And They're Off... The Hook Again...
As the Nama smoke begins to clear, it is apparent developers deemed too big to fail are being bailed out just like the banks...
Last week, there was the ritual sacrifice. Seán FitzPatrick "bowed to the inevitable" as he said himself, and petitioned to be declared a bankrupt. From here on in, if he is to enjoy any luxury in his life, it will be as a kept man. His wife, who never worked a day in Anglo Irish Bank, enjoys half a pension pot somewhere north of €3m. She is also part owner of a number of properties, which is just as well for the FitzPatricks, if they are to continue living in the style to which they have become accustomed.
There is little sympathy for FitzPatrick. In a country where so many are struggling, he has become the pantomime villain. As a result, there was no way that Anglo Irish Bank was ever going to accept a private deal to settle his debts. The public would have been outraged.
But what of all the rest? FitzPatrick had debts of around €150m, which is chickenfeed compared to some of the serious players from the Celtic bubble era.
The bankers and politicians have sailed off to fat pensions. Those with serious debts have gone to ground.
At a time when thousands are struggling with debt, and some with the prospect of losing their home, it still grates with many that those at the top of the heap appear to be sailing on into the sunset.
There is often a good economic reason for not taking the ultimate sanction against somebody unable or unwilling to pay debts. Even in FitzPatrick's case, his creditors would probably have recovered more of their loans if a deal had been struck.
But with trust in government and state institutions at an all-time low, the feeling persists that many who bear the biggest debts are getting special treatment.
The only other player to be subjected to any ignominy was Bernard McNamara, whom the sheriff visited last month. He carted away some art and reportedly also took possession of McNamara's Mercedes.
Ironically, this intrusion into the developer's life was on foot of one of his minor debts. He owes €2.2m to two investors who have obtained a judgement against him, and now they want their money. Early last week, Ivor Dougan and Gary Smith began proceedings to make McNamara bankrupt, a process which he is resisting with all his might.
One other major developer has landed in the mire. Liam Carroll's big problem, it appears in hindsight, was that he borrowed from the ACC, which is now owned by Dutch-owned Rabobank. That bank had a liquidator appointed to Carroll's empire against the wishes of his other lenders, which were Irish banks and were happy to wait for the establishment of Nama.
Apart from Carroll, it's as you were. Those who were to the fore in landing the country in the mire just get on with business. Now that Anglo Irish Bank as they knew it is dust, they must turn to their next best friend – Nama.
When the agency was established last year, it was repeatedly stated by government figures that it was not going to act as a bail-out for developers. Its sole purpose was to relieve the banks of their smelly loans in order that they might be in a position to lend into the economy once again, and set the country back up on the road to recovery. In other words, back to the system which landed us in the mire in the first place.
It was acknowledged that Nama was a bail-out for banks, but only because banks were too big to fail. But, no sir, under no circumstances was it a bail-out for developers.
Now, as the smoke is beginning to clear, it is becoming apparent that those developers deemed too big to fail, will, like their kindred spirits in the banks, also be bailed out.
The position was highlighted in the recently published business plan for Nama.
"Nama may work with certain debtors where it takes the view that this is the optimal commercial strategy in the circumstances. However, this will only occur where debtors are cooperative, make full disclosure and are realistic in terms of asset funding and of the lifestyle implications for them of Nama support.
"They must also accept close monitoring by Nama of their activities."
How exactly will the Nama executives assess who should be bailed out and who should be turfed out? Many who work within Nama have histories themselves of being players in the property game and while they will undoubtedly act in the best interests of the exchequer, they carry psychological baggage from the days of the bubble.
We now know the identity of the first 10 players whose loans are going into Nama. All of them have debts in excess of €500m. Some have made an effort to rein in their previous high-flying lifestyle, but all these things are relative. If you were fond of a wager, you could put your house on most of these guys coming out the other end financially fit and healthy, over the lifespan of Nama.
The whole project is rife with problems. One is the trust that we, the citizens, are being forced to invest in something that may well shape the future of the country.
Another issue is the old chestnut, long-term economic value. This is a premium that was put on the loans bought on the basis that property in the long term will increase again. Various percentages have been thrown around, but it remains unclear what base the long-term economic value is projected from.
For instance, just last week Goodbody Stockbrokers released information in which it said property prices have further to fall and will eventually be worth 50% of what they were at the outer limits of the bubble. We don't know whether that base is being taken into account by Nama.
While Nama will almost certainly bail out the big boys, there are many others who will have to answer for their loans. There are also developers who weren't hit as badly by the downturn.
One is Paddy McKillen, who is taking a legal action to prevent the transfer of personal and business loans from 15 of his companies to Nama from Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank. His case is that it will negatively affect his business interests.
On the other hand, it was revealed last week by Nama chairman Frank Daly that the banks have heretofore apparently dealt with indebted developers with kid gloves, and the implication is that Nama will have a different approach.
Brian Lenihan has repeatedly said that Nama will not cost anything, but that if it does, there is provision to impose a levy on the banks to recover the cost to the exchequer. Above all else, this appears to be a bad joke. The provision is that the banks "may" be subjected to a levy. By the time the cost to Nama is available, the banks will most likely be back in private ownership. Any new owner is going to want a contingency for the levy taken into account as it would be deemed to pertain to a legacy issue which is nothing to do with the new owner. So once again, it is Joe and Josephine Citizen to whom the bill will eventually be passed on.
Article by Michael Clifford - Tribune News