Irish sell T-bills for 1st time since 2010 bailout

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK | July 5, 2012 | 9:37 AM EDT

In this Sunday, July 1, 2012 photo pedestrians pass a beggar on the Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin, Ireland. Unemployment in the Republic of Ireland has risen to 14.7 percent over the past four years of fiscal crisis, during which Ireland has spent tens of billions nationalizing its debt-crippled banks and risked national bankruptcy itself. Ireland's treasury plans this week to hold its first sale of debt securities since the country's 2010 EU-IMF bailout and hopes to resume normal borrowing next year. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's treasury auctioned €500 million ($625 million) in three-month bills Thursday in its first sale of new debt securities since the country received an international bailout in 2010.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the sale marked an "important milestone on Ireland's continuing path to recovery." But some commentators dismissed its significance as minuscule and not a credible test of true market sentiment toward Ireland.

The bills offered an average annualized payout of 1.8 percent, lower than market expectations of 2 percent. The sale was 2.8 times oversubscribed among 18 eligible international banks and funds.

Glas Securities, a Dublin bond dealer, said the Irish yield was lower versus comparable Spanish and Portuguese bills and represented "a very good result" for Ireland's treasury.

Treasury chief John Corrigan sounded a more cautious note, emphasizing he was "conscious that this is the only the first step towards our ultimate goal of full access to the capital markets."

And one of Ireland's most outspoken investment commentators, opposition Sen. Shane Ross, dismissed the sale and its outcome as "not a return to the bond market." Ross accused the National Treasury Management Agency of "pulling a PR stunt" and described the amount auctioned as "peanuts."

Tempers flared over the matter in the parliamentary debating chamber.

As Education Minister Ruairi Quinn announced the results of the treasury auction to lawmakers, Mary Lou McDonald of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party tried to interrupt with criticisms of the government's austerity policies. Quinn fired back: "You can't even accept good news ... You're really pathetic."

Ireland's €67.5 billion ($85 billion) in discounted European and International Monetary Fund loans are scheduled to keep the nation funded until late 2013.

This country of 4.5 million was forced to negotiate a financial rescue after the €64 billion ($80 billion) cost of bailing out Ireland's six locally owned banks destroyed the nation's own credit-worthiness.

But the yields on Irish state bonds have fallen rapidly over the past year to around 6.3 percent for 10-year bonds and 5 percent for shorter-term bills, near to the levels where Ireland could resume normal debt refinancing arrangements at affordable rates.

The EU-IMF money is far cheaper, however, with average interest costs below 3.5 percent.