Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Borrowers must act fast to avoid circling vulture funds

Nick Leeson

In December 2010, the chief executive of Blackstone, Stephen A Schwarzman, told an audience that they were 'waiting to see how beaten up people's psyches get and where they're willing to sell assets' and that 'you want to wait until there's really blood in the streets'.

He was talking about Ireland. Blackstone has already amassed a €2bn (£1.6bn) portfolio of Irish assets and two weeks ago appointed receivers on the single largest borrower in that portfolio, Michael Flynn, so quite clearly that time has come.

Many saw the American funds as white knights riding in to save the day. Unfortunately, this was extremely naive. An artery has been severed and the blood is pumping. They're not called vulture funds without reason.

A vulture spends time circling their prey, waiting until they're near death and then swoops on an easy target, tearing every part of flesh, muscle and sinew until nothing remains in their wake.

Vulture funds are no different. They are a necessary evil and an important part in a economy's recovery from recession, austerity and over lending. But they're aggressive, efficient and profit-orientated.

Most of these funds when looking to arrive at the price to bid on the loan book will do one of two things. They will either value the 20 best assets in the loan book or 50 of the worst performing. If you are in the former, you're in trouble. You are already earmarked as the easiest way for the fund to recoup their initial outlay.

This is just common sense. In the absence of you not being able to buy out your loan, the likelihood is that they will engineer default, break up your businesses and sell to the highest bidder, normally your closest competitor. Is it nice? No. Is it ethical? Borderline. Is it good business? Definitely.

So what can the borrower do? Quite simply, you have to gain back control as quickly as possible. The only way to do this is to re-acquire your loans from these funds as quickly as you can. There are investors and funds who specialise in this type of process.

If your loans have been acquired by one of these 'white knights', you need to act soon.

Borrowers need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Nick Leeson is a consultant at property advisory partnership GDP

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