Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Calling a spade a spade

Let's look at the reality. What I want to focus on here is the issue of re-mortgaging, equity release and the deluge of cash borrowed against houses, which made us feel richer but which was ultimately wasted. This is the reality and this is why we will default, because the money is gone. The internal default is what drives the external default, not the other way around. The ability of the Government to pay its debts is only the amalgamated ability of us to pay our debts. The "Irish sovereign", as it is so grandly termed, is only the agglomeration of us.

The amount of outstanding mortgage debt at the start of January 2004 was €54.6bn. It is now €118bn. So mortgage lending went up by close to 120pc in five years.

It could be argued that there are many more houses in Ireland since the beginning of 2004, so maybe those numbers are not as bad as they seem -- because at least we have houses on the other side of the balance sheet.

But this is not the case, because on the other side of the balance sheet are cars, second houses, fields, fancy kitchens, flat-screen TVs and holidays on the Algarve. This is what we borrowed for and we used our houses as a large ATM machine, and the banks eagerly facilitated.

At the beginning of 2004, 16pc of our housing stock (by value) was mortgaged; by mid-2010 that number stood at 39pc.

It is important to remember the majority of houses in the State are not mortgaged, or have very small mortgages on them. So a huge amount of the mortgage debt and the re-mortgaging is centred on a certain part of the population, which is likely to be young couples -- the backbone of the society and the generation supposed to drag us out of the pit.

Their plight is now evident. Recent Central Bank data shows that of the €118bn in mortgages outstanding, €6.95bn are more than 90 days in arrears, with €4.8bn of those more than six months behind.

For these people in arrears (there are 36,620 of them) there is no way out, as property price falls mean that they cannot sell their property to relieve their debts (negative equity) and they cannot earn more money to pay off their debts (due to the economic collapse). Essentially, when these people most need money, they can't get it.

So the financial markets are looking at the internal situation and concluding that -- unlike the Greeks who had a government borrowing problem that became a banking crisis -- we have a bank borrowing problem which has become a government problem. If the guarantee was lifted today, a huge part of the State's burden would be lifted.

But that would mean defining reality and our leaders couldn't do that.

The Indo

1 comment:

Musgrave said...

It was a big mistake by the Irish government to have nationalised the Anglo Irish bank. It's going to cost them one fifth of Irish GDP to rescue it. They should have left it private and let it go under (the normal procedure when a private sector firm goes bust). Or have I missed something?