Monday, March 12, 2012

12/3/2012: Why the 'trackers deal' is bad news for Irish mortgagees

The news galore surrounding the Promissory Notes (usually reported cheerfully with the customary references to unnamed sources as to the eminence of the 'deal') and so-called 'lobbying' by the Irish Government to restructure more broadly (un)defined 'banks debts' is continuing to gain momentum day after day, with no actual real signs of anything tangible being done. 

But the real news here is what is being 'rumored' and 'discussed', not the actual feasibility of the 'deal'.

Per reports and Ministerial statements, Ireland is lobbying ECB / EU Commission /EU in general (whatever that means) to allow the country to alter the burden of the IBRC Promissory Notes and, crucially, as per last night news - restructure loss-making tracker mortgages on the balancesheets of its banks.

Minister Noonan stated yesterday on RTE that the discussions on the promissory notes also included the possibility of 'shifting' loss-generating (for banks) tracker mortgages off banks balancesheets into IBRC. The problem, of course, is that these mortgages account for ca 53% of all mortgages held/issued by the Irish banks in relation to the residential property. The rates of default on tracker mortgages is lower than that for ARMs

The banks are complaining loudly that their funding costs exceed the tracker mortgages returns due to low ECB financing. So the real issue here is that the banks are facing state-imposed 'reforms' that are in effect forcing them into future losses on tracker mortgages. The current losses are due not to the actual tracker mortgages problems, but due to the banks prioritizing bonds and debt repayments (raising cheap funding to do so) while complaining about losses on tracker mortgages.

Alas, something is seriously off in this argument for the following reason. Irish banks largely fund themselves at ECB rate via LTROs and normal repo operations. What 'funding costs' they have in mind, beats my understanding of their operations. So the whole issue is a red herring. The banks simply make too small of a margin on these mortgages to use them to cross-subsidize market funding access. That's the real story - the story of the potential loss, not actual loss.

How bogus the issue is? Bank of Ireland doesn't even bother to identify specific losses or any issues relating to tracker mortgages in its latest interim report.

So overall, the issue is a bogus concern for mortgagees covering up the real desire of the Government to provide yet another rescue line of taxpayers' funds to the banks. In other words, the move of tracker mortgages will do absolutely nothing to alter the conditions of loans repayments or costs of these mortgages to the mortgagees. Nor will it reduce the mortgagees debt. Instead, it will simply shift lower margin products off banks balancesheets, allowing the banks to gouge their ARM holders with higher margins over the ECB rate without direct comparative (transparent) pricing to tracker mortgages. More opacity, higher margins, no help for tracker mortgagees, shifting more burden of banks bailouts onto ARM mortgagees - that is, in the nutshell, what Minister Noonan's game plan appears to be.

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