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Dublino come Zagarolo: i furbetti della Anglo-Irish Bank

Sun 22 Feb 2009, 06:57 AM

L'Irlanda, già celtic tiger, paese del miracolo economico, è sull'orlo del doppio default delle sue maggiori banche e dello Stato. Come è potuto succedere? Il Paese è stato letteralmente inondato di raccolta bancaria dall'estero (€1.000md quasi quanto la Spagna che ha una popolazione 10 volte più grande), che ha finanziato il boom immobiliare. Ma a differenza degli USA, i cattivi debitori non sono le famiglie (a Dublino chi non ce la fa con la rata non manda le chiavi di casa alla banca e se ne va, ma tira la cinghia), bensì i costruttori, che hanno catturato banche all'ingrosso come quella di cui parla questo articolo del Wall Street Journal Europe
Anglo Irish Bank Corp. was once the pride of Ireland, the “ builders’ bank” funding much of the construction craze that symbolized the country’s economic emergence. Now, it is a national disgrace that has pushed the government’s approval rating to lows, scarred the reputation of Ireland’s banking system and prompted investigations by two Irish agencies and lawmakers. Seized by the Irish government last month, the Dublin bank has disgorged scandal after scandal, including €87 million ($109.2 million) of undisclosed loans to its chairman, Sean FitzPatrick, that prompted his resignation in December.
Anglo Irish has become Ireland’s favorite soap opera. Friday, the bank will release its annual report and the government will disclose pieces of a confidential PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the state of the bank’s affairs before its nationalization.
The reports are expected to contain details of loans to Mr. FitzPatrick and other directors, as well as transactions between Anglo Irish and another bank that artificially inflated Anglo Irish’s deposits, according to people familiar with the matter. Those transactions last week caused the ouster of the chief executive and two other officials of the second bank, Irish Life & Permanent PLC. But most watched will be what have become known in Ireland as the “golden circle” loans—€300 million Anglo Irish lent to 10 individuals to buy Anglo Irish shares.
The Irish financial regulator said the loans were “nonrecourse.” That means the bank can only lay claim to the collateral backing the loan, not the borrower’s other assets. An Anglo Irish spokeswoman said no bank executives would comment. [...]
Up until last year, Ireland was one of Europe’s biggest success stories. Economic reforms in the 1990s lowered corporate tax rates, and the government wooed big foreign firms with subsidies and touted the low-cost, well-educated, Englishspeaking work force. They came and invested in the manufacturing base. Salaries jumped, and the Irish put their new money in houses, driving a decade-long real-estate bubble. To fund all this, foreign banks pumped money into Ireland; as of Sept. 30, foreign banks had more than $1 trillion of outstanding lending to Ireland, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements. That compares with $1.2 trillion in foreign-bank lending to Spain, which has 10 times Ireland’s population.
Anglo Irish relied heavily on this wholesale borrowing, which ground to a halt when the credit markets seized last fall. That was one of the reasons it got in trouble. The other was that it played vigorously in real estate. With Ireland’s boom came demand for houses and offices. Dense plots of houses bloomed in Dublin’s commuter belt. The city authorized the development of hundreds of thousands of square meters of office space in the once-disused docklands area at the mouth of the River Liffey.
Anglo Irish, with little retail presence, concentrated its real-estate lending on the developers throwing up projects. That left it particularly exposed: Irish personal mortgages are typically recourse loans; unlike in the U.S., Irish homeowners with a mortgage that exceeds the depleted value of the home can’t mail the keys to the bank and walk away. That has kept foreclosure rates relatively low. By contrast, bad loans to developers have mounted.
In its 2008 fiscal year, Anglo Irish took a €724 million charge for loans and advances to customers, compared with €82 million in the prior year. In recent years, Anglo Irish has reported that more than 90% of its loans were secured by real estate. In its filings, the bank said its loans were generally secured by multiple assets, but that was of little help when the value of practically everything was falling at once.


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