationwide Building Society rescues. 

The damage runs deeper than that, however. If the Irish Government was allowed by the ECB to shut down Anglo Irish Bank prior to nationalisation, Irish Government debt today would have been around 93% of GDP as opposed to the current level of 112%. But this does not take into the account the potential contagion that resulted from the Anglo Irish Bank collapse to other banking institutions in the country. At the time of the September 2008 banking Guarantee, the State and its advisers have argued that not rescuing Anglo Irish Bank would have spread market panic to other Irish banks. 

This claim is, in my opinion, dubious. It could have been as likely, if not more so, that shutting down a rogue institution (or, with INBS - two rogue institutions) in a public and transparent manner could have resulted in more confidence in the systems and procedures present within Irish regulatory and supervisory regime. By opting to preserve and secure Anglo Irish Bank and INBS, Irish Government at the time sent a signal to the markets that any institution, including that with questionable business model, strategy and practices will be preserved and protected. In turn, such a signal was consistent with telling the markets that Ireland has no will to or cannot (due to the limited regulatory abilities) distinguish rogue operators from legitimate and functional ones. The effect of this could have been undermining confidence in all Irish banks, in order to protect a rogue one.

Ireland opted for a solution of shoring up and covering up the structural vulnerabilities exposed by the Anglo Irish Bank practices in the system of our regulation and supervision, as well as governance. This is neither a sustainable strategy, nor is a markets-securing strategy.


The legacy of the Anglo Irish Bank-related debt remains with us. Currently, Irish Central Bank holds some EUR25 billion worth of long-term Government bonds issued to offset Emergency Liquidity Assistance credit line extended to the bank liquidators. Ireland is mandated by the EU and ECB to gradually sell these bonds into private markets. As we do so, the burden of this debt is befalling Irish people who will have to fund interest and principal on these bonds into perpetuity. 

There is an easy solution to this problem that ECB can enact within a minute: the bonds should be left in the Central Bank and cancelled at maturity. This implies no cost for European taxpayers and no new issuance of money by the ECB.

In ethical terms (moral hazard etc), such a move is warranted due to the sheer scale of deception and concealment of the facts of the Anglo Irish Bank operations that have been exposed to-date and are still being exposed and that were not disclosed at the time of the September 2008 Guarantee or, indeed, at the time of the 2010 Troika 'Bailout'. In other words, the argument can and should be made that both the Guarantee and the Bailout involved Irish commitments to lenders and lenders agreements that were not reflective of the full informational disclosures by the Anglo Irish Bank and the INBS.

In moral terms and economic terms, Irish people have paid a huge price for the crisis - far more than their fair share, given the fact that in rescuing Irish banks, we have underwritten a rescue of private bondholders and banks across the EU, the US. Irish people are paying for the crisis with dramatically higher rates of suicide, destroyed families, lost or endangered family homes, decimated health care system, devastated pensions, underfunded education and childcare, and an economy that in per capita GDP terms has sustained the third biggest drop across all Euro area countries. A large share of these costs is attributable to EU and ECB decision to force Irish Government to accept full losses in the Anglo Irish Bank and INBS - two rogue banking institutions that were not systemic to Ireland - which itself was predicated on incomplete information and misleading information being supplied to the Irish authorities at the time of decision making.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the legacy of the Anglo and INBS - embodied in the continued process of disposal of the residual bonds on the insistence of the EU and ECB - is toxic to the democratic institutions of Ireland, from the point of view of the future. As long as Irish political elites are forced to deal with the legacy of the bonds disposals, there will remain an incentive for the Irish establishment to stay mute on the issues of systemic breaches in regulatory, supervisory and legal frameworks around the operations of the two rogue institutions. In return, official refusal to deal with the legacy fuels public mistrust of the core democratic institutions of the State, increasing the appeal of the extreme ideologies and political positions. 

The legacy of Anglo and INBS is so toxic that it prevents a rational, informed discovery of facts and debate of these facts as relating to the regulatory and supervisory breaches within Irish financial system. The only way we can functionally deal with this malfunctioning of the state systems is if the European authorities allow Ireland to move beyond the cost of carrying the repayments accruing from these liabilities on the State balance sheet. Only after shedding the immediate burden of having to finance their legacy can we, as a nation, move to the stage of addressing deeper, more structural problems exposed by the crisis.

Note: Details of overcharging sharp practices at Anglo Irish Bank that allegedly continued into IBRC and Nama are discussed here: Details of Mr. Morrissey letter quoted in the Dail (Irish parliament) are available here: Details of the affidavit filed by Mr. Declan Ganley with Irish authorities concerning overcharging allegations are available here: Details on evidence of Nama value destruction and other systemic problems are covered here:

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