The A grade economy of Ireland reminds us of the Celtic Tiger 2.0

The weekend just gone provided a reminder of how far the economy of Ireland has come.The troubled days of the Euro area crisis where it called for 85 billion Euros of  help from its Euro area partners and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) were replaced by this from the Fitch ratings agency.

Fitch Ratings has upgraded Ireland’s Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to ‘A’ from ‘A-‘. The Outlooks are Stable.

So a promotion and one that is particularly significant when we note that only a few short years ago the debt dynamics of Ireland looked dreadful as the poor taxpayer found him and herself burdened as a large slug of banking debt was socialised.

What is the public debt situation now?

The situation is now much improved according to the research.

Public debt dynamics continue to improve, reflecting a combination of strong growth and a return to a primary budget surplus in 2014. Fitch now estimates gross general government debt/GDP at 96.6% at end-2015, compared with 105% in our previous review and from a high of 120.2% in 2012.

As you can see that is quite an improvement or a type of mirror image of Portugal. Then we get some cheerleading for the future.

According to our baseline scenario (which does not include any positive stock-flow adjustments from the banking sector), public debt will continue to fall steadily to 70% by 2024, although this is still well above the ‘A’ median of 44.5%.

Okay, so we learn that Ireland is not getting its upgrade to A status because it is there but because of the rapid change it has seen. Some care is needed here as back in late 2010 when Fitch twice downgraded Ireland things were heading in the opposite direction. Also there is something rather odd in this declaration.

The revision is partly the result of a much higher than expected GDP deflator in 2015, with Ireland benefiting substantially from positive terms of trade.

Really? I thought there was no inflation?!

If we look we see that the GDP deflator has risen  from 98 to 104.4 which is a little awkward for the “deflation nutters”. Actually it is another off quirk of national accounts as the Irish debt ratios look better because the Irish can buy less abroad due to the fall in the Euro!

A positive growth story

Back on September 11th last year I welcomed the Celtic Tiger Mark 2.0 with some music from U2 to celebrate the change in fortune.

I’m at a place called Vertigo (dónde estás?)

Or put more soberly Fitch put it like this.

Ireland’s economy continues to expand at a brisk pace, with real GDP growth averaging 7% in the first three quarters of 2015, the highest figure among developed economies……Fitch expects the economy will expand by around 4% this year, compared with 2.4% in our previous review.

That leaves it a little behind the Central Bank of Ireland which is expecting a number close to 5% for economic growth this year.

Looking Forwards

The business surveys in essence repeat the up,up and away theme. The manufacturing PMI was at 54.3 in January and reported this.

A key highlight of today’s report is the New Orders component, which reveals a sharp and accelerated expansion, extending the current run of positive readings to 31 months

The only way to describe the services numbers is stellar.

in business activity at their companies compared to one month ago – rose to 64.0 in January from 61.8 in December. This signalled the sharpest expansion in services output since June 2006. Activity has now risen in each of the past 42 months.

This morning this has been backed up by the construction sector which recorded 63.6 according to Ulster Bank. So really good growth figures which in the past would have seen a central bank respond in the spirit provided below.

The Federal Reserve, as one writer put it, after the recent increase in the discount rate, is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up   (William McChesney Martin US Federal Reserve 1955)

The European Central Bank (ECB)

By contrast the ECB has its pedal close to the metal and if we include its Open Mouth Operations maybe at it. We have an official interest-rate of -0.3% combined with hints and promised of a further reduction at the March policy meeting plus 60 billion a month of bond purchases where more more more is also promised.

So Ireland which has a surging economy has a negative interest-rate and has seen some 8.4 billion of its bonds bought by the ECB as of the end of January. That is an even more inappropriate policy than that of the Riksbank in Sweden especially if we add in that the ECB is keen to drive the value of the Euro lower too. Although the latter has reversed in 2016 so far with the 1.12 or so versus the US Dollar accompanied by the UK Pound £ dipping below 1.30.

Seeing as the Irish economy got itself into a pickle at least partly driven by interest-rates sets for another economy (Germany back then) then poses an obvious warning as we think of The Specials.

You’ve done too much,
Much too young

House prices

This is an obvious potential issue in an economy running hot so let us take a look.

In the year to December, residential property prices at a national level, increased by 6.6%. This compares with an increase of 6.5% in November and an increase of 16.3% recorded in the twelve months to December 2014.

As you can see the numbers pose their own problems as we note that the index at 86.8 compared to 2005 =100 makes it own statement. Against the previous peak we see this.

Overall, the national index is 33.5% lower than its highest level in 2007

Another way of looking at this is to see what is happening to rents. If we look at the consumer inflation report we see that whilst the overall view is that there is no inflation – current figure is 0.1% but in essence the report has been flat even before the current disinflationary phase elsewhere – we see this “higher rents”. If we look deeper we see that they have risen by 8.3% in 2015 and that as social rents fell then private-sector rents rose by 9.6%.

In other words the housing market is running pretty hot!

The banks

This is an obvious consideration as we note that so many banks elsewhere have found themselves having a rocky start to 2016, or to be more precise finding themselves forced to tell a little more of the truth. The IMF pointed out recently that in spite of the recent economic improvement the situation remains deeply troubled here.

As a result, the stock of mortgage accounts in deep arrears (over 720 days) continues to increase, reaching 55 percent of past-due loans (over 90 days) in mid-2015 from 49 percent at end-2014. About half of the CRE [Commercial Real Estate] loans are still nonperforming, despite promising trends in restructurings and write downs.

Comment

This is a good news story overall and let me present the best part.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January 2016 was 8.6%, down from 8.8% in December 2015 and down from 10.1% in January 2015

Still high but a vast improvement on where it was. Let me also note an elephant in the room which is that Ireland is perhaps the Euro area country which can hold a candle to the performance of Iceland and that too is welcome. At this point Irish eyes are smiling although of course Joe Stiglitz only recently pointed out that Ireland would have done even better if it had copied Iceland..

However on the other side of the coin we have the banking sector which remains troubled in spite of the house price rises. We also have monetary policy running at the speed of Usain Bolt in a boom which does echo the middle of the last decade. Also there is the Irish GDP/GNP problem.

The factor income outflows recorded in Q3 2015 were €2,063m higher compared with Q3 2014 resulting in the 7.0 per cent increase in GDP becoming a 3.2 per cent increase in GNP over the same period.

If we move to the low tax model and the economic consequences then that has been in the news today. Take a look at this from the Guardian.

Workers at Google Ireland, the search group’s European sales hub, earn less than half the £160,000 average wage of colleagues in London despite the British sales team only providing a supporting role to their Irish counterparts.

Now is that Ireland being competitive and winning or undercutting workers in the UK? Intriguing when you consider that UK employment gains have involved real wage falls. But let me throw something else into the mix because of course placing itself in Ireland helps Google to do this.

Google Ireland booked £5bn in sales from UK advertisers last year, but paid no tax in the UK. The group’s controversial corporate structure means the UK subsidiary provides marketing services to Google Ireland.

Mind you there is an element of a first world problem in the Guardian here.

Despite comparatively modest pay for staff and directors,

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “The A grade economy of Ireland reminds us of the Celtic Tiger 2.0

  1. ” …so we learn that Ireland is not getting its upgrade to A status because it is there….”

    but because of political interferance ?

    oh times change – NOT !

    Forbin

    • Hi Forbin

      The French owned Fitch being pro Europe? That may or may not be true but Ireland has made ground and indeed a fair bit of ground the problem is that some of the old problems remain and like the UK it is using what has brought trouble in the past. I note you mention the banks below which were the event of the day even before this evening’s statement from Deutsche.

      “@ianguider
      Should point out that near 10% Bank of Ireland drop was similar to Permanent TSB. Irish banks definitely bearing brunt of sell-off.”

  2. and Shaun, whats missing from this ?

    …”resulting in the 7.0 per cent increase in GDP becoming a 3.2 per cent increase in GNP over the same period….”

    GNPFPF GNP For The Privileged Few ?

    How’s Ireland’s top 1% doing , eh ?

    hehehe , housing boooooom, What could go wrong ?

    And why is every country in the West doing this , something we don;t know?

    Forbin

  3. hey Shaun,

    funny how we talked about banks notes last week

    seems minitru caught up – The high-denomination notes are favoured by terrorists, drug lords and tax evaders, argues Peter Sands

    no doubt the usual defence will be used – “only the guilty will fear this ”

    Forbin

    • Well I’m not afraid of it. I just don’t agree with it. You lose the sense of money parting from your wallet when all you do is flash the plastique and then come the problems…..

  4. Hi Shaun, refreshing to read an upbeat report in your column. Do you know what has been happening to Irish wage levels in the 12 months ended December 2015?
    Your mention of Iceland in this piece has reminded me I don’t really know what’s going on there, I just have a generally positive feel about the country probably because they did what the World should have done back in 2008 and let the banks go.

    Are you interested in doing a piece on how Iceland has fared since 2008 and it’s decision to fly in the face of the zeitgeist of the rest of the advanced economies?

    • Hi Noo2
      I try to pop a more upbeat article in every now and then as a balance. As to Irish wages I can only answer up until the end of Q3 and don’t expect an update until the end of this month. From the CSO.

      “Preliminary estimates show that average weekly earnings were €688.80 in Q3 2015, a rise of 2.7% from €670.53 a year earlier.”

      So pretty similar to the UK up to that point. As to Iceland I started thinking about that about halfway through. If I had time to start again I would have done as it was a bit of a missed opportunity for the reasons you suggest.

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