Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Irish literature and legend is full of boasts, like the claim by Christy Mahon in Synge’s “Playboy of the Western World” that he has killed his da with a loy (Irish for spade), only to have the old man track him down in another town.
Perhaps that’s the way to view Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s announcement two years ago that the state-backed guarantee scheme to rescue the country’s troubled banks, hit hard by the collapse of the property market, was “the cheapest bailout in the world so far”.
It seemed too good to be true. And it was.
On Thursday, Lenihan, who has spent the last two years scrambling from one fiscal crisis to another, announced that, actually, the cost for cleaning up years of reckless lending was “horrendous” and in a worst-case scenario the price tag would be over 50 billion euros ($68 billion).
The bill will shackle Ireland, once the EU’s fastest growing economy, with a public debt burden of nearly 99 percent of gross domestic product.
Ireland’s now crippled economy, meanwhile, has done everything but recover. Unemployment is stubbornly high, property prices remain depressed, taxpayers face years of cutbacks and, in the second quarter, growth again went into reverse.
Maybe what Lenihan said two years ago was wishful thinking, or perhaps it has taken this long for Ireland to wake up to just how colossal a hole its one-time high flying property tycoons have dug for themselves, and for every Irish taxpayer, even though much of what they were up to is so big as to be unmissable.
Take, for example, the Battersea Power Station in London, which is Europe’s largest brick building and has been derelict since it was decommissioned as a coal-burning power plant about a quarter century ago.
In 2006, a firm controlled by two Irish property magnates, Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett, bought the building and land surrounding it for a staggering 400 million pounds ($750 million) — even though previous plans to develop it had all come to nought.
The boys, as they are referred to in some of the Irish press, had ambitious plans for a new, exclusive, “Knightsbridge”-class development for office, commercial and residential space, including an extension of the Northern Line branch of the London Underground.
Four years later, the site is still derelict, promoted, perhaps a bit desperately, as a location for lavish weddings held inside a marquee, and most recently as the venue for a Red Bull-sponsored high-jinx, daredevil motorcycle show.
Ronan and Barrett’s property empire, meanwhile, has seen some of its loans earmarked for the Irish government’s National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) — Ireland’s “bad bank scheme”, which was established to purge lenders of commercial property loans, many of them non-performing.
Battersea is at the top end of the scale of Irish property investment during the decade of the Celtic Tiger boom, but replicate it at a lesser level all the way from Eastern Europe to the holiday beaches of Spain and out to Asia, and it becomes clear why Lenihan has had to change his tune.
A historical footnote: a Reuters feature informs us that the Battersea Power Station was used during World War Two to burn 120 million pounds worth of banknotes that had to be disposed of to stop enemy forgeries.
Something to boast about then. Comparatively small change now.
The International Monetary Fund has done what it was bid by the G20 and come up with proposals for getting banks to pay for the government help they receive when they get in trouble. You can read the actual wording here, but it comes down to this:
1) A "Financial Stability Contribution" which would be pooled into a fund that would use it to help weak banks, or just go into general government revenues.
Germany has signalled it is ready to pay a thief who stole secret bank data in Switzerland in order to collect a small fortune in taxes and fines for tax evasion. According to media reports, the data may relate to money held by 1,500 Germans dodging taxes by hiding their money in Swiss bank accounts.
But is it right for a state based on the rule of law to pay for stolen data? Is it a question of the ends justifying the means (exitus acta probat)? Or is it simply a modern form of bank robbery, like a Swiss lawmaker called it so colorfully on Tuesday?
It’s a question that has caused a stir on both sides of the German-Swiss border. Do two wrongs make a right? Can stolen data be used as evidence in court? Or is acceptable for a state to reward a thief in the pursuit of the greater good of fighting tax evasion — seen as a more serious crime?
When the late Joerg Haider, the hard-right populist governor of the southern Austrian state of Carinthia, sold most of his government's stake in Hypo Group Alpe Adria in 2007, he said, beaming: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Carinthia is rich."
BayernLB, which like many other German landesbanken appears to have never met a toxic asset it didn't like, had just paid 1.65 billion euros for a 50 percent stake in Hypo. Around half of that went into Haider's government's coffers.
from Africa News blog:
The list published by Nigeria's central bank of those who owe money to the banks it has just bailed out makes clear that the situation has already gone well beyond just being a banking crisis.
The list cuts across the business elite and Nigeria's regions and also includes many politically powerful figures. (And it doesn't even appear that all those who could have been named as directors of the debtor companies have been identified).
from Africa News blog:
Nigeria's central bank sliced through the hubris of the business elite with its $2.6 billion bailout out of five banks and the sacking of their heads in what looks as though it could be a new era for corporate governance in Africa’s most populous country.
Recently appointed Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said lax governance had allowed the banks to become so weakly capitalised that they posed a threat to the entire system, and described the move as the beginning of a "restoration of confidence" in sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest economy.
Poles and Czechs, their economies still relatively robust despite global recession, are up in arms about what they see as international investors’ tendency to tar them with the same brush as their more troubled neighbours such as Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia.
But if history is any guide, investors are unlikely to be impressed, at least in the shorter term.