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Stress Tests and the Irish Banking Mess

Apr. 02, 2011 6:40 AM ET
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Forex Gump's Blog
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Too big to fail, you say? Judging from the results of the recent stress tests, Irish banks seem to crossing over to the dark side and becoming too big to SAVE.

It turns out that Ireland needs 24 billion EUR to save its distressed banking sector, on top of the 46 billion EUR already doled out by their government. That brings their total tab to 70 billion EUR or a hundred billion U.S. dollars. To put it in perspective, that's roughly equivalent to the 2010 nominal GDP of Vietnam, or eight times the GDP of Jamaica. Yah man!

The good news is that the additional funds required can be taken from the 35 billion EUR rescue package from the generous pockets of the 

European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). The bad news is that the EU and IMF projected that Ireland would need 10 billion EUR only, which means they're probably grumbling about forking over twice as much the estimated amount.

What's even worse is that the additional funds required to fix Ireland's banking sector could amount to twice as much as their total tax revenue last year. Although some of the new costs would be covered by the bailout package, Ireland's 4.5 million residents would have to foot the rest of the bill by paying more taxes. I'm pretty sure that'd make the Irishmen grumble louder than Cyclopip's tummy!

But, as luck of the Irish would have it, there are other ways through which Ireland could get out of this banking mess.

Pot of gold and leprechaun

Ireland's new government is currently working on a series of proposals that would ease the burden on its taxpayers. The details are still fuzzy, but talk in the pub is that Irish government officials and the ECB are planning to create a new lending facility for banks under restructuring called the "Facility for Banks Under Restructuring." Not only are they lacking in funds, but they're short on creativity too! Hah!

I'd call it the "Even More Debt Disguised as a Super Awesome Lending Facility" but that's beside the point. Ireland seems to be running out of innovative solutions for its banking crisis that it might be left with no choice but to take on more loans. With that, Irish debt could swell to more than 120% of its GDP in 2013.

Another proposal is that Ireland could borrow some funds from the 

European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to help with the recapitalization of banks. I know what you're thinking... That's still gonna be another loan! And with the larger euro zone nations being a tad too tight-fisted with the funds, this proposal isn't likely to push through.

A more radical solution, suggested by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, involves the creation of two universal banks in order to reduce the number of domestic lenders. By ensuring that these two superpower banks are supported by the state, they could restore public and market confidence in Ireland's financial sector.

Sure this proposal sounds promising, but is it possible? And, more importantly, would it solve the current recapitalization problem at hand?

Ireland better weigh its options carefully before reaching a decision because it can't afford to dig an even deeper hole. Their past four attempts to clean up the banking mess haven't been successful, but maybe the fifth time's the charm. Better bust out those four-leaf clovers, folks!

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