There is something a bit off-putting about watching Irish political leaders parade all over the world bragging about how great Ireland is, while they are presiding over the wholesale plunder of the Irish economy and its fixed assets by foreigners.
Ireland is now – and has been, as this column’s been pointing out for some years – a carcass over which vulture funds are feeding. There is one rule for the rich and one for the poor and the most extreme version of casino capitalism is being allowed wreak havoc in the Irish property, banking and credit markets.
This episode will, without doubt, become a textbook case in how not to rebalance the economy after a property crash. Huge parts of the Irish economy are being transferred to foreign vulture funds.
Worst still there appears to be an active campaign by our own government to debar local Irish investors from playing this massive get-rich-quick game.
If you doubt this, just ask the Irish developers and investors who have been seeking to buy back their loans at similar discounts to those being made available to the foreign vultures and have failed, despite having the funding.
Funding is the key to the game. If you have funding, you can buy stuff cheaply and if not, you have to sell expensively. On St Patrick’s Day, didn’t these politicians in the green ties and shamrocks understand what is happening?
To put it most simply, Ireland has been for sale for a while. If you are a rich, foreign fund you can buy hundreds of millions of euros worth of Irish property assets at an 80 per cent discount.
But if, at the other extreme, you are poor Irish person who is renting, you get evicted from houses where you have been paying rent. This is the story of Tyrrelstown, pure and simple. This week it is Tyrrelstown, next month it will be somewhere else.
Tyrrelstown is only the tip of the iceberg.
The great Irish fire sale is a story of Insiders and Outsiders but with a specific, kind of pathetic Irish twist.
Traditionally, when we hear of an Insider and Outsider story the positions are clear. The Insiders tend to be well-connected, cute-hoor, local people who do cozy backroom deals to plunder the wealth of gullible, naïve but well-intentioned foreigners who are the Outsiders.
But in Ireland 2016, the Insiders, the locals, have become Outsiders; and the Outsiders, the foreigners, have become Insiders.
Please digest this irony before we celebrate Easter 1916 where a revolutionary Ireland stood up against a foreign power in the name of the citizen.
This week we will have a pageant of faux nationalism while the commands and controls of this economy have been sold to foreign vulture funds at deep discounts by an agency of the state, Nama.
Nama was set up and funded to manage assets until 2020. Nama bonds, financed by you, were issued to give the agency time and funding to oversee the normal cyclical recovery in asset prices, which takes place as any economy stabilizes after a crash.
It was not set up or ever directed to sell assets at a deep discount to vulture funds.
Just to give you an idea of the type of people who own Ireland now here is a quote from some dude called Steve Schwarzmann, the chief bottle washer at Blackstone one of these outfits. He said ahead of his venture into Ireland.
“We’re basically waiting to see how beaten up people’s psyches get, and where they’re willing to sell assets”
Now I have no problems with these funds operating at the extreme end of the capitalist spectrum, that’s what they do. But I have a problem with the Irish state enriching these guys because for these guys to make money, they have to sell.
And here is the rub.
Who do you think they will sell to? Who do you think are the natural owners of Irish property? Irish people are, of course. The vulture funds are just glorified bridge finance merchants. They have no intention of owning Ireland in the long term. That’s not their game. They are just here because no one else has access to big piles of cash.
The vultures are waiting for Irish banks to recover so that they can sell Ireland back to the Irish at a massive profit.
Nama was set up and financed till 2020 to ensure that this fire sale didn’t happen – or at least, didn’t happen to the extent it is happening. It could have been a massive sovereign wealth fund that gradually, and in a well-financed manner, recovered wealth for the state. But it chose to do something else. It is using Nama bonds, which are paid for by you, the taxpayer, to deliver assets on a platter to vulture funds.
The strategy of a vulture fund is termed in the business “three and thirty”. This means they buy and hold for three years and when they have achieved a 30pc profit, they sell and they are gone to the next “distressed” country. The accumulation of wealth in this case in the hands of very few people is obscene.
However, the question is who pays for their extravagant returns?
This is where it gets tricky for Ireland because when the opportunity passes for significant double-digit returns, why would a property fund sniff around here? Who will buy from the vultures?
Of course these assets will revert to their natural owners, Irish people.
But where will the Irish get the cash? Why, we’ll borrow it from Irish banks and we will be back to where we started with Irish banks over-leveraged to expensive Irish property. Remember why we got into this mess. The Irish crisis happened because our banks were massively leveraged to over-expensive Irish property. When the vultures have flown, that’s where we’ll end up again and Nama will have been the broker.
How does that make you feel?
Tiocfaidh ár lá, how are ye!