The 3 tools in a bankers box.

Banks have three tools (and no, it isn’t the CEO, Chairperson and Secretary!) in their box for getting into good health:

1. Operational efficiency: translation – fire a lot of people, close branches, reduce company benefit schemes etc 2. Reduce deposit pricing: pay the people who deposit with you less 3. Increase margins: on mortgages, SME loans, and every manner of service for which you can get away with it.

Which is why the news that AIB want to increase prices comes as no surprise. The first two parts of the plan are already under way, they are closing nearly 70 branches of which 44 just shut two weeks ago. They are getting rid of 2,500 staff members, that’s the ‘operational efficiency’ leg of the journey.

The deposit pricing is lower now than it was last year and last year was lower than the previous year, currently they’ll pay 2% or less for any account with a meaningful amount (greater than €50,000). While they market attractive rates for the regular saver (above a certain amount you’ll often go to a …

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Banks are lending (while standards tighten)

I often complain that banks are ‘not lending’, they say this isn’t true. The Central Bank then says that lending criteria is tightening (report here). This at first seems to support the first statement, but could it be that they are lending and reining in on underwriting criteria at the same time?

It could be, AIB stated that they wanted to lend €800m this year (that was said at the end of 2011 at an in house conference), they are on track to lend €1,050m which is about 25% higher than previously expected. Bank of Ireland/ICS are saying the same thing, at the same time, the main lenders have jacked up rates and made more conservative estimations of who does or doesn’t get loans.

With the fall out in lending from 06/07′ to now, it means that there are plenty of borrowers of a high quality who are seeking finance, when you raise interest rates the stress-testing gets harder to pass, so that cuts out a lot of borrowers, as …

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The trend in lending and deposits

We have been banging on for quite some time about the trend in mortgage and deposit rates, namely that mortgage rates will continue to rise and that deposit rates will start to drop (already happening) and this will continue downwards – in particular you’ll have to watch for zero rated fund movements.

Zero rated funds are the money that banks keep for you (a liability for them) in the likes of demand and current accounts. You used to get zero interest but in return you got free banking. Now more lenders are demanding that you keep a certain balance in the account or you get charged a fee, such as Bank of Ireland’s recent decision to require a €3,000 balance to qualify for free banking.

This creates a near ‘negative interest rate’ for people who don’t keep that sum in their current account because fees mean the bank will cover all operational cost associated with your account for regular banking activity while making money elsewhere with those funds or …

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Best mortgage rates September 2012

Mortgage rates are constantly under review and even though we might be expecting an ECB rate cut this week to 0.5% (which will be a historic low) it is highly likely that rates will sit still or even rise. The conundrum for consumers is about the rate choice, banks have just upped rates prior to any rate cut and by doing this then not passing on a rate cut they actually increase their margin significantly.

The best mortgage rates at present are below:

<50% LTV: AIB 3.34% >80% LTV: AIB 3.79% 1yr fixed: AIB 4.15% 2yr fixed: BOI 4.49% 5yr fixed: PTsb 3.7%*

*The PTsb 5 year fixed rate is a good example of a pricing discrepancy that is related to the PTsb loan book, this rate is excellent, lower than the standard AIB variable and fixed for 5 years! The reason for this is that by lending on this type of property PTsb will increase their assets (to fix the loan to deposit ratio that is too high) quicker and in return they will give up some margin.

If …

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IBF Latest Lending figures – what does a ratio tell us?

Yesterday good news was spreading about a year on year increase in new mortgages for home-owners, I debated the topic on TodayFM with Pat Farrell from the IBF. Figures are tricky to do on radio so I figured I might write something today, but got a surprise before the chance came when I saw the Irish Times article on the topic.

It isn’t like the Irish Times to get it wrong (personally, I take whatever the write as a virtual equivalent to gospel), but they did, today’s article states that we saw the first rise in mortgage loan numbers (we didn’t), and

The number of new mortgage loans issued during the second quarter rose on a year-on-year basis, the first time this has happened since early 2006.” (this would imply that lending grew or was larger YoY, it wasn’t).

The IBF/PwC Mortgage Market Profile reveals that a total of 3,225 new mortgages to …

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Is getting a debt writedown a gift? Would you have to pay tax on it?

The US model of ‘short sales’ has a hidden sting in it that often gets lost in the noise, namely that the reduction of your debt is often considered a gain and it needs to be reported on your IRS Form 1099 (as opposed to a W2 or 1040) which covers income outside of wages/salaries/gratuities.

Which means that if you sold your property (we’re assuming it is in negative equity) for a €50,000 loss and the bank write that off, that in effect you have a non deductible loss which you didn’t pay and therefore you pay the tax on it (their equivalent of capital gains).

Like the US, Irish investors can offset capital losses against capital gains, in the case of your own home this doesn’t apply. In the American example a write-down creates a tax liability, although not in every state (my home-state of California being an example). This was becoming such a problem that the IRS brought out two special tax codes called ‘The mortgage forgiveness debt relief act …

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No credit? Try some dodgy tax incentives (they work)

The recent Central Bank report on a property market that has ‘overshot’ is front page news on the broadsheets. This phenomena has been well observed in other jurisdictions and the question now is whether we will be more ‘European’ in our property market or if we’ll turn Japanese.

A key issue pointed out consistently is the role of credit. Cheap credit is often cited as one of the drivers of the property bubble, an NBER paper suggests it is only a component of about 20% of prices. The absence of credit is equally being seen as a downward driver of prices.

One of my minor hobbies is the history of Irish banking from an operational perspective, and on rare occasions it offers a nugget of insight.

In the late 1970’s Irish banks were not involved in mortgages, and only a few years before that they were not involved in hire purchase, they didn’t …

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Zombie Banks acting like Zombies

I wrote a piece in today’s Irish Sun about our banks and that the state owned operations are showing a decided lack of inventiveness when it comes to helping existing borrowers.

This may be down to disincentives, issues with management or the Department of Finance, but suffice to say, it doesn’t make sense that non-state owned banks and foreign banks are innovating in potentially beneficial ways for their customers and the banks we paid to save are not.

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Investor defaults and ‘receivers of rent’

Today Bank of Ireland chief Richie Boucher spoke about strategic defaulters, the wording used was different, he spoke about tendencies to engage in “a diversion of rental income that should be coming to the bank”.

Who will the receivers be? I suspect it will be some of the well known estate agents who I know are in talks with other banks on the same basis. The ‘receiver of rent’ clause in many mortgage contracts is often unenforced. The ability to obtain it is not generally contested but it still requires a court order and then the operational difficulty of getting to the property to explain this to the tenant and then taking over the collection of the rent.

Why has the level of arrears spiked in the investment pool of business? Theories abound, my own (which makes me vastly unpopular) is that it is down to making a business decision in favour of oneself. However, getting a rent receiver is not a ‘fix’ and I think Bank of Ireland will …

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