Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank selling £2bn in distressed loans to vulture funds in bid to offload debt

It could be catastrophic for some, warns finance expert

By John Mulgrew

Ulster Bank is selling off dozens of distressed Northern Ireland business loans to vulture funds amid a £2bn clear-out of debt right across the business.

It's selling €2.5bn (£2bn) in loans, including 900 mortgages, across Ireland.

Around 12% of that debt is based in Northern Ireland. However, there are no residential mortgages as part of this tranche on this side of the border.

It's understood around 1% of the loans involve farmers and other agri-business.

Ireland-wide, 65% are distressed business loans, while the remainder are buy-to-let and owner-occupier mortgages. The sale is part of the bank's bid to clear out all remaining toxic property loans on its books on both sides of the border.

The bank has now appointed PwC to seek buyers for the loan package.

It's believed they will be sold off as either one single lot, or could be broken into further separate tranches.

But debtors won't be told until the deal closes whether their loans are included in the sale.

And it's the first time that customers' home loans have been sold by Ulster Bank in the Republic since the crash.

However, it has previously offloaded billions pounds of distressed commercial property loans.

But Conor Devine of GDP Partnership said the sale could be "catastrophic" for business customers affected.

"It's great for the bank, but not for the customers. It solves the bank's legacy balance sheet," said Mr Devine.

"But from a business perspective, it could be catastrophic. The loans will be sold to a hedge fund, which is not a bank, and is only interested in making money on the investment.

"For the most part, anyone we have come across, it's become a disaster. It's only fair. These hedge funds are not banks.

"(Hedge funds) do not provide facilities or overdrafts. They are interested in how they are going to pay back the loan. It's pretty disastrous."

David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders' Organisation said the Ulster Bank sale of the loan book would be the first of many, as other banks would now do the same.

He said mortgage holders who are part of the Ulster Bank loan book sale in the Republic, were likely to be people unable to make any repayments on their home loans.

"It is completely unacceptable that vulnerable people who may not be able to make any payments are being nuked and sold to vulture funds," he said.

It is understood that around 95% of the 900 home loans being sold are two years or more in arrears on repayments, and all are already subject to court action by the bank to repossess their home.

In a statement, a spokesman for Ulster Bank said: "Ulster Bank has confirmed a significant impaired loan portfolio sale, focused in the Republic of Ireland, enabling the bank to strengthen its balance sheet for the benefit of its customers.

"The loans involved do not belong to typical customers, they are all in Ulster Bank's problem debt management unit and in arrears or under specialist management for a significant period of time."

Belfast Telegraph