NAMA's fire sales show cruel reality...
WHEN NAMA put for sale signs on hundreds of the properties in its extensive portfolio last week, it gave a glimpse of the abyss into which the Irish property market has fallen. But it really was no more than that - a mere glimpse into the as yet uncharted depths of a catastrophe that has the potential to devour the country's economy and impose penury on the population.
On Thursday, NAMA announced its first set of annual accounts, which showed the ' bad bank' made a loss of €1.18 billion - that's one thousand and eighteen million - last year. The good news though is that it's mostly a 'paper' loss - we might not really be down by that much, it just depends on how the property market fares over the next few years. Given that the value of property in Ireland declined by a massive 2.1 per cent in July alone, there's not much reason to be overly optimistic there though.
At the same time as announcing its annual accounts, NAMA took the opportunity to put on the market 850 of the properties in its broad portfolio. So extensive indeed is this toxic portfolio that the current sale amounts to a mere tenth of all the €30.5 billion worth - if 'worth' isn't a complete misnomer - of the property on its books.
The range of properties on sale is a real cornucopia that includes pubs in the north of England, miscellaneous plots of Irish bogland and even an airport.
NAMA has been charged with the onerous task of doing the best it can with the properties it took over from over-ambitions developers whose hopes of reaping fortunes nose-dived when the bubble burst and they were left with properties they couldn't sell and loans they couldn't repay. Part of NAMA's strategy for recouping some of those losses is to sell off this 850 properties in a fire sale.
The properties will sell at well below their original value, but that's as good as can be expected in these straitened times and anyway the taxpayers will pay the balance on behalf of the banks whose reckless and unregulated pursuit of profit broke the country.
Whether NAMA was a good idea in the first place is a debate that is now consigned to history; as things stand though selling off those damned properties is the best that can be done and NAMA's €430,000 a year boss Brendan McDonagh is determined to see it through, with the help of his €400+ an hour experts. A problem for anybody without a lot of cash in pocket who wants to buy property these days is that the banks have all but stopped giving mortgages.
NAMA is promising to come to the rescue here though with an offer of loans of 20 per cent of the value of a property, plus a stunningly attractive cushion against falling property prices which will mean buyers won't have to repay their NAMA loan if the property loses value. According to NAMA this strategy is being pursued in the interest of kick-starting - dangerous word that - the property market.
It might well kick-start the market for NAMA properties, but it could well be a death sentence for the rest of the market. With NAMA offering the best prices and loans around, nobody in their right mind is going to consider walking in the door of their local estate agent to buy a house in the normal way.
This will go on for some time to come because after the current NAMA property bargain bin is sold out we can expect there will be another and another after that until the whole heap is disposed of. That's NAMA's job and it's the best the agency can do in the interest of the taxpayers who, ultimately, will pay for the clean up job on the banks and the property market. The flip side of this though is that property prices are likely to be dragged down further. This means that the tens of thousands of homeowners in negative equity will be even worse off and will have even less chance of selling up and cutting their losses.
As for estate agents - they might as well shut up shop. On the positive side, however, while NAMA's fire sales will hardly kick-start the property market, it will restore a sense of reality - albeit a harsh one - to a market that had complete lost the run of itself. People will, hopefully, be able to look again at a house in terms of its real value, free from the marketing hype that somehow persuaded so many people that it made sense to pay prices that were plainly off the scale.
Report - Enniscorthy Guardian