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Ireland was Germany’s Off-shore Tart – PART 2 – The US connection

Part two.

Before I get stuck in, I want to make it clear. it is not my intent to paint Depfa as angels and HRE as devils. Depfa did stupid things.  Their funding problems were not so dissimilar to Northern Rock’s. But Depfa had far better assets.  And therein is part of the story.

So what went wrong?  And why did HRE buy Depfa when it was already going wrong?


The fact is HRE bought Depfa and did so after the debt wave had already curled and started to break.  But then again why shouldn’t the Germans be as thick as the Brits at RBS who at almost the same time bought ABN Ambro?

The question that always circles however, is did Depfa knowingly lie to HRE about their problems? Did they somehow withhold ugly problems?  Well according to one of the very senior bankers, who was there and had full and complete access to the deal, and who agreed to talk to me on condition of anonymity, it would have been very hard for Depfa to hide anything.  Inside the bank there was a secure room where ALL the bank’s data, all its books and accounts were available to the two boards of Directors during the months the deal was being negotiated.  This room was run and controlled by a senior German employee. According to my source the HRE people looked VERY carefully at EVERYTHING.

This still leaves the possibility that there was a board within the board at Depfa and this inner circle was somehow concealing things even from the rest of the bank and board.  The stuff of conspiracy stories which I am not much given to.  Could there have been a board within the board? I have evidence there was; first hand testimony from someone who was there.

Interestingly this person does not believe the purpose of an inner group was to hoodwink HRE. If anything it was to keep some of Depfa’s own board slightly out of the loop.

All in all it does not seem as if Depfa lied to HRE or concealed any hidden debts.  So if HRE didn’t buy Depfa because they were sold a pup, why did they? And particularly why did they pay 2 billion over its book value!

Depfa’s collapse was due to being unable to find funding.  In other words the same idiocy as killed Northern Rock.   But it’s the differences from Northern Rock that are important.  Let’s look at the time line.  Northern Rock collapsed in September of 2007. It did so because it could not get the short term funding it relied upon to keep its loans rolling over. The wholesale funding market locked it out. Why? Because the lenders in the market, other banks, were worried that Northern Rock’s assets were so dodgy that their ability to repay became highly doubtful.

Note that at the time the HRE/Depfa deal was being signed Depfa was NOT locked out of the markets; it was a whole year later that Depfa found itself unable to get funding.  This document by the huge law firm Herbert Smith (see p. 8), written just after the bail out in 08,  makes it clear Depfa was having problems. They had about 35 billion euros of debt that needed funding in the markets and those markets were seizing up. Both Depfa and HRE knew about this funding need before the merger. But crucially Depfa was NOT locked out. It did not collapse in 2007 but was a going concern for another year.  Why was that? What made them different from Norther Rock and others who did collapse in 2007?

The reason is simple, its funding worries were off-set by the fact that Depfa had some of the best, most solid gold assets of any bank.  As noted in part one as many as 80% of their assets were rated higher than the bank itself or the banks lending to it.  THAT is why HRE were so interested in Depfa and were even willing to buy it for 2 billion over book value.

HRE knew exactly how Depfa funded itself. There is NO WAY those details could have been hidden.  We know that both banks were aware of funding problems. Let’s just note in passing that advising Depfa on the merger/sale was Goldman Sachs.  So Goldman too would have known all there was to know about Depfa’s funding problems.  Hang on to this.

It is worth pausing for a moment to understand how Depfa funded itself. It becomes important later.  Depfa’s business was making large loans to cities and states for public works. 100% pure gold assets.  Government backed all the way. It funded them by selling Pfandbrief and later ACS (the Irish version of the Pfandbrief called an Asset Covered Security) which the Landesbanks and others bit their hand off to get hold of.  The Pfandbrief typically is a bond for 5-7 years.  But Depfa, like Northern Rock and ALL the big banks, swapped this long dated debt funding for shorter debt/funding.  The idea seems foolish now, and I think it is foolish, but the risk managers I have spoken to still adhere to the holy writ of relying on short term market funding.  I’ll explore this piece of banking some other time.  But what is important is that Depfa’s reliance on short term wholesale funding was nothing unusual. It was the norm rather than the exception.

Back to the story.

Unlike Depfa, HRE had a legacy of poor quality assets, which I wrote about in Dominoes falling from the East. HRE had also been aggressively expanding its business in Real Estate and we know from the subsequent bails of HRE’s own collapsed debts that, as this article written in 2009 makes clear,

In reality, HRE was a ticking time bomb and this is the reason it had run into liquidity problems (By the way, this is much the way I see Northern Rock – which was also nationalized by the UK government). The company has massive commercial property (CRE) exposure and the CRE market is imploding in financial centers like Frankfurt, London and Dublin and elsewhere. HRE is highly leveraged to these places.

So it’s not just me who is saying that Depfa may have triggered events but the main blast was from within HRE.  HRE was a ticking bomb and HRE’s board thought buying Depfa was the way to diffuse it.  HRE also relied on wholesale funding, but unlike Depfa, didn’t have great assets.  It was therefore more like Northern Rock than Depfa.  HRE’s poor assets would have also, and this is my speculation, have meant HRE would have started to have problems on the Repo market. Remember repo is the oxygen of overnight funding. It is also what destroyed Lehmans.  Lehman’s assets became distrusted and eventually other banks would not accept them as collateral for repo funding.

I think this is what HRE were worried about and why they were so desperate to buy Depfa.  Depfa had what HRE didn’t – assets for the all important repo market.  That is what they were trying to buy.  Remember, funding problems are a threat to survival like starvation. But being unable to repo is not being able to get just one more breath.

My source tells me that HRE thought that by buying Depfa’s absolutely top quality assets, HRE would be upgraded by the ratings agencies and be able to breath again on the repo market.  But instead, as my source said, “The minute HRE bought Depfa, the rating agencies downgraded Depfa.”

The merger ended with the worst of both worlds. Where each bank had exposure to one kind of risk HRE to credit risk, Depfa to funding  (though I think HRE actually had both)  by coming together they united the nitro with the glycerin.  Sheer banking genius.  Depfa brought funding worries to the marriage, HRE brought credit rating downgrades.  I love you too darling.

So why did the whole thing wait a year until Oct ’08 to collapse? And what finally brought it all down?

So now we come to the nub of it.  We have created the bomb with equal parts funding crisis and credit risk but even so nothing exploded for a year. During that year other banks went down. So what was it that jolted the container and set it off?

Well we know that Depfa’s funding was the trigger. So what happened to it?  Turns out, while other banks like Northern Rock collapsed Depfa didn’t, because it had a sugar daddy funder.  A big funder who was always happy to take Depfa’s Pfandbrief long term debt and fund it with shorter term money. Depfa’s sugar daddy was AIG’s Paris subsidiary, Banque AIG.

That should give you a bad feeling.  AIG’s problems started as far back as ’06.  Certainly by the 1st quarter of ’07 AIG had had to write down a 20 billion dollar loss.  But the Dow was still going up. So there was still plenty of money around.  By the time HRE and Depfa had kissed and exchanged vows, AIG had been downgraded and faced the first of what would turn out to be many Collateral calls.  This first one was for $14 billion.  Oops.

It was at this point that Northern Rock found there was no more funding. But HRE/Depfa survived.

Banque AIG in Paris was still in business, still funding Depfa’s needs.  Banque AIG was not a small affair. It was systemically important for many banking clients in Europe for swapping one short of funding for another, for hedging and for derivatives.  But it was also getting itself into a bit of a funding pickle.  In part this was just its share of the over all implosion AIG was undergoing world wide. In part, I think, it was Paris’s own problem.

Banque AIG in Paris was an essential part of AIG’s funding mechanism.  It was part of what was called AIG Financial Products (AIG-FP) whose notorious central office was AIG in London.  This is where all the ‘losses were made’ and where the obligatory ‘rogue’ trader-type villain, Mr Joseph “Iron Hand” Cassano was in charge. What is a little less well known is that most of,  if not all of London’s deals were routed through Banque AIG in Paris, where the deals were all supposed to be ‘reviewed’.  And we know that as far as Depfa was concerned their funding was from Banque AIG.

So why tell you this?  Well, on 31st of August 2007 a new branch of AIG-FP was set up in Ireland, AIG-FP Matched Funding (Ireland) Plc.  Why? And why then and not before?  I can’t know of course.  But this is how it smells to me.

Why did any of the banks in our story end up going to Ireland?  For access to money that liked the lax and laid back, ‘we have neither teeth nor balls’ regulatory atmosphere.  AIG had been getting funds just fine for years.  Suddenly, when AIG is in all sorts of trouble and its own funding is starting to get dicey it suddenly opens a brand new branch – in Ireland.

In under a month, on 25th September 2007 to be precise, AIG-FP Ireland issued a funding prospectus for $20 billion.  AIG was already beginning to feel the heat by now and wholesale funding had already locked out Northern Rock precipitating a bank run 11 days earlier.

To me, the fact that AIG-FP opened a branch in Ireland is a hint that its normal funding was, at the very least, in need of reinforcing, if not replacing with ‘other’ sources which could be best found in Dublin.  So now Depfa’s sugar daddy funder was alongside it in Ireland looking for the SAME money as everyone else, such as HRE, for example.  This situation does not fill me with confidence.

But would Depfa or HRE have known of this development at the time it was doing the deal with HRE? I doubt it.  AIG would not share any plans with customers. Even ones to whom it was a sugar daddy.  So did anyone know?  Well it’s just a little footnote but it turns out that none other than Goldman Sachs was arranging and advising AIG-FP Ireland on its funding adventure.

No way would Goldman have told one client (Depfa) what another (AIG) was doing. So Depfa did not know from Goldman about any troubles at Banque AIG.  But Goldman knew. Goldman was advising Depfa on merging/selling itself to HRE for 2 billion over its book value while it also knew that Depfa’s main funder was probably in more trouble than the rest of the market suspected.

I would love to know, but never will, if Goldman had any short position on the new HRE/Depfa bank it had helped broker?

In short what I hope to have shown is that Depfa did not ‘bring down’ HRE. HRE was going to collapse anyway. And buying Depfa was an ruinously ill-thought out attempt to solve HRE’s credit crisis.  The plan back-fired and made every one’s position worse than it had been.

The entity which actually brought down HRE was AIG.  It was their implosion along with the general shock of Lehmans which cut off Depfa from funding which had kept it alive for a year after other banks collapsed.  So it was the Americans who brought down HRE not the Irish if you really want a scape goat.

And the only people who perhaps knew the whole HRE/Depfa deal was destined to end in disaster and bankruptcy, were Goldman.  Goldman knew both how Depfa was funded an WHO was their lynch pin funder, while also knowing the true state of that funder (AIG-FP).

SO to circle back to where I started. It is NOT as simple case of a dodgy Irish bank bringing down a solid German one. If anything the opposite is just as true.  And therefore it is NOT the case that Ireland has some moral debt it owes to ANYONE to bail them out.

The threats are already coming thick and fast. The Irish people MUST defend themselves, their children and their country. Their leaders haven’t and won’t.

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24 Responses to Ireland was Germany’s Off-shore Tart – PART 2 – The US connection

  1. reneecharles January 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Having now read both parts of this epic I feel exhausted . Are you really saying that GS have acted criminally and if so who can or will regulate them ? This puts the Irish political situation into perspective . How can this be distributed in main stream media asit needs to be ( perhaps in simplified terms )

  2. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Hello reneecharles,

    Did they act illegally? No not by the letter of the law.

    Shadily yes. Criminally no. Goldman are far too clever for that.

    The worst you can say on the basis of this story is taht they reveal themselves, once again, as the untrustworthy people they undoubtedly are.

  3. Whistleblower IRL January 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    A Wall Street Journal article from March 2009 gives an indication of the volume of derivative contracts at Banque AIG in Paris:

    "…Representatives of the Federal Reserve, AIG's lead U.S. overseer, are talking with French regulators and AIG officials to deal with the consequences of a complicated legal scenario in which the departures of the managers in Banque AIG, a subsidiary of AIG's Financial Products unit, could trigger defaults in $234 billion of derivative transactions, according to people familiar with the situation and a document AIG provided to the U.S. Treasury."

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123802506167942421.html

  4. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Can't help wondering WHY two of the top people in that office, who were involved with quarter of a trillion's worth of derivative contracts, should suddenly, for no stated reason, leave in March 2009 and refuse to give any comment.

    Any thoughts?

  5. Con January 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Hi David,

    This is interesting. AIG would certainly set off alarm bells with me. In fact the hair on the back of my neck stands up with all this.

    Interestingly it seems to suit Frau Merkel to allow the German electorate's understanding of the 'feckless Irish' to stay around that mark and I am convinced because of her reversal of policy on Depfa/HRE that she is aware that German banks have been liquidity ratio surfing like deranged Hawaiians.

    Merkel faces an election within a year I understand and the German public have no liking for dodgy banks given their cultural history.

    The German government at a senior level must surely know even through unofficial channels that their major banks have been running a derivative channel via Austria and through the IFSC in Dublin.

    I'm amazed she seems to have been able to keep a lid on it so far at least as far as her own people are concerned.

    I am convinced at this stage that the only conspiracy involved is a conspiracy of silence concerning the usual banking dynamics … the only problem being that if Merkel and the G20 group do not start raiding these banks and pinning the gamblers to the wall the banks will end up regulating government rather than the other way around- this is effectively what has already happened in Ireland.

    Goldman Sachs do look more and more each day a very good contender for a Standard Oil breakup, no matter how much of 'god's work' Blankfein likes to claim he does.

    Example. GS were trialling a new style of blind betting derivative referred to in GS as a 'dark market' in Europe two years ago. When they knew the regulatory systems were about to undergo something of an examination they switched testing of that 'dark market' idea which is the equivalent of a poker bluff as I understand it, they switched the whole thing to Hong Kong.

    GS will not stop until they are broken up for good. Quite possibly the most dangerous company in the world and distinctly 'end-of-days' in their approach.

    Sociopathic finance to say the least.

    The only reason GS would be interes

  6. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    Hello Con,

    I agree with you that it's that channel from Austria to Ireland and back which is the sewer line.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  7. Con January 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Sorry about that last trailed off sentence all.. not an interruption but a sentence I hadn't noticed I'd pushed below the dialogue box.

    I've seen comments in the New York Times/Herald Tribune today that some banks may have been operating on a 40 dollars liability to 3 dollar capital ratio …

    This is a report on the US Financial Crisis Inquiry which is not getting the coverage it should- Whistleblower and David may well be interested in this. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/business/economy/26inquiry.html?src=me&ref=homepage

  8. cynicalHighlander January 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Gerry Adams Says British Banks In Ireland Should Be Closed Down

  9. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Thanks Con,

    I will take a look in the morning.

    cynicalHighlander,

    I'll see what Mr Adams is saying in teh morning as well.

    Night all. Long day. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. Jim M. January 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    @ Golem:

    Some years ago now I had the interesting experience of working for several GS partners as a chauffeur. It's a curiously intimate relationship; like hookers, we get to listen, chat and observe them in their most unguarded moments! It won't surprise you to know that compassion and a social conscience are not their most salient characteristics. As for a sense of guilt? No chance!

    But fools they are not! After several years of this contact, I think they are best expressed thus:

    A sharp intelligence feverishly engaged in the single-minded pursuit of the bonus by which they calculate both self-esteem and their standing amongst their peers.

    Personally, I loathed them then, and I detest them now, but never, never under-estimate them. They are very capable game-players, and they seem to be holding most of the cards!

    The blog seems to go from strength to strength, and thankfully the quality, not only of your posts, but also of the comments thereof have, imho, remained consistently high. Quite remarkable when one considers the undoubted passions aroused by current events. My thanks to all, but particularly to yourself.

    Hope to catch you in London.

  11. RichGB January 27, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    Those with a sadistic streak may enjoy further Goldman Sachs bashing at GS bashfest.

    The incessant 'GS is bad' tirade can be rather tiresome after a while; indeed, all large corporations come under the public spotlight at some time, e.g. British Petroleum, Apple, Toyota, etc. Those corporations that receive the withering gaze, with few exceptions, make public announcements of their remorse and promise reparations and corrective actions. Conspicuously, Goldman Sachs has made no apologies for business practices that adversely affect so many people; however, they are doing God's work, which places them in good company with other people who have done the Creator's bidding: Tony Blair, George Bush (junior), Christian Crusaders and Spanish Conquistadors.

    We should wear hairshirts and label ourselves 'blasphemous' for not accepting a literal interpretation of the Wall Street Gospels, especially those without a PhD. Shame on you! However, salvation is available if you join the GS mission HERE.

    Still not feeling the faith? Perhaps Brian Griffiths' (a former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs) lesson on self love at St Paul's Cathedral on October 20th 2009 will inspire you: “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is a recognition of self-interest. We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieving greater prosperity and opportunity for all.”

  12. Con January 27, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    In the eighties the word was greed and greed was good. Now in the new millennium it appears that sociopathy gets you invited around for tea.

  13. wirplit January 27, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Very good and exhaustive work here golem. Elements of this may finally have started to hit the mainstream. Just heard George Soros on the Today programme suggest that the bailout on the Irish was "unfair" and that it is likely to be repudiated leading to the bondholders taking the hit and that this would hit the French and German banks. So it seems that the smart money is on the idea that the Irish elections might well encourage a move to default or such a threat of default that new arrangements are forced as in Iceland and that the European banks are going to get some kind of haircut.

  14. Ken January 27, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    The politicians have started knocking on doors. Taking on the banks debt is seen as a done deal and only the rate is seen as being possibly negotiable. Sinn Fein are the only party with any balls when it comes to this and they will pick up a lot of votes on that ticket. What is stunning is how stupid the politicians think the Irish electorate are. They may yet get a rude awakening.

  15. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 27, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    Ken,

    I hope so! Nice to hear from you.

    JIM M,

    "A sharp intelligence feverishly engaged in the single-minded pursuit of the bonus by which they calculate both self-esteem and their standing amongst their peers. "

    THAT is the best description of the banker mentality I have ever read.

  16. dave from france January 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Lloyd C Blankfein, 2 mins. frog2

  17. Golem XIV - Thoughts January 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Is it me or does Lloyd Blankfein look like a well fed version of Gollum from Lord of the Rings?

    "We wants its profitses, Prescious! Yes we does!"

  18. Uncle January 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    This is a little off-topic and apologies if you have already seen it, but it deserves to be widely read and will probably be appreciated by the audience of this blog.

    Philip Pullman, Save Oxfordshire Libraries Speech

    A couple of quotes I really liked (Philip Pullman's words not mine):

    “What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses.”

    "To find the true origin (of the bidding culture) you’d have to go on a long journey back in time, and you might do worse than to make your first stop in Chicago, the home of the famous Chicago School of Economics, which argued for the unfettered freedom of the market and as little government as possible."

  19. Uncle January 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    An observation. I'm in Germany at the moment and my friends tell me that the snow that they had before Christmas was worse than the snow that we had in the UK. Now, the GDP figures for Germany were great for the last quarter of 2010 compared to the UK. What does this mean exactly?

    I'm really struck by how upbeat people are about the economy here in Germany at the moment.

  20. Margaret January 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I am really dumbstruck by Golem's blogs, especially about the Irish situation, and the comments. I live in Greece, which is suffering very badly right now. I just heard Papandreou in Davos say "We have done everything by the book" and that is true. So, real hardship here already as in Ireland.
    I also do a small amount of EU business in Ireland, with the Bank of Ireland. Need I say more? I really do not know to do. I am not going to remove my pitifully small savings from Greek banks. Nor am I going to remove my money from the Bank of Ireland. I prefer to spend as much as I can on items which I think that I need, using only Greek or Irish companies or individuals so that the money remains within the countries. But ion a different level, I really do not know what I as an individual can do. Can anyone suggest a course of action?

  21. Bastiat1 January 27, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Margaret – Direct action can take many forms and the things you are talking about doing in your daily life are really important. I think the more people who read this blog and David's book the better. But how can we as readers get this out into a wider forum? Some people here are talking about contacting journalists to get Golem on TV; personally I'm looking at getting Parliamentarians in Brussels interested. You might have another angle.

    Come back on the comments if you have any ideas – direct action is the way forward for sure!

  22. JamieGriffiths January 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    These two posts on Ireland have been outstanding. Excellent work.

    When AIG and Goldman are discussed now it feels like references to the Olympian Gods. The actions of the little people are subject to the whim and fancy of these amoral beings whom we never see. Sometimes we hear their demands filtered through the mouths of the oracles but mostly they live their lives as distantly from us as the stars in the night sky.

  23. Unclear January 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I'm really struck by how upbeat people are about the economy here in Germany at the moment.

    Getting lower and lower here.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What bankers don’t know « Random Ramblings of Rude Reality - May 18, 2013

    […] What this means in practice is that all the buyers, RBS, Hypo. BoA and Commerzbank had full and unfettered access to all the information they needed to understand fully what they were going to buy. For example when Hypo bought Depfa I know from a someone who was at board level at the time, that a special room was created which contained all the information DEPFA had. The books were open for scrutiny. Hypo executives had full and unfettered access. There were experts on hand to answer any question. I wrote about it in the second part of ‘Ireland was Germany’s Off-shore Tart.’ […]

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