Ireland

Weaning Irish banks off emergency funding from the ECB will take longer than hoped, after Irish authorities suspended plans to force the country’s troubled banks to sell off huge portfolios of loans.

The country’s banks need to offload as much €100bn ($139bn) of legacy assets as they undergo a drastic clean-up of their balance sheets following the huge losses they suffered during the financial crisis. The ECB wanted the deleveraging to be undertaken quickly so the banks could whittle down their reliance on emergency funding, which has risen to about €140bn. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Irish pluck and entrepreneurship remain undiminished by the country’s banking and economic crisis. John Bruton, the former Taoiseach (prime minister), was in Frankfurt today as ambassador for Ireland’s international financial services industry, arguing the case for its future growth.

The idea might send a chill down the spines of some in Frankfurt, including at the European Central Bank. Ireland has been the source of some of the biggest banking disasters to face the eurozone, including at branches of German banks. Read more

Do the markets know something we don’t?

S&P cut Ireland’s credit rating by one notch today, taking it to A- (still several notches above Moody’s and Fitch, at equivalent peggings of Baa1 or BBB+ respectively). Yet markets continue to relax, with the Irish ten-year cost of debt falling 20 basis points today, a fifth of one percent; at 5.45pm they were 8.8 per cent.

The cost of debt for Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Greece have all fallen, too. Greek yields are below 11 per cent for the first time since early November.

Gary Jenkins, head of fixed income for Evolution Securities, says: “It is interesting that while the story [that the EFSF mandate will be widened to allow debt buybacks] has been doing the rounds for three weeks now, yesterday was the first day since then that we have witnessed yields moves of such a magnitude, which does make one wonder if there has not been a leak ahead of the European leaders’ summit on Friday.” Read more

Ralph Atkins

The European Central Bank still faces a stand-off with Dublin. The FT reports today the warning by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, an ECB executive board member, that Ireland cannot expect to renegotiate the terms of its bail-out. The matter has become an issue in the country’s election campaign.

RTE, the Irish broadcaster, has now posted the full interview with Mr Bini Smaghi. It’s a great example of slick, central bank transparency. Diplomatically but firmly, Mr Bini Smaghi warns Ireland’s politicians that if they imposed losses (a “haircut”) on Irish senior bank bondholders, “immediately you would have a run on the banks”. Irish account holders themselves would worry about the security of their savings. The end result could be a collapse of the banking system – and the Irish taxpayers would face an even larger bill.

Irish taxpayers had to bear responsibility for the crisis, he made clear. They supported a low tax system that created the good times; it was only right that they should shoulder the cost when things went wrong.

Mr Bini Smaghi denied the ECB had pushed Ireland into last year’s bail-out, Read more

Klaus Regling, EFSF chief, is apparently wondering whether he could have demanded better terms for Tuesday’s 2016 bond, given spectacular demand. Indeed, he probably could have secured a higher price (lower yield) – a valuable lesson for the remaining €21bn-odd debt to be issued this year. But would Ireland benefit if he did, or would the EFSF just stand to make a bigger margin?

The 2016 €5bn bond issued by the eurozone yesterday is intended to finance a loan for Ireland. Lex points out that of the €5bn raised at 2.89 per cent, only €3.3bn will be lent to Ireland – at about 6.05 per cent. (The final cost to Ireland and the exact loan amount won’t be known tillthe EFSF has reinvested the cash reserve and buffer.) Read more

Confidence in Ireland could plummet today if the PM faces a vote of no confidence. Political uncertainty, as Belgium has shown, can seriously undermine the market’s faith in a country’s finances. And market reaction seems to be the main call to action for EU politicians. And just when we thought focus had switched to Portugal.

Now Ireland, as we know, has been bailed out already. Its funding is pretty well lined up – importantly, from diverse sources. The weak point is the banks. As long as any handover is smooth and quick, a change of government could be relatively painless for Ireland. Read more

Chris Giles

Last week, the Swiss National Bank let it be known that it no longer accepted Portuguese sovereign debt as collateral in its open market operations. An official from the SNB said: “Only securities that fulfil stringent requirements with regard to credit rating and liquidity are accepted as collateral by the National Bank”.

The Bank of England has almost identical criteria for accepting euro-denominated sovereign bonds in its market operations. They have to be rated Aa3 or higher on the Moody’s scale or higher than that by at least two other ratings agencies and traded in liquid markets.

Portuguese and Irish sovereign bonds fail this test.  But the Bank does not apply a mechanical rule and, as its daily collateral list shows, it is still smiling on Portugal and Ireland, but not Greece. In a market notice from the time of the Greek crisis, the Bank asserts its discretion, insisting it “forms its own independent view on collateral it takes in its operations”. Read more

Ireland’s fate should be a cautionary tale to those pushing Portugal towards a bail-out. Ireland’s bail-out – arguably not needed – didn’t work.

Government bond yields – a measure of market stress – rose above 8 per cent, and Dublin found itself inundated with offers of cash. This unlimited funding should have been enough to reassure markets, but it was not, proving a cash shortage was not the problem. Politicians ignored this, and the offers became more insistent. Ireland accepted a loan, but markets were unimpressed and yields stayed above 8 per cent. A month later, yields returned above pre-bail-out levels of about 8.4 per cent. Now they are nearer 9 per cent. The Irish bail-out was misdirected, targeting the symptom and not the cause. Bond markets were worried about bondholder rights, not a cash crunch. Making cash available while remaining vague on bondholder rights was a mistake. Read more

The Swiss National Bank no longer accepts Ireland’s government bonds as eligible collateral in its repo operations. It’s probably not earth-shaking for holders of Irish government bonds, following earlier margin calls on these assets by LCH.Clearnet last year. On the other hand, it’s an interesting window into how at least one European central bank is taking care over its collateral, unlike a few others we could mention.

Modifications to the SNB’s collateral baskets over the last year emerge in this little spreadsheet (Excel file). Several other Irish-domiciled assets also became nicht Repo-fähig in late December 2010, around the time Ireland lost its last AA- credit rating. Anglo Irish medium-term notes, Depfa bonds, etc.

The SNB’s eligible collateral criteria require that securities posted for repo have this AA- rating and that their country of domicile also bears the same rating, which seems open and shut. Until you read that the bank can make exceptions for sovereign securities rated below AA-.

 Read more

The Irish cost of debt is now above the levels that prompted the bail-out. Yields on ten-year bonds closed at 8.4 per cent on Friday and rose higher today. On November 23, yields of about 8 per cent prompted the bail-out (and then rose higher…).

There are further signs of tension in Ireland, which it seems the bail-out has done little to allay. First, a £10bn swap was set up on Friday between the Bank of England and the ECB in order to provide Irish banks with sterling liquidity that they might otherwise struggle to find.

As the ECB worries about Irish bail-out legislation, and the EU rushes to raise the cash, bond yields in Ireland, Greece and Spain seem to mock these administrative efforts; the latter two again at record highs.

If the legal status of euro area bonds were the major cause of market nerves – rather than Ireland’s fiscal Read more