Belfast Telegraph

Nama is ready to help out debtors, says chairman

By David Elliott

The National Asset Management Agency (Nama) wants to lend more money to develop Northern Ireland-owned assets under its control.

Chairman Frank Daly told the Belfast Telegraph the agency is eager to hear from Nama debtors who can come up with convincing business plans to add value to their property.

"If there are projects out there we want to hear about them," he said on a visit to Stormont. "If you're a Nama debtor and you have an idea and a way in which your assets could be enhanced, then let us know."

Nama has already lent £100m to Northern Ireland developers to fund projects under its watch and has left the door firmly open to further lending.

"There is more available. I wouldn't put a figure on how much because we don't see a limit on it at the moment.

"There's no point coming into us with a pie in the sky idea but, in the same way banks operated when they were doing things properly, we'll evaluate things and make a decision quickly."

Mr Daly was keen to point out that contrary to popular belief, the agency can make a decision on a potential loan in less than a week.

Ronnie Hanna, Nama's head of Asset Recovery and a member of its Northern Ireland Committee, said the average turnaround time between a loan application being received and a decision made by the agency is under five days.

And its not just Nama debtors who can apply to borrow money from the agency. Under its vendor finance initiative, investors who want to buy Nama property can also apply to borrow money from the agency, provided they can put up 25%-30% equity. Those loans are generally set over a period of around seven years with interest rates of 2.5% over the London Interbank Lending Rate (Libor).

Mr Daly said it was the steady performance of Nama's portfolio which has allowed it to launch the lending initiatives.

"We now have a much better idea about the quality of our portfolio," he said.

"There is much more investment-grade assets in it than we had anticipated and that gives us confidence in our cashflow, it gives us confidence that in terms of working out and repaying the £32bn that we paid for the loans.

"We've had good cash generation, good results and that allows us to make good investments and make money available in a market which is to all intents and purposes starved of finance.

"I would say Nama is not a bad place to be if you're looking for investment capital. In fact you might be better in Nama that out."

Northern Ireland properties make up 4% of Nama's €31.8bn (£25.8bn) portfolio.

Just under half of its Northern Ireland property is in Belfast and around 80% in Antrim and Down - which includes the properties in the city. One quarter is land, 17% retail, 18% offices, 22% investment property, 10% residential, 5% development and 3% hotels.

The agency announced last week it has sold £90m of Northern Ireland assets but Mr Daly reiterate his commitment not to launch a firesale of assets.

"When I first came to Belfast in 2010 I gave a commitment there would not be a fire sale. It's great to say that two-and-a-half years after that that we haven't done it and we have no intention of doing it.

"That's not to say if opportunities arise that we won't run with them but it's in the context of the Northern Ireland situation we've made a commitment to be supportive of the economy up here rather than add to its troubles.

"We have a twofold objective. We want to make sure we don't damage the market, and we certainly won't, but at the same time we want to get a bit of activity going in the and if we see opportunities we'll take them."