Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Economics 26/01/2010: S&P Note on Irish Banks

Standard & Poor's has finally thrown in the towel and after having to “periodically increase” their “credit loss assumptions over the course of the current economic cycle” concluded “that Irish banks' asset quality and earnings will, in general, likely remain under significant pressure over the medium term”.

Anyone surprised so far?

“We have considered the implications for each rated Irish bank and lowered the ratings on some of them.” But even after that action, “the ratings on all Irish banks are currently uplifted because of our view of high systemic importance to Ireland and related government support, or their relationship with a higher-rated parent.”

We never would have guessed that if not for the State guarantee plus 11 billion worth of public capital, plus Nama’s countless billions of pledged support, the banks bonds would be junk. Wait, some of them actually would be ‘high risk junk’ as one Russian fund manager once described to me his own bonds (I ran away as fast as I could).

How junk? Take a load of honesty from S&P (with my emphasis added):

“We have lowered the ratings on Allied Irish Banks PLC (A-/Negative/A-2) by a notch. This reflects our view that the environment will remain challenging over the medium term, leading to high credit losses, and a weakened revenue base. We consider AIB to be of high systemic importance and the Irish government to have made a strong statement of support, as a result of which we have incorporated five notches of support into the ratings. The negative outlook reflects our view that AIB's anticipated recapitalization may not fully occur in 2010, and may be of an insufficient size to support an 'A-' rating, as well downside risk to our earnings expectations arising from the weak environment.”

Absent state support, AIB should be BB/Negative/C+. Errr, that is squarely in the junk bonds category.

“We have also lowered the ratings on Bank of Ireland (A-/Stable/A-2) by a notch. This reflects our view that the environment will remain challenging over the medium term and BOI's financial profile will be weaker than we had previously expected, with capital expected to be only adequate by our measures and BOI continuing to make losses through 2011. We consider BOI to be of high systemic importance and the Irish government to have made a strong statement of support, as a result of which we have incorporated four notches of support into the ratings. The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the government will remain highly supportive of BOI, BOI's core Irish banking franchise will remain materially intact, and it will raise significant equity capital in 2010, from the market or the government or both.”

So absent support, BofI would be at BB+/Negative/BB-. Junk status as well.

“The ratings on Irish Life & Permanent PLC (ILP; BBB+/Stable/A-2) are unchanged. In our view, ILP faces continuing uncertainty around its strategic direction and desired business profile, in addition to the near-term pressure on the banking operations from weak earnings prospects and difficult wholesale funding conditions. Nevertheless, the ratings continue to benefit from the relative strength of the ILP group's life assurance operations. They also incorporate two notches of government support, reflecting our view of ILP's high systemic importance and our expectation that the Irish government would provide further support if required. The expectation of government support also underpins the stable outlook.

Absent state aid IL&P would be, then, at BBB-/Negative/B. Barely above water line.

Please, be mindful – S&P expects (and prices in) that the Irish state will be likely to buy equity in the banks. So we all can become investors in junk bonds-issuing institutions.

Very good, although bland, outlook statement:

“We consider the current operating conditions for the Irish banking industry to be weak, and expect that any recovery in earnings prospects will prove to be sluggish. In the coming year, we anticipate that many of the Irish banks may undergo operational and financial restructuring, which will likely lead to consolidation in the sector. Our overall assessment of the sector incorporates our opinions reflected in the following key points:
  • The recovery in Irish economic performance appears likely to be gradual, with growth only consistently established in late 2010 at the earliest;
  • Loan losses will likely be elevated between 2009-2011 and will likely peak in 2010; Wholesale funding conditions appear likely to remain pressurized, with strong competition for retail deposits...
"Under our base case, we expect loan losses on bank lending to the Irish private sector to peak at about 4.6% or EUR16 billion in 2010, and to total about 10.7% or EUR37 billion over the period from 2009 to 2011."

In country rankings analysis, S&P highlights that they expect the need for significant deleveraging by the banks in the future, reflective, presumably, of the lack thereof so far in the crisis – a risk I warned about consistently over time.

“The impact of the continuing challenging economic environment, which we view as weakening asset quality and earnings prospects” – presumably the S&P is on the same note as the rest of sane analysts: poor economy will drag banks down. Which means that Government logic – restore banks and see economy recover – is out of the window

Next – a gem: “We have additionally revised our assessment of Gross Problematic Assets (GPAs) in the system to 15%-30% from 10%-20%. GPAs are our estimation of a country's potential problem loans to the private sector and nonfinancial public enterprises in a severe economic downturn, such as that being experienced in Ireland, and includes restructured and foreclosed assets, as well as overdue loans, and nonperforming loans sold to special-purpose vehicles.”

Oh yes – up to 30% GPA means that we can expect 45-50% of the loans to be stressed one way or the other at some point in time – some defaulting, some skipping couple of payments, some restructuring with various haircuts. That is, potentially, up to €200 billion in loans in various forms of distress for the 6 guaranteed banks alone.

With this sort of an outlook, not surprisingly, AIB's CDSs are now at around 650bps, BofI's at 250bps and virtually no action is taking place in bonds. Which, of course, does hint at the market reading Irish banks' bonds as being in effect a purely speculative bet on one probability - that of survival...

The share prices are yet to follow the same path of logic.

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