* Ireland very close to OMT qualification - debt agency
* NTMA looking at new 10-year issue, U.S. syndicated deal
* Debt chief says Moody's junk rating "depressingly low"
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, Jan 9 Ireland is very close to the
normalised market funding that would make it eligible for the
European Central Bank's bond-buying programme after the
country's bond sale this week, its debt chief said on Wednesday.
Ireland kicked off its funding for the year on Tuesday when
it sold 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of 2017 paper, raising
a quarter of the 10 billion euros it aims to borrow in 2013
before a planned exit from its EU/IMF bailout.
The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) hopes to
resume monthly auctions at some point this year and said this
could be enough for it to qualify for the ECB's Outright
Monetary Transactions (OMT) scheme.
"One of the conditions for OMT is that you have to have
normalised your engagement with the markets. Yesterday's
transaction is as close to normalisation, maybe the monthly
auctions would be the icing on the cake," NTMA chief John
Corrigan told a news conference.
"I would make the case (of normalisation) but I'm not sure
that the ECB would accept that case, but it's very close to it."
Under the plan, countries already in a bailout programme can
benefit from unlimited ECB purchases when they demonstrate full
market access, although Corrigan noted that the ECB had not
provided a definition on what constitutes such access.
Adding to the confusion over when Dublin would qualify, the
country's finance minister said Ireland would likely will be
judged to have regained the market access needed when it places
a new benchmark bond on two occasions.
"The ECB would probably say a significant issuance of 9-year
paper - maybe twice - and then they would call that full
access," Michael Noonan told a news conference.
Ireland and its bailout lenders are also examining what
additional support measures could be put in place to smooth its
exit from the November 2010 bailout, which totalled 85 billion
euro ($111 billion).
Corrigan said Dublin's lenders were also examining what sort
of conditional credit lines they would be prepared to offer when
Ireland's bailout ends, a backup he said that would give the
market comfort and influence the timing of his agency's bond
As well as the monthly bond auctions, Corrigan said his team
would discuss a 10-year benchmark issue with investors and that
the option of a U.S. syndicated issue was still on the table as
American investors remained "very bullish" on Ireland.
The NTMA also announced that its first treasury bill auction
of the year would take place on Jan. 17 and Corrigan, who
described Moody's junk rating of Ireland as "depressingly low",
said the T-bill sales would remain capped at 500 million euros.