It appears that the government is flirting with nationalisation because it is having trouble persuading the shareholders of Northern Rock to see things its way. It is a very cumbersome and potentially very expensive device to try to get shareholders to do as the government wishes, when the government has a much easier way of doing it.
The government still does seem to have grasped how powerful its position is as Northern Rocks bank manager. It stepped into this role, and is now committed massively to it. As of today it is clearly the only bank manager Northern Rock has that is prepared to extend the huge sums needed for the bank to be able to carry on trading.
As bank manager the government needs to assert itself in the following ways:
1. Set out how much asset cover it wants for any additional lending ?? and make sure it has taken enough asset cover for the loans so far.
2. Set out how much money it expects Northern Rock to repay on specified repayment days.
3. Establish targets for cash generation and profit in the underlying business with management, and make them report variances with explanations of action to be taken to get back on target.
4. Establish the usual banking covenants that Northern Rock has to hit to keep its facility
I read that the shareholders are not happy about selling assets. There should be no argument about this. The government/Bank of England should tell them what repayments they expect. Northern Rock then has four ways of making those repayments:
1. Sale of whole business to an owner that can meet the repayments
2. Refinancing of Northern Rock in the private market to repay the state borrowings
3. Cash generation from the business
4. Sale of assets
The government should just insist on the repayments. It is up to the shareholders and management of Northern Rock to do the hard work and decide how they can meet the need for such repayments. If selling assets is the only option ?? as it appears to be at the moment ?? then they must do that. The government does not need to dictate how Northern Rock refinances itself ?? just has to insist on the taxpayers getting their money back in sensible tranches over a realistic time scale.
As I stated on this blog before, the taxpayer should also be rewarded for making these huge loans that no commercial business would make in the event of Northern Rock recovering well. That can be done by the government taking options to buy shares at the current price at any time over, say, the next five years. This should also be a condition of continuing the lending to the company. Should it then do well the government can buy the taxpayer shares at a favourable price and sell them on to make a profit as a reward for carrying so much risk for so long. I read that this idea is now being taken seriously by the advisers.