Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Economics 12/05/2010: How to do fiscal austerity... 2

Ireland, Spain and Portugal currently represent a major threat to the credibility of the euro, according to a number of observers, ranging from the FT to RBS. Not because of their public debts, but because of their deficits. Spanish and Portuguese deficits are expected to hit 11.4% and 9.2% respectively this year. Irish - anywhere between 11% and 18%, depending on how much of the banking liabilities will be covered by the Government. These levels are more than double Italy's deficits and almost double those of the Eurozone as a whole.

Moody’s are now talking about downgrading Portugal and Greece to junk status.

If you look at the countries that are really getting it right - Ireland is not at the races. So far we have seen largely cosmetic reductions in the deficit. As of April 2010 results, the deficit is down 4.86% year on year and up 86% still on the same period of 2008. Worse than that - most of this undramatic cut between 2009 and 2010 was achieved by reducing capital spending. Which means the cuts are not structural and we are rapidly running out of room for any future improvements.

I wrote yesterday about Bulgaria (with 1/4 the size of Irish deficit levels) slashing its public spending by 20% and hitting hard pensions and wages in the public sector (here). I forgot to mention Latvia - assisted by the IMF loan back in 2009 (USD10 billion) - cut public sector jobs by 20% and the remaining public servants took a minimum of 25% pay cut.

Replicating these cuts in Ireland, however, would only be a beginning of the process of restoring public purse to health - we need to shave off 39.5% of our ongoing spending (as of April 2010) figures to bring our finances into balance. The cuts will have to add up to 36% in order to get us down to the Growth & Stability Pact level of acceptable deficit.

At this stage, with Croke Park deal done, and with economy unable to pay much more in added taxes, and the banks still begging for money, the Government has simply run out of any options.
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