The Bank of Portugal, having relaunched the sale of Novo Banco after plugging a hole in the bank’s finances by transferring €2 billion in bonds into the black hole of BES, has left open legal avenues for the ripped-off bondholders to be compensed from the Resolution Fund.
Last year, the Bank of Portugal failed to find a buyer at the right price for Novo Banco as not one company was inclined to pay the €4.9 billion needed to get the central bank’s governor Carlos Costa off the hook.
To tidy things up at Novo Banco, on December 29th, 2015, Costa took the highly controversial decision to transfer €2 billion in bonds back to Banco Espirito Santo rendering them close to worthless.
These bondholders, a mixture of individuals and huge international investment companies such as Pimco and Blackrock, have been up in arms ever since and have started looking at legal action to recover their money.
Portugal’s Finance Minister Mario Centeno commented that the government was "concerned" with the Bank of Portugal’s solution for Novo Banco's balance sheet but the repayment of bondholders from the Resolution Fund is equally controversial and shows the governor as out of control while cries for his head increase in volume.
The Resolution Fund may have to compensate the bondholders if their claim is upheld that they have been forced to suffer a higher loss than if the bonds had stayed at BES in the first place.
The bondholders may be due for compensation from the Resolution Fund, paid for by Portugal’s high street banks, as Article 145.ºH of the Legal Framework for Credit and Financial Institutions swings into play and if the bondholders can prove they are worse off as a result of Costa’s debt shuffling.
The audit company Deloitte was commissioned by the Bank of Portugal to assess the value of assets at the bust BES and it is likely to conclude that the Novo Banco bondholders would have suffered a lower loss if BES had entered into liquidation at the time of its resolution.
Bondholders also will be due compensation if the courts hold that the responsibility for the repayment of bonds is Novo Banco’s and not that of BES. In this case, the Resolution Fund also kicks in and pays out for any losses suffered.
If the Resolution Fund again has to be topped up by Portugal’s high street banks, this will affect their liquidity and strain their patience as they already paid out to capitalise Novo Banco when it was created from the BES train crash. Having to find up to a further €2 billion will not create harmony.
However this is resolved, the evaporation of Novo Banco’s €2 billion in liabilities seems destined to remain off its balance sheet and the race again is on to find a buyer for the bank which previously was criticised by PWC for having “unquantifiable liabilities.”
The former Secretary of State for Transport and Communications, Sérgio Monteiro, has been hired at €25,000 a month by the Resolution Fund and the Bank of Portugal to front the sale process for Novo Banco.
It is unlikely that the minimum of €4.9 million will be bid for the bank, but any offer that yields enough to help replenish the Resolution Fund will be seen by Portugal’s remaining high street banks as a positive step.