Thursday, June 4, 2009

Economics 04/06/2009: Exchequer returns for May

First order of business today is to say "Happy Birthday, Jen" to my (much) better half - "I miss you here in Moscow!"

Second order of business is the Exchequer release from yesterday. As my access to data and software is somewhat more restricted here, it is a short analysis:

January-May 2009 tax receipts are in and they are down €3.6bn y-o-y – 21%, slightly better than –24% decline in January-April. Uncork that vintage Dom, Brian? Not yet…

Budget expectations are for 15.6% decline in the entire 2009. Not likely at the current rate. So far we have: 5 months receipts accounting for 39% of the total of projected annual intake of €34.4bn. Annual projection from here suggests that we are going to see around €32-33bn assuming all goes as planned.

Good news, in 2007 we also had 39% collected by the end of May. Bad news is – we had a very robust flow of business for SMEs and self-employed – all of whom force tax payments into the end of the year. Now, recall that we are going to see two things around October-November: (1) tax returns reconciled for 2008, (2) tax returns estimates for 2009. On (1) we can assume that estimates made, say in October 2008 did not fully take in the carnage of November-December, so estimated payments back in October 2008 will be erring on higher side, implying that the actual returns filed in autumn 2009 might be much weaker. On (2), given the current tax measures in place, businesses and self-employed will do everything possible to reduce and delay payments, so estimates will be erring on a lower side and tax deductions will be used to the max. I am not sure that a combination of (1) and (2) will not provide for relatively poor showing in autumn returns.

Current moderating is most likely reflective of the fact that the first half of 2008 was relatively buoyant, so the corresponding period in 2009 is going to register steeper declines. This will moderate into the second half of 2009, naturally, but it will mean preciously little, because any decline on the debacle that we witnessed in H2 2009 is going to be a disaster reinforced.

Another issue to keep in mind: current figures include two rounds of tax increases – Budget 2009 and, partially, Supplementary Budget 2009 – some €230mln added in 5 months. So one can expect further push on tax receipts side. The fact that it is not very impressive is telling me that tax measures are not working and tax substitution and minimization are now working their way through the economy.

To see how bad the new tax measures are at raising revenue – consider the fact that tax receipts in April were 1.7% below the tax profile published on April 28. In other words, within days, the receipts have already slowed down 1.7% relative to what DofF expected. May figures were 1.9% ahead of the profile: Corpo Taxes came in €155mln ahead of profile, Excise and Income taxes were ahead by €48mln and €39mln, respectively. VAT was down €139 million on profile in the month. So, ok – we are now bang on the target when it comes to profile.
Note: the source for the above table is Ulster Bank, with minor adjsutments by me.

But Income tax receipts were driven by new taxes, as are Excise duties, and the two will see some new pressure per optimising households and businesses. Corpo tax can surprise on the upside, assuming the US MNCs continue to book profits here – that is the big unknown in my view. CGT is also a candidate for downgrades as investors are shifting out of Ireland, booking losses here. In general, apart from income tax, other revenues were down 27% in May – a moderation of sorts on 32% decline in April, but the flattening out of the tax decreases curve is not anything to cheer about – it is simply the nature of any asymptotic dynamics: the closer you get to absolute zero, the slower the pace.

So back to income tax measures: €48mln monthly gains in May suggest that the income tax measures to date are yielding: 48mln*5/0.39=615mln in revenue, assuming that income tax follows the same path over the year as total tax receipts. A far cry from €1.5-2bn envisioned and very much close to what myself and other observers were expecting back in April.

In the mean time, spending races ahead: current expenditure was up 4.3% (in April it was up 4.5% but the latest ‘moderation’ is still placing current spending at an insolvency levels and the decrease was due to factors other than demand for social welfare and public sector wages). Capital spend continues to fall - down 6.3% year-on-year. Some suggested that there are timing issues delaying capital spending boost, but we are now 5 months into the year and this leaves me wondering – what sort of timing are we talking about?

On the net, therefore, May figures are no real improvement: receipts are flattening at a very slow rate, we might be closer to target here than before, but this only means a difference of €1-2bn on revenue side – a chop-change for our public sector wasters. On expenditure side, we are now 10 months past the July 2008 promises by the Government to introduce real savings, and… zilch, nada, none, nyet, can’t find any no matter how hard I am looking… If a rapidly decaying alcoholic were to be the allegory for the Exchequer balance sheet, we are past the gulp stage and into a burp moment. The hand with a bottle is rising once again, drawing closer and closer to the mouth. How long can this last? Your guess is as good as mine, but a friend today suggested that 6 weeks from now the Government will say, “Whoops, due to international economic conditions (WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LAST 12 YEARS OF FIANNA FAIL RULE) our readiness for rebound which was most certainly there when we said so has now disappeared. Not our fault, mate.”

Sounds about right…
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