NAMA TOLD NOT TO RUSH SALE OF ITS NORTHERN IRELAND PORTFOLIO - The sale of NAMA's Northern Ireland portfolio of loans and properties shouldn't be rushed but should be spread over time to potentially ensure a better return, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said. London-based investment bank Lazard has been hired to prepare a sale of the agency's Northern Ireland portfolio, which is believed to have a face value of between €3.5 billion and €4 billion. It is known that NAMA has already recouped €170m through asset sales north of the Border, reducing the size of the potential portfolio. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Villiers cautioned against a quick sale, suggesting that a "longer-term approach" could ultimately end up yielding more. "There's often a case for saying that ultimately they might end up getting more back on their bad loans if they spread them over time, or they work with the entrepreneurs concerned. That's really the focus. Getting a sensible, pragmatic (approach), rather than rushing for some sort of fire sale of assets," Ms Villiers said.
LANDLORD SEEKS TO OVERTURN BEWLEY'S RENT RULING - A company backed by property developer Johnny Ronan is bidding to overturn a High Court ruling that ended up saving Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street in Dublin more than €700,000 a year in rent. Last year, Mr Justice Peter Charleton ruled that the cafe's lease allowed it to reduce the €1.46 million rent it was paying its landlord, Ickendel Ltd, in which Mr Ronan is a shareholder. As a result, Bewley's rent was cut to €728,187 a year after the pair went into arbitration last July, writes the Irish Times. The dispute broke out after the rent came up for a five-yearly review in 2012 and the landlord refused to cut the €1.46 million figure set in 2007. Bewley's said it was losing €700,000 a year and added that four years of recession had depressed Grafton Street rents by 52%. Ickendel appealed Mr Justice Charleton's ruling yesterday in the Supreme Court, where its lawyers argued the judge was "in error" when he found the lease allowed Bewley's to seek to have the rent cut in line with the open market when it came up for review. Mr Justice Charleton had said that an ambiguity in the lease meant that the rent could be varied in line with the market, but could not fall below IR£168,000 - the amount first fixed when the parties agreed terms in 1987.
2013 BUDGET PENSION MEASURE FALLS €75m SHORT - The budget measure allowing early drawdown of additional voluntary contribution pensions generated €25m in 2013 compared with a Government expectation of €100m. The move was aimed at releasing extra cash into the economy in an effort to stimulate domestic demand, says the Irish Examiner. Under the proposal, individuals would be allowed a once-off option to withdraw up to 30% of the value of funded additional voluntary contribution made to supplement retirement benefits. The €25m figure emerged following a parliamentary question by Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath. Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, said: “Finance Act 2013 provides members of occupational pension schemes with a three-year window of opportunity from March 27, 2013, during which they can opt to draw down, on a once-off basis, up to 30% of the accumulated value of additional voluntary contribution. This provision includes additional voluntary contributions made to personal retirement savings accounts (PRSAs)".
BOB DIAMOND RE-ENTERS WORLD OF BANKING - In an announcement that may have been mistaken for an April Fool’s Day joke, Bob Diamond on Monday evening announced his first deal since being ousted as chief executive of Barclays in 2012 - to buy BancABC, a Botswana-based lender that operates in Zimbabwe. Atlas Mara, Mr Diamond’s London-listed cash shell, said it had agreed to buy BancABC, which is listed in both Botswana and Zimbabwe, and its controlling shareholder ADC African Development Corporation for $265m in cash and shares. The transaction is the first by Atlas Mara since the vehicle raised $325m last year to target Africa’s booming financial sector as part of Mr Diamond’s return to the London Stock Exchange, writes the Financial Times. Zimbabwe accounts for about 30% of the assets of BancABC, although there was little detail provided on the finances of the bank Mr Diamond’s vehicle is acquiring. BancABC said it had $1.8 billion of assets at the end of last year and made about $156m of revenue and $29m of pre-tax profits. It has 73 branches and 1,500 staff in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.