DealZone

Deals wrap: Irish banks soon to march to new drummer

ECONOMY-GLOBAL/Ireland’s top three banks will soon be answering to a new boss: the Irish government. Ireland is set to take a majority stake in top lender Bank of Ireland as part of a massive international bailout that could leave the state with effective control of the country’s top three banks.

The state’s ownership of Bank of Ireland could rise to near 80 percent from 36 percent now under the EU/IMF-funded bailout, put at up to 85 billion euros ($114 billion), and Allied Irish Bank could join Anglo Irish Bank in being fully nationalized. Both Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank have lost about 40 percent of their value this week as shares plunged on capitalization fears.

But perhaps private investors should not be so quick to flee Ireland – at least that’s the message Wall Street Journal sends to brave investors in a piece that lays out five ways to bet on Ireland now. The list implies there could be money to be made amidst all the chaos, drawing parallels between the current Irish predicament and the similar one the “tiger” economies of Asia faced in 1998.

Meanwhile, South Korea, once counted among the so-called “tigers”, saw its biggest banking acquisition deal ever on Wednesday. Hana Financial Group, a Korean-based financial holding company, said it will buy a 51 percent stake in Korea Exchange Bank for up to $4.1 billion cash, seeking to shut the door on rival bidder ANZ.

Elsewhere in Asia, China’s Xinmao Group moved to dispel doubts over its $1.3 billion offer for Dutch cable maker Draka, saying it had backing from a Chinese bank for its proposed takeover. A recent Economist article points out that Chinese buyers have made up a tenth of cross-border deals by value this year.

from Breakingviews:

Uncle Sam’s AIG exit likely to be drawn out

There's no quick way for the U.S. government to exit American International Group <AIG.N>. Converting $49 billion of preferred stock to common shares and selling them would, like the government's exit from Citigroup <C.N>, take a while. And that's assuming other share sales, needed for separate repayments relating to AIG, go smoothly.

As of June 30, AIG owed the government just over $100 billion -- though a further $4 billion has since been repaid. AIG has also made progress offloading assets. Big examples include the IPO of AIA, the Asian unit currently expected to debut on the Hong Kong market in the next month or so, and the $15.5 billion sale to MetLife <MET.N> of American Life Insurance, or Alico, which is winding its way towards closing. The New York Fed converted debt into preferred shares in these entities worth $16 billion and $9 billion, respectively, and the deals will help pay that off.

Back at AIG itself, there are around $49 billion of preferred shares owned by the Treasury. The Citi example shows how that block of prefs might be swapped into common equity and then sold, over time. In the Citi case, the government is turning a profit on its shares, potentially making the idea interesting for AIG as well.

AIG’s mysterious Schedule A finally revealed

AIG/The heavily-redacted regulatory filing that spells out the details of the New York Federal Reserve’s controversial bailout of American International Group is a secret no more.

Reuters has obtained a copy of the five-page document the giant insurer and the New York Fed had asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to keep confidential. The effort by the New York Fed to keep the document under wraps has sparked a furor on Capitol Hill and was the subject of a hearing on Wednesday by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The unredacted version of the “Schedule A – List of Derivative Transactions” fills out some of the missing pieces in the AIG bailout, in which an entity set-up by the New York Fed effectively funneled tens of millions of dollars to 16 big U.S. and Europeans banks that had bought credit default swaps from the insurer.

Haider’s heirs disown troubled Hypo bank

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.

Haider/Porsche

True to his pork-barrel politics, Haider used the funds to, among other things, subsidise Carinthian teenagers’ driving licence fees, scrap kindergarten fees, and pay out cash to Carinthian families to “offset inflation” in 2008, conveniently timed shortly before an election.

Reflections on B of A’s rough year

Bank of America One public-relations lesson for Bank of America <BAC.N> after a year of crisis and a pummelling in the court of public opinion: Don’t always listen to the lawyers.
That’s the word from James Mahoney, director of communication and public policy at the country’s largest bank.
B of A has taken a beating over everything from its pay scale and lending practices to the fees it charges consumers.
It’s humbling for the institution that a year ago was the country’s “leading bank,” Mahoney told a trade conference sponsored by by Financial Research Corp of Boston.
“Two words emerged: bonus and bailout. It’s been all downhill ever since.”
He said the bank’s lawyers barred it from offering a single narrative on the decisions leading up to its takeover of the investment bank Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis just over a year ago.
The lawyers fretted that executives might stray from the script during any future depositions to investigators, Mahoney said. But that left B of A exposed to a lot of attacks and with no easy way to protect its flank.
The lesson? “Don’t listen to lawyers if you’re trying too manage the public reaction.”
Mahoney had a receptive audience for a rare peek under the hood at the bank’s rough year.
While B of A sorts out its leadership with the pending departure of longtime chief executive Ken Lewis, Mahoney’s said the bank has taken more than its share of PR black eyes because of its size.
“I think we really became the target of a lot of the anger that’s out there because (the bank) is a highly visible, convenient place to vent,” he said.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber)

Bank of America’s Chalice: Poison or Red Bull?

For months, as he endured hearings on Capitol Hill and fought off a series of lawsuits, Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis trudged through a post-apocalyptic financial landscape against a steady drumbeat of questions about his future. The deal he had called “the strategic opportunity of a lifetime” — his purchase/salvage of Merrill Lynch — had swung from an act of patriotism, keeping the American way of banking from utter ruin, to a scandal over Merrill losses and bonuses.

Perhaps he should have seen the writing on the walls of the vacant houses financed by Countrywide, the mortgage lender Lewis purchased/salvaged just six months before the Merrill deal. The two transactions may have been strategic gems, but they were laced with political poison as the economy floundered toward its dramatic deleveraging and taxpayers pumped $20 billion into Bank of America to fund the Merrill deal.

“It was only a matter of time,” Campbell Harvey, a professor at Duke University’s business school, told Jon Stempel. “There is too much collateral damage.” As Stempel reports, Lewis spent north of $130 billion on acquisitions, including FleetBoston Financial Corp, the credit card issuer MBNA Corp, LaSalle Bank Corp, Countrywide, Charles Schwab Corp’s U.S. Trust private banking unit, and Merrill. In buying Merrill, he added a giant investment bank to what was already the largest U.S. retail bank, credit card issuer and mortgage provider. (Wells Fargo & Co has since become No. 1 in mortgages.)

‘New GM’ Gets a Visit from a Shareholder

obamalordstown1 GM’s Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant has become a symbol of both GM’s hard times and its best hopes for a turnaround after a $50 billion federal investment. A recent bump in sales because of the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program has allowed GM to call back more than 1,000 workers from layoff.   So it was a natural backdrop for a return visit by President Obama, who held a roundtable with workers and then gave a stump speech from the factory floor for his economic policies and health care reform.   But this is not your father’s GM anymore and nothing about it as clear-cut as it seems — even if you are the leader of the free world and head of the government that holds a controlling stake in the automaker.     At one point, Obama — veering from his prepared remarks — suggested that health-care reform would allow the UAW-represented workers in the audience to negotiate better wages.

“Think about it. If you are a member of the union right now, you’re spending all your time negotiating about health care. You need to be spending some time negotiating about wages, but you can’t do it,” he said.

 

In fact, the UAW locked itself into a contract limiting wages and changes to health care, without the ability to negotiate with a threat of strike, until 2015. These stands were agreed to by the union at the prodding of the Obama administration, which demanded that union autoworkers accept lower wages — as a condition to the bailout that saved Lordstown — to match non-union workers at Toyota plants in Kentucky and Honda plants in Ohio.

Mixed messages from Goldman’s first family?

FINANCE/TARPThis probably wasn’t what Lloyd Blankfein had in mind when he reportedly asked Goldman Sachs employees to cut back on conspicuous displays of consumption.

The New York Post, which screamed the news about Blankfein’s order to exercise restraint from its front page on Tuesday, reported on its Page Six gossip column Wednesday that his wife sent a rather different message at a charity event in the Hamptons last Saturday.

According to Page Six, Laura Blankfein and Susan Friedman, wife of Richard Friedman, a Goldman managing director,  “caused a huge scene” as they waited with lesser donors for the doors to open for a charity event for ovarian cancer research.

Barclays’ moves to escape bailout

BRITAIN-BANKS/Investors have welcomed the prospective £3bn (US$4.4 billion) sale of iShares by Barclays, which gives strong hope that the bank can avoid accepting a UK Government bailout and its implicit restrictions.

Since the deal announcement, Barclays’ shares have risen by 26 percent to 198.8p, their highest point since October, when a rescue £7.3bn financing was arranged with royal potentates from Qatar and Abu Dhabi. These Gulf investors agreed to subscribe for an effective 31percent stake through separate issues at 153.3p and 197.8p. Now, both slugs are “in the money”. However, that cash has not come cheaply.

The £4.3 billion of mandatorily convertible notes, which must be converted into shares at 153.3p by the end of June, receive a 9.75 percent coupon. And the £3 billion of reserve capital instruments pay 14 percent annually, or £420 million, for 10 years. They have warrants convertible at 197.8p.

The Value of Experience

BRITAIN/(Corrected – Bank of America did not purchase Countrywide early this decade)

Now that the nation’s top public servant is wielding The Donald-like powers over chief executives of bailed-out companies, expectations are high that more heads will roll, and Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis is looking like the next contestant on a new economic prime-time drama: The Executive.

Rick Wagoner, ousted as General Motors CEO, had spent more than three decades in the company and had been in the driver’s seat for most of the last one. He also presided over the era of the energy-unfriendly Sport Utility Vehicle and is criticized for sticking with trucks far longer than he should have.