Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Nama must be open over assets

In a depressed property market, it is clear that Nama, with its huge portfolio of assets, is an important player.

In Northern Ireland, the sites and properties it holds were once worth £3bn - that was the value of the loans taken out on them. Obviously, how it manages or disposes of those assets will affect the overall market. If it just sells at knockdown prices then recovery will be impeded as Nama's prices will be taken at the benchmark for other deals.

What we know so far is that Nama- which is based in Dublin - has disposed of assets worth £34m (€43m). However, information about its activities in Northern Ireland are relatively scant. It is vital that we know more. In two counties alone, Antrim and Down, Nama has a total of 100 sites and properties. Such a portfolio has the potential to distort the market in those areas. While Nama, of course, wants to pass on its assets and get some of the bad loans back, this should be done in a structured way, taking account of the environment surrounding the assets.

Confidence in the property market is brittle. The very existence of Nama shows how even experts got their fingers severely burned when the boom ended on both sides of the border. Anything which would undermine the current jittery market should be avoided. There are some indications that first-time buyers are being enticed by low house prices, but they could easily withdraw if they thought that prices had not yet bottomed out.

Given the size of Nama's portfolio and its potential affect on the market, there is merit in the call for the bank to be more transparent in its reporting of holdings and deals on this size of the border. It might also usefully consider the plea to make some of its properties available for social housing. There is a dire need for such accommodation and disposing of properties to housing associations would fulfil a socially responsible role as well as avoiding distortion of the residential property market.

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