Cerberus Capital Management: Purchase of Distressed Assets

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:29 pm on 22nd February 2017.

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Photo of Simon Kirby Simon Kirby The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:29 pm, 22nd February 2017

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point. I will answer it shortly, if he bears with me.

Not only were customers’ mortgage terms and conditions unchanged by the sale, but they continued to be served by the same mortgage company with the same skilled and dedicated staff. In the contract with Cerberus, UKAR went further to ensure that specific additional protections were in place, including a one-year lock-in period that limited any increase in interest rates to changes in the base rate. All the mortgages are still protected by Financial Conduct Authority regulation. Owing to comprehensive planning and preparation, it was a well-executed sale, achieving good value for money and a good outcome for customers.

Various Members have expressed their views concerning purchases of assets by Cerberus. Unsurprisingly, I will not comment specifically on sales made by other parties to a private bidder. However, in the context of our sale, I will turn to some of the specific points raised by Members, including the hon. Members for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), for East Lothian and for Bootle (Peter Dowd). They made thoughtful and helpful contributions.

One point that was raised was the tax domicile of Cerberus. UKAR’s sale was structured as a UK sale, and the taxes resulting directly from the sale are paid in the UK. However, we do not consider a bidder’s tax jurisdiction as part of the selection process for three reasons: first, to do so would greatly reduce the number of bidders able to participate, which would risk losing the competitive tension that is essential for maximising value; secondly, companies can and do change their tax arrangements, so there would be no guarantee that a UK-domiciled company would continue to be so in the future; and thirdly, to discriminate against a company based on its tax jurisdiction would risk our being exposed to legal challenge.

The hon. Member for Bootle mentioned the Public Accounts Committee. I note that its conclusions were that the transaction was executed successfully and that there were many positives from the sale. The Treasury response to the recommendations was clearly set out in a report, “The sale of former Northern Rock assets”. He also mentioned the NAO’s criticisms and touched on the important area of lessons to be learned. As the NAO report notes, UKAR and UKFI carried out a complex transaction “professionally” and “within a tight timeframe”. As the NAO suggested, we have increased transparency around the objectives of Her Majesty’s Treasury, UKFI and UKAR and ensured that strategic documents are drawn together in one place. UKAR has now published its framework document.

We heard about Project Eagle and the sale of Northern Irish loans by the National Asset Management Agency in Ireland. Specifically on that issue, Cerberus provided UKAR with suitable assurances consistent with the detailed submission it made to the Northern Ireland Committee for Finance and Personnel, which conducted an inquiry into the sale. That provided sufficient comfort. When we selected Cerberus as a preferred bidder, it was on the shortlist for another portfolio in Ireland. More generally, as UKAR would for any bidder, it carried out thorough due diligence of Cerberus as part of the selection process.

The hon. Member for East Antrim expressed various concerns about the treatment of businesses by Cerberus. I listened to those concerns carefully. When it came to the UKAR sale, customer treatment was a key consideration. Our sale did not contain any commercial loans. The NAO report states that the FCA protections for the borrowers whose mortgages were sold remain in place, and that the FCA continues to be satisfied.

We are aware that Cerberus is a buyer of assets across the UK and further afield. It is subject to the UK regulatory regime here and other regulatory regimes in other jurisdictions in which it operates. I am proud to say that the UK Government have ensured that we have a strong system of regulation here in the UK.

We have heard today about other asset purchases by Cerberus. It is an active buyer of assets across the UK and further afield. As I have said, it is not for me to comment on sales made by other parties to a commercial bidder, but we assess all bids thoroughly through our extensive due diligence carried out on any bidder for any assets. We particularly assess value for money and, importantly, continued fair treatment for customers. The assets in the recent £13 billion sale were not distressed assets. Having been originated a number of years ago, they were considered well seasoned assets, and Cerberus paid above book value for them. In any case, ensuring the continued fair treatment of existing customers is a key consideration in all sales, as I have said.

In short, the sale of £13 billion of former Northern Rock assets to Cerberus was a successful step on the way to returning assets to the private sector. It meant £5.5 billion coming back into the national purse, as well as the transfer of nearly £8 billion of liabilities from the public balance sheet to Cerberus. The sale was managed effectively, and it attracted good competition and secured a good price.