I was on the Dart into Dublin the other morning, surrounded by students getting ready to sit the dreaded Leaving Cert this week.
They were in good form, talking about big bits of the course they hadn’t a clue about. This is the sort of bravado or giddiness that precedes panic. I remember it well. Their lives are ahead of them and there is nothing they can’t do, given a chance. But are we giving them a chance?
My heart sank when I heard, earlier that morning, that the state was going to waste yet more of our money on Anglo. No one needs Anglo and, if we closed it down tomorrow, we’d miss it less than Hector Grey’s. More to the point, the financial markets would reward, not punish, us.
Our government has indicated that it will have to put up to â‚¬20 billion into Anglo so that it can give this money to institutions that lent to Anglo. Just let’s think about how much money this is.
Very few are able to comprehend the impact of nine zeros. Instead of euro, let us imagine seconds. One million (1,000,000) seconds is 1.65 weeks or about 11 days. One billion (1,000,000,000) seconds is 31 years, eight months and 15 days. Twenty billion is more than 636 years!
That’s how much Anglo will cost us, before interest on the money we will borrow to give back to the investors. This is plainly ludicrous. Our government is putting a plan to the EU which plots what happens next to this piece of financial rubbish.
Alan Dukes, chairman of Anglo, who is an honourable man, said he had a plan: he will split Anglo into two banks – a good and a bad bank. The good bank will be a business bank and the bad bank is our problem – our 636-year problem.
But it’s not my problem and it’s not your problem: it is the Anglo investors’ problem and, because they took a punt on Anglo, they should have to sort it out themselves.
In America, the standard way of sorting this out was that the bank management looked at the two different types of creditors. There are bondholders and there are shareholders. Bondholders are a special type of creditor who lend the bank money, expect to be paid back in full and get a small interest premium. They are the most secure creditors.
The shareholders, on the other hand, are pure speculators. When the bank’s doing well the share price goes through the roof and they profit; when the bank is doing badly, the share prices collapse and they lose. Normally when a bank is in a crisis, like Anglo the bond holders swap shares in the new bank.
They are forced by the management to back the plan with their money, not just platitudes. They are forced to exchange their old bonds that the bank can’t pay for new shares, which will be worth quite a lot of money if the bank recovers. This is common practice.
But the bondholders in Anglo haven’t even been asked to do this. I suspect, if they were, they’d say thanks, but no thanks. We would prefer taxpayers’ hard cash rather than Dukes’ shares. Frankly, I don’t blame them. But they shouldn’t be given this option.
The second ‘‘normal’’ way of dealing with Anglo is, if the bank can recover as Dukes said it can, then let’s put that to the test. Simply, let’s do what they have done now with Quinn Insurance – call in an administrator and let the administrator find a new buyer. If it has value, somebody will buy the thing. Why don’t they do that in Anglo?
Because the Anglo management is bluffing. They will never find a buyer. So they have told us it has value, but they’re afraid to put that to the test. Nobody in their right mind believes them.
So the ‘‘insiders’’ who financed Anglo and were great capitalists four years ago, today don’t trust the normal rules of capitalism to solve their problem. They have miraculously turned into Marxists.
They used to be red in tooth and claw; now they’re just red.
So, close it down. The financial markets will reward us, because that is one less debt that the Irish taxpayer will have to pay in the future.
The reason the markets will support closing down Anglo is that markets have no interest in an Ireland that turns itself into a debt-servicing machine to pay for the mistakes of yesterday. There is always new money and, if someone has to lose on Anglo, well, so be it – that’s the game. Move on.
The financial markets are investors who want growth, who want to invest in the real wealth of Ireland and the real wealth of this country, which is the teenagers on the way to their exams.
They are the creativity of the future, but if they are lumbered with a huge tax bill to pay for stuff like Anglo, investors will see that their creativity is choked by debt and they will stay away from Ireland and invest in the young workers of Poland, South Korea or Brazil. These are the simple facts of globalisation.
This government has talked about the ‘‘smart economy’’. There is nothing smart about keeping Anglo open.
No investor minds a government spending â‚¬20 billion on education and infrastructure because it means the balance sheet will have an asset opposite the debt. But on our national balance sheet opposite the â‚¬20 billion is Anglo, with its treasure chest of worthless land and sites.
This simple accounting identity scares people.
Close it down. In the past 12months,141 banks were closed down in America and no one noticed.
Close it and move on.
David McWilliams performs Outsiders at the Peacock from Wednesday to July 3; www.abbeytheatre.ie