Monday, May 31, 2010

Economics 31/05/2010: Anglo's latest cash call

This just in - the Government has decided to give Anglo, yes, that very Anglo which is Ireland's real zombie bank with no prospect - even theoretical one - a fresh capital injection of €2 billion (here). This brings taxpayers' capital injected into the bank to €14.3 billion to-date.

The official information by DofF claims that because the injection comes in a form of a promisory note, payable over 10-15 years, there will be lesser impact on the taxpayers today. However, although the official announcement does not say so, this term structure of payments means that our future deficits will be front loaded (pre-committed to the amount announced today), implying that for Ireland to reach required 3% deficit/GDP limit by 2015, we will have to face an increased funding requirement for Anglo over time.

This requirement must be provisioned today, since the notes work in the following way:
  • At any point in time between today and 10-15 years from now, Anglo can waltz into DofF's offices and ask for any share - between 0.00001% and 100% of the amount issued on the promisory note.
  • At that moment, the Government will have to come up with cash pronto, which means - no time to issue separate bonds.
  • Which implies that the very second Mr Dukes asks for cash, our deficit goes up by that exact amount.
Now, prudentially, we should have set an escrow account and provided for this funding. In practice, as is clear from the DofF release, no provisions will be made. The entire, and I repeat, the entire risk of the drawdown therefore is leveled on the shoulders of taxpayers. The DofF in effect is praying to the forces of fortune that Anglo won't come in with a request for funds tomorrow, and/or that any request will not be for the entire sum of the promisiory note.

Now, let us revert back to the 'bank' called Anglo. The State has now committed €10.3 billion in promisory notes. These carry interest rate of... well, I am not sure... but suppose it is 5% to cover the cost of borrowing for these funds in the market, once the funds are disbursed. Assume that 10% of that (actually below a normal charge for a letter of credit for an insolvent company) is outstanding annually until a drawdown. Make a further assumption: assume that Anglo will draw the entire amount in equal annual installments over 5 years - an assumption that is also extremely conservative.

At 5% per annum, Anglo's liabilities to the taxpayers are:
Let me quickly and briefly explain the last 2 columns above. The penultimate column shows the sum of interest charges (at 5% on drawn funds), plus underwriting charge (at 0.5% for undrawn promisory note funds remaining) that Anglo should be paying over the next 10 years, assuming draw down is evenly spread over 5 years on both tranches. The last column then states the amount of loans that are performing that Anglo needs to have on its books in each year to cover the loans interest, not the principal, but interest, assuming that Anglo uses 0.5% of the loans to cover its interest rate, which would roughly amount to 25-30% of its entire interest income on the loans (note - that is really a severe case of the credit squeeze on a bank, but hey, suppose they manage without breaking the back).

How do I come up with this 25-30% estimate? In a normal year, one can expect a fully efficient bank to make ca 2% of their loans volume in revenue. If it pays 0.5% of that amount to cover costs of promisory note, it will be swallowing 25% of the revenue base.

Now, Anglo is transferring to Nama some €35 bn worth of loans, leaving it with ca €30 billion in remaining loans on its books. Of these, roughly 60% is expected to go into the 'bad' bank - in other words, roughly €18 billion worth of loans won't b performing. This leaves it with roughly 40% of loans or €12 billion on the side available for revenue generation. It needs ca €28 billion to cover the cost of the prmisory notes alone...

Get the picture? Even if you dispute my assumptions and half all the costs of the promisory note carry, you still can't get Anglo balance sheet to cover the cost (not the principal) of what it is borrowing from the taxpayers. This puts into perspective the DofF claim that: "As the Minister stated last March the overriding objective of the Government is to minimise the cost to the taxpayer of the restructuring of Anglo Irish Bank".

Economics 31/05/2010: How much more evidence do we need?

In the spirit of my earlier posts on the matter - here is today's press release from Ryanair. Let me add, uncontroversially, that I fully subscribe to Ryanair view that our travel tax (defacto assigned in the Irish Times op ed to Gurdgiev-Ryanair [campaign against the] tax, but since then spreading to include on the opposition side all main airlines based in Dublin) has been hurting tourism in Ireland, while imposing an arbitrary, unnecessary and unjustifiable burden on ordinary families here.



Ryanair, Ireland’s largest airline, today (31st May) published irrefutable evidence that the Irish Govt is responsible for the collapse in Irish tourism as new (independent) statistics show traffic growth has returned to those EU countries that do not impose tourist taxes. These statistics disprove Minister Dempsey’s claims that the fall in traffic and tourism is ‘an international phenomenon’ and proves that Irish tourism is being devastated by the Govt’s €10 tourist tax.

The RDC Aviation report (attached) highlights that Irish seat capacity (which drives passenger numbers) collapsed by over 140,000 in April and by over 700,000 so far in 2010. Seat capacity continues to decline in Ireland, the UK and France - the only European countries which continue to impose tourist taxes. By contrast, growth has returned to countries which have scrapped tourist taxes (Belgium and Holland) or reduced airport charges, in some cases to zero, (Spain) to stimulate tourism growth.

Ryanair warned that this downward trend at Irish airports will worsen throughout 2010 as the DAA makes Ireland even more uncompetitive with a 40% increase in the airport charges to pay for its €1.2bn T2 white elephant.

RDC Aviation: Irish Airport Capacity Jan-Apr








– 700,294

Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said:

The RDC Aviation report shows that those countries, like Ireland, which impose tourist taxes continue to decline and disproves the Dept of Transport’s claims that the continuing record collapse in traffic at Dublin Airport is ‘an international phenomenon’. The Irish Govt’s €10 tourist tax and high charges at the DAA Monopoly have made Dublin an uncompetitive, expensive destination. Growth has returned throughout Europe except in Ireland, the UK and France which are the only major European countries to tax tourists instead of welcoming them.

“Ireland’s traffic and tourism decline will increase when charges at the DAA Monopoly rocket by over 40% in October as the Dept of Transport rewards the DAA for its traffic decline and the €1.2bn white elephant, T2. Unfortunately 2010 will be even worse than 2009 in terms of lost visitors, jobs and tourism revenues in Ireland. It is time to axe this stupid €10 tourist tax and slash the DAA’s high fees”.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Economics 30/05/2010: A gargantuan task ahead

As the Government continues to insist that the worst is over for Ireland Inc, let us consider some headline numbers on the structure of our public spending.

The figures reported below refer to 2008 comparisons, so they omit most of the horrific fall-out from the current economic crisis. as such, these comparisons relate more to the structural imbalances our state is running, not to the recessionary effects. This is worth keeping in mind, for it means that the differences between Ireland and other states reported below, as well as the adjustments required for us to reach sustainable long term equilibrium on spending and taxation sides will have to be put in place no matter what happens to our economy in years to come. It is also worth keeping in mind because the figures reported below underestimate the extent of our post-2008 imbalances compared to other countries that had experienced much less pronounced crisis over 2009.

All data is taken from the publicly available sources - the IMF and CSO - so the Government and our tax-and-spend crowd of Unions-led economists are fully aware of these. Plausible deniability does not apply, therefore, when it comes to our Government pronouncements about its policies and the current position of the Irish economy on international competitiveness scale.

Chart above plots Ireland's position vis-a-vis its peers in the developed world in terms of the overall size of the primary (non-capital) share of public expenditure in the economy. Two facts worth highlighting here:
  • Ireland's Government spending as a share of our real economic income (GNP) is the second highest of all countries in the group, and is well in excess of the average for small open market economies (SOME). It is in excess of Germany (Berlin) and well ahead of the US (Boston).
  • By this metric, Ireland simply does not qualify as a 'market' economy, as domestic private sector accounts here for less than 47% of GNP! In the USSR of the 1980's, private economy (black market) accounted for around 40% of the total GNP. Get the comparison?
Chart above shows that Irish public sector is clearly one of the most lavishly paid one in the entire developed world. In fact, our public sector wages and earnings swallow over 14.4% of our national income, making Ireland's PS workers the 5th highest paid (on aggregate) in the advanced world. The gap between Irish public sector earnings bill and that for the average SOME is a massive 4.47% of our GNP. Roughly speaking Irish public sector wages bill contains a roughly speaking 48% premium relative to the PS counterparts in similar economies around the world. Clearly, even the reductions in overall take home pay imposed on PS in Budgets 2009-2010 has not erased this premium, especially when one recognizes that since 2008 our GNP has contracted almost in line with the decline in PS pay.

Chart above maps Ireland relative to the US (Boston) and Germany (Berlin) to show just how absurd the whole notion of Ireland Inc being positioned between Boston and Berlin is in the real world. In reality, just one parameter - Social Benefits as a share of GDP/GNP - marks our relative position as being between Boston and Berlin. In every other parameter, we are a basket case of excessive public spending and taxation relative to both the US and Germany.

With the above data in mind, what adjustments in the budgetary positions will be required to bring Ireland into the exact position of being between US and Germany to reflect our stated competitive benefit of being an economy that can facilitate trade and investment flows between the two giants - the EU and US?
To restore our competitive balance we need:
  • A cut of €23 billion in gross annual primary spending by the state (current expenditure) - some 14.7% of our GNP. Not €3bn as Brian Lenihan is doing, or €3.5bn as An Bord Snip Nua was suggesting. A whooping €23 billion, folks!
  • The cut above cannot come from the capital budget side - where most of the cuts so far took place. It has to be cut from the current expenditure. The reason for this is simple - capital spending is one-off item of expenditure and it is associated, in theory, with a net positive return on investment. Current spending is permanent and yields no financial return.
  • The cuts must include at the very least a €9.3bn reduction in the wages and pensions bill in the public sector (5.9% of GNP or almost 44% cut in the total PS wages bill, achievable through both reductions in numbers employed and wages paid and pensions benefits entitlements).
  • Social benefits, at least in the long run, actually are in line with us being smack between Boston and Berlin, so no adjustment is needed here in the short term (given further deterioration in the fiscal position in Ireland since 2008, I would actually recommend a temporary cut here. Also, longer term reforms, to change the structure of welfare benefits and state pensions must be enacted, but for the reasons different from the budgetary considerations).
  • Instead of raising tax revenue, Irish Government should engage in a dramatic reduction of tax burden on the economy. Generally, total tax take in the Irish economy exceeds the average Boston-Berlin position by 6.5% of GNP, requiring a reduction in overall tax burden of €10.3bn on 2008 numbers.
  • This reduction in the tax burden should include a cut in personal income tax, CGT and personal gains/profits taxes of 2.1% of GNP or €3.3bn.
There is absolutely no ground for our Government and policy leaders' claims that Ireland is strongly positioned between the low(er) tax US and high(er) tax Germany as a competitive destination for exports and investment arbitrage. In fact, due to the Government-own policies, fiscal and tax imbalances created in this economy mean that we are, at a macroeconomic level, grossly uncompetitive relative to
  • both the EU and the US,
  • as well as relative to our main competitors world wide - the small open market economies.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Economics 29/05/2010: EBS - taxpayers are on the hook, again

One really has to start worrying about the going-ons at the DofF, the CBFSAI and in the Government. After all, over recent weeks we have been told that:
  1. The leadership in this country is finally getting its hand on the pulse of the financial sector and the economy (a tale that emerged back in March when Minister for Finance, the Governor of the CB and the FR made back to back statements concerning the plans for the banking sector stabilization, and subsequently went on to assure the nation that all is now going to be fine);
  2. Ireland has turned the corner (we've heard this in its various variants since May 2009);
  3. With Nama working overtime, lending is about to be restored across the nation;
  4. There are no more nasty surprises (apart from the ever-shifting capital targets in the Anglo);
  5. That banks can now sort themselves out and hence there will be no need for a sweeping Guarantee extension comes September;
  6. That Ireland is so far ahead of the PIIGS curve, it is reckless and dangerous, and erroneous, to claim otherwise.
Well, as of today we, the taxpayers, own another banking institution - the EBS - which, up until now was regarded as the least sickly of the Irish banks. Per Irish Times report today: "The Government’s move came after the society failed to attract private investors. The State now seems set to invest up to €875 million in total over the next 10 years."

Pardon my French, but what the h***ll is going on in our circles of power? One would naturally expect the Government and the regulators responsible for the banking sector to be in a daily contact with the institution, like EBS, while it is engaged in a major talks with potential buyers. And one would expect the talks to progress over time, with some clear indications as to whether the deal was likely or not. A sudden release of this new information is, therefore,
  • either a reflection of the fact that our banking sector authorities did not have a clue as to the progression of the talks - in which case they once again failed to 'keep their hand' on the patient's pulse; or
  • they have at the very least did not disclose pertinent information to the markets and the public as to the state of these talks.
Either way, the news that the taxpayers are once again stuck for ca €1 billion in bailout funds (more than the amount of €600mln the Spanish Government had to inject in one of its banks, triggering a massive run on Spanish markets) without any, and I repeat, any public official making the matter public until the deal was done!

Of course, another remarkable thing about the deal is that it comes on foot of Nama being deployed in the market. Last year, myself, Brian Lucey, Peter Mathews, Karl Whelan and others have warned that nationalization of the failing Irish banks was the least costly option for their recapitalization that should be pursued. Nationalization of EBS would have cost no more than €650-800 million and would have led to a 100% ownership of the bank by the State. In return, we could have imposed a speedy reform on the bank's board and management, and actively repaired its balancesheet.

Instead, we have paid countless millions for it through Nama, shelled out almost €1 billion in direct capital commitments, supplied it with a state Guarantee worth well in excess of €200 million in risk-related implicit costs, and still control only 51% of the bank. We are now left with a quasi-state asset that cannot be reformed and is at a risk of being left to linger like a zombie stuck between private markets and the politicos.

One wonders, will anyone, responsible for Nama and the rest of our banks policy ever be held accountable for this waste?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Economics 28/05/2010: Spain's downgrade is a warning for Ireland

In a significant development today, Fitch cut Spain’s credit ratings to AA+ from AAA. This was expected.

What was unexpected and new in this development is the expressed reason for the cut.

Per reports, "Fitch said Spain’s deleveraging of record-high levels of household and corporate debt and growing levels of government debt would drag on economic growth." (Globe & Mail)

This puts pressure not only on the euro and European equities, but also on the rest of the PIIGS' sovereign bonds. Ireland clearly stands out in this crowd.

As I have shown here and more importantly - here, Ireland is by far the most indebted economy in the developed world. While it is true that a large proportion of our total external debt accrues to IFSC, even adjusting for that

  • Our General Government Debt held externally is the fifth highest in the developed world;
  • Our External Banks Debt is the highest in the world;
  • Our Private Sector Debt (Total Debt ex Banks & Government) is the highest in the world; and
  • Our Total External Debt is the highest in the world.

In addition, per IMF (see here) our budgetary position is one of the weakest in the world, including for the horizon through 2015 (here).

“The downgrade reflects Fitch’s assessment that the process of adjustment to a lower level of private sector and external indebtedness will materially reduce the rate of growth of the Spanish economy over the medium-term,” Fitch’s analyst Brian Coulton said in a statement.

Fitch said "Spain’s current government debt would likely reach 78 per cent of gross domestic product by 2013 from under 40 per cent before the start of the global financial crisis in 2007." Irish debt is projected to reach 94% of GDP by 2015 (IMF) or 122% of GNP - the real measure of our income. If we factor in the cost of Nama and banks, Irish Government debt will reach 122% of GDP by 2015.

This puts into perspective the real scope for public spending cuts we must enact in this and next year's Budgets. The Government aim to reduce spending by a miserly €3 billion in each year through 2012 will not do the job here. We will have to do at least 2.5 times that much to get our house in order.

Economics 28/05/2010: Welfare fun in the Credit Unions land

There are three things one must wonder about when it comes to the Credit Unions in Ireland:
  1. Why aren't we hearing more about the going-ons in these fine credit institutions that play a significant role in this economy? After all, credit unions have assets of ca €14.5bn per end of 2009 figures. €6.8bn of this is in loans and €7.3bn in investments. And they act as, in effect, second tier lenders (correcting per a tip from a reader: not in terms of quality of borrowers but in terms of types of loans), with most loans going to unsecured lending on cars, home improvements, personal spending, etc. Could they have miraculously escaped the fate of the banks in the current crisis? Highly unlikely.
  2. Why do we have a separate regulatory regime for these organizations, if their basic business model is virtually identical to prudentially justified banking?
Well, folks - in the land of endless quangoes (aka, Ireland) we have a financial regulator and a separate credit union regulator. The latter, James O Brien, now reportedly wants new additional provisions to be made by the 20 unions (out of 414 - a whooping 5%) operating in Ireland that face “serious solvency issues”. Oops. That was a sudden one. In effect, back in 2008 the Irish League of Credit Unions (yeah, I know, sounds like a Klingon gathering) issued annual report full of concerns for the Credit Unions' state of health on their investment side. Then there was a report into the impairments charges. Which promptly followed by a dramatic decline in the surprise spot inspections of the Credit Unions - the only real tool for assessing just how bad the loan books might be.

Now, we are being told that there are Credit Unions out there which have 'serious solvency issues' - or translated into common language 'might be trading in insolvent conditions'.
Apparently, arrears levels in the Irish credit unions rose from 6% in 2008 to 13.5% in 2009. The Credit Unions Klingon-styled response to this was to lobby Brian Lenihan to allow them continue lending for holidays in the sun to households, some of which can easily be on the verge of running into trouble with the banks. You see, credit unions provide credit after the banks provide secured loans to the punters (again, correcting per a tip from a reader: this does not mean that credit unions lend to a less worthy client than the banks, it means that they supply lower priority - in household budget terms - and largely unsecured loans. Neither does it mean that credit unions provide loans to people who were turned down by the banks. However, it is known that credit unions did provide top up loans for house purchasers who have exceeded mortgage allocation and borrowed to either supply a deposit or cover closing costs on property from the credit unions).

Credit unions do so by taking deposits from the same punters in exchange for the promise of a dividend - an annual payment that is there to replicate deposit rates paid by the banks. Alas, when a company runs into red, unless the company is AIB, the normal practice is to withhold the dividend and use the company earnings to replenish capital base. The credit union movement in Ireland disagrees, arguing that a dividends withdrawal for funding of higher reserves and offsetting losses on loans would damage their 'competitiveness' vis-a-vis the banks.

There is, of course, one major issue with the Unions operations - in effect, absent restoration of the proper functional business banking in this country, Credit Unions are now becoming more actively involved in small businesses operating capital management. This is a risky undertaking for all parties involved and we do not have much data on the matter. Small businesses - sole proprietorships in particular - can blend business cash flow management with personal banking, inducing risk spill-overs from business side to household finances. Increasing reserves requirements on Credit Unions will be likely to put the boot into this, rather atavistic, practice, made necessary by the lack of functional business financing in the core banking sector.

But one must be concerned about the end game here. If the regulator were to listen to the unions, what alternative ways can be found to cover the losses then? None other than a direct injection of cash from the taxpayers. So here we have it - welfare junkies in Ireland have reached a new high. We are being indirectly told that Credit Unions should be allowed to pay dividends out by keeping reserves low, even as they face mounting losses. Surely the taxpayers can provide a cover for these, should the trading environment continue to deteriorate into the future. Happy times, folks!

Economics 28/05/2010: Euro area leading indicators

I have not updated my forecasts for the euro zone growth in some time now, and it is on the 'to do' list. However, as predicted, euro area leading indicator from Eurocoin came in today at a disappointing 0.55% down from 0.67% a month ago and marking a second consecutive monthly decline. The indicator hit 0.79% in March 2010, marking a 3-year high.
This time around, declines in the indicator were driven by the adverse movements in the stock markets valuations. However, decline is absolutely in line with PMIs, despite the industrial production indicator showing sustained growth. Also worryingly, consumer confidence remains below waterline and is trending down again:Exports are on a tear up, rising at a faster rate in May relative to April. This might be the good news for overall growth, but it is clear that domestic investment and demand sides are still recessionary. Of course, there's a popular theory out there - in Brussels, and even here at home in Dublin - that exports will lift us out of the recession. If you think so - look no further than Japan. Japan has managed to maintain booming export activity, amidst shrinking overall economy for two decades now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Economics 27/05/2010: Mortgages arrears

RTE reports on the CB data on mortgage arrears, stating that:
"New figures from the Central Bank show a 13% increase in the number of mortgages [90-days or more] in arrears [relative to December 2009]. However, the figures also show a fall in the number of legal actions taken by financial institutions to enforce outstanding mortgage debt."

At the end of Q1 2010, over 4% of all private residential mortgage accounts in Ireland were in arrears - the total of over 32,000 of 791,000 mortgages worth €118bn. Median duration of arrears was in excess of 180 days.

"The Central Bank notes a drop of 4.8% in the number of arrears cases in which legal proceedings have been issued. There are just over 3,000 such cases. During the first quarter of this year, 91 properties were repossessed by banks, 26 on foot of court orders and 65 by voluntary agreement of the borrowers or by abandonment. At the end of March mortgage lenders held 456 repossessed residential properties."

The issues not raised by either the CB or RTE are:
  1. Have the banks willingness to pursue cases in court been impacted in any way by Nama operations? Nama is a political entity, with potential to influence banks internal decisions.
  2. With median duration of mortgages arrears of 180 days, can we expect the number of cases heard in courts to dramatically accelerate in H1 2011?
  3. Mortgages reported in arrears do not include mortgages where lender and borrower have renegotiated mortgage covenants, avoiding arrears by switching to interest-only mortgages and/or changing maturity profile of the mortgage, and/or extending a payment holiday.
  4. What is the median/average size of the mortgage in arrears. It is likely that mortgages currently under stress are larger and cover properties with much more significant extent of the negative equity.
  5. What is the sensitivity of arrears to interest rate changes. The statistical eagles in the CB - we do have some there, right? - can easily compute the sensitivity of mortgages default to changes in retail interest rates. All they need for this is longer-run data on mortgages defaults, retail rates, macroeconomic parameters, housing prices etc. Shouldn't take much of time or effort for the CB to get this useful estimate. We can then see just how damaging the ongoing increases in mortgage rates by the banks will be to this society and economy.
In effect, we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg here.

Now, one interesting revelation that comes on the foot of these figures is the spread of mortgage debt burden in the country. 791,000 mortgages are outstanding, involving on average more roughly 2 individuals, majority of whom are in employment. This implies that mortgages debt cover in the workforce accounts for roughly 1,580,000 individuals, or 73% of the entire labor force.

Another thing - with 73% of working (or able to work in theory) households already carrying a mortgage (or two), and defaults on mortgages rising 13% per quarter, I guess two natural questions to ask are:
  • In the short run: What stabilization in the property markets can one discern here?
  • In the long run: what hope can the Government have to collect any sort of serious wealth tax, when most of our wealth has been tied up in, by now, largely devalued property?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Economics 25/05/2010: Here's one for the Budget 2011

Just a chart - from IMF Fiscal Stability report:
Now, as noted - this excludes housing, medical cards, child supports etc. Given that in Austria, Belgium and Denmark rental values are lower, while healthcare is universal for all, where does it put the combined value of long term unemployment benefits in Ireland compared to these two countries? And given our wage deflation since 2008, relative to Austria, Belgium and Denmark?..

Of course, we simply have to omit the petro-dollars fueled economy like Norway from consideration. Notice - this chart reflects comparatives for 2008 data for long term unemployed. Cutting unemployment benefits is a hard target. We will have to face that choice, however. Given this, my view would be to impose more significant cuts on longer term recipients, and lower cuts on short term recipients. This should create stronger incentives to seek employment and skills for those who have the lowest propensity to do so - the long-term unemployed.

Economics 25/05/2010: Looking at the Financial sector

As of now, both BofI and AIB are trading below 52-weeks lows. The financials are continuing to experience pressures. But a look back at the overall sector is warranted. Here are some stats:
Let's start from a far: dramatic or not, but the current market conditions are in line with the long term time trend in Irish financials. If anything, per almost 11 years of data, we are currently above the long run trend line. Guess there's more room for downward pressures, should long run dynamics matter.

Zooming in:
Note the chart above - this shows the totality of value destruction since the beginning of the credit crunch back in July/August 2007.

To see some more dynamics, consider the snapshot from the peak to today:
The chart above shows the entire extent of the crisis, with the medium term (through crisis) trend pointing to consistent positioning of the current market valuations. In other words, per trend, nothing dramatic is happening in the markets right now. I also posted some key dates that mark our policy and opinion makers' ability to track markets and predict the future.

Lastly, chart above shows the dynamics in Irish financials over the span of the 'rebirth of optimism' - the last 12 months during which various Government officials and politicians have made a score of statements to the effect that:
  • Ireland has turned the corner on recession
  • Irish banks are now in a stronger position than before
  • Irish Government has made right decisions and these are now evident in the markets' approval, etc.
Revealing, isn't it?

Economics 25/05/2010: Daft rental report

Update below: stabilization or not?

Daft rental report is out today. Some interesting reading of the numbers. As predicted by me on the foot of January data - when the prevailing media song was about 'stabilizing' rental markets - rents are continuing their Southward trajectory.

Relative to peak rent:
So no relief in sight. Remember, in this country we call things 'stabilizing' when the rate of fall slows down... Pardon my foreign language skills, but I'd say things are stabilizing when we reach the bottom. In other words, when the numbers above stop increasing in absolute value.

Let me reproduce for you the seasonality chart I did back on the foot of January data:
You can see what I meant by January rally back then, and you can see that things have fizzled out since then. When one realizes that since 2008 we virtually had no new units coming into the rental market, this figure looks even more depressing. We are experiencing a real decline in demand as jobless families are dropping out not out of the property market, but out of the rental market! Emigration is, no doubt, also playing its part. All of which means that those first time buyers... well, are rapidly becoming first time lodgers in their moms homes.

What about the dynamics going forward?

Well, neither levels of rents, nor rates of change in rents are showing any stabilization. Both series are trending in the negative territory, suggesting that pressure on rents might remain, adjusting for seasonality, for some time. That said, positive monthly territory for now remain in sight, both in moving average terms and in rate of change terms. So expect shallow moves, with a risk to some downside.

Update: Since earlier today, there have been some debates going on as to whether Daft data shows any stabilization in rents. As I asserted earlier, relative to peak, monthly march downward continues (see table above) uninterrupted (once seasonality is factored in for January) and in absolute terms for all 4 months. But what about year on year changes? Table below shows the results:
So per annual changes, 2 conclusions are warranted:
  • While the rate of decline has moderated across 2010 relative to 2009, the declines continued in double digits in February, March and April. Only in March and April have the declines been lower than a year ago.
  • Probability wise, this was to be expected given seasonal variations, with likelihood of more positive moves in March and April being twice higher than in February.
On the net, I do not see any stabilization so far. Oh, and just in case you wondered - Daft data also shows uptick in properties available for rent... Hmmm...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Economics 24/05/2010: Another day of bloodletting at BofI

So, you've paid €0.19-0.32 per rights per share of BofI - following, undoubtedly your brokers advice (for the €0.24-0.32 part of the range, or Friday close per €0.19 bit). You shelved out €0.55 per share on the promise of a discount of 42% on the post-rights price from the brilliant boys at BofI. You are now €0.02-0.15 per share in a hole, or down 2.7-20.8% in a span of 2 trading days (using latest quoted price of €0.725 per share).

Consolation / silver lining?

You could have been an Irish taxpayer (most likely you are), in which case you would be nursing a loss of €0.63-0.83 on your earlier purchases of the same shares, assuming Brian Lenihan cuts the losses and sell the rights (a tall order assumption).

Then again, although all of us lost - either as bank's new shareholders or as taxpayers, there is yet a much more adversely impacted group of people out there - the poor souls who, while paying taxes in this land also bought a-new into BofI rights issue...

Really, a rare example of all lose, no one wins... except for the existent shareholders and BofI management, who so far enjoyed artificial support from the State.

Now, do recall this: on Thursday September 18 2008, our former Leader Supremo Bertie Ahern told George Hook (Newstalk)that: Bank of Ireland shares are €3.80 today. Now, if I meet you here next year, or the year later, do you seriously think Bank of Ireland shares will be €3.80? I'd go out and buy Bank of Ireland shares... that's what I'd do" (quoted from the next day Irish Times - here). Errr...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Economics 23/05/2010: To Infinity & Beyond

As a harbinger of good news I bring to you all... Ah, what the hell, here is the announcement:
And actually this is the good news - Infinity is the leading international finance academic/practitioner conference in Ireland and it is great to see it back in town this year. It is a truly international venue (as in actually attracting real, not invited & paid-for, experts and speakers, with real - not imaginary or self-appointed - clout in global finance) and it carries hundreds of latest research papers with the focus on different areas of international finance.

Few notes of worth:
  • Patrick Honohan will open the proceedings - Patrick, of course, has spoken at Infinity before, in his academic capacity, reviewing papers and presenting them. Two years ago he launched a session that introduced the book myself, together with Sharon Jackson and Colm Kearney edited and co-authored on the issue of Global Debt problems. He will, undoubtedly, engage with the audience of peers this time around.
  • Bill Megginson, the University of Oklahoma will present on “The Value of Investment Banking Relationships: Evidence from the Collapse of Lehman Brothers”. We should ask him few questions as to his view of the Irish Government claims that Lehmans' collapse was responsible for our gravely ill banking sector, instead of the homemade hash of senile lending practices.
  • Simon Stevenson, Director, Center for Real Estate Finance, City University London; Derek Brawn, Property Economist and Author; Peter Matthews, Banking Consultant and myself will be talking about Real Estate Finance - so expect myself and Peter getting stuck into long term effects of Nama on this vital (for Ireland Inc) sector, while Simon - one of the world's preeminent and prolific researchers in the area (and a good friend and co-author) - will be on hand to tie it all into international markets framework. Simon, by the way, has really first class knowledge of Irish markets as well - just one example of his recent work includes the paper that James Young and myself co-authored with him on property auctions in Ireland, forthcoming in the Journal of Housing Economics (number one venue for academic research in the field of property).
  • Edward J Kane, Boston College, USA will speak about the “Post-Crisis Financial Reform as Denial and Coverup” - a salient topic given the current state of regulatory reforms proposals coming out of the EU. Judging by the strong title, this is not going to be one of them placid academic discourses on how to find a "balancing act" or "resolve the problems of injustice and equity in financial services"...
  • On a practitioner interface side: “Investments in the Post-Crisis World” a roundtable organised by CFA Ireland and moderated by Aleksander Sevic of Trinity College Dublin, will be dealing with: “An Update on Latest Trends in Fund Offerings” by David Hammond, CFA, Bridge Consulting; “Major Challenges in Allocations to Irish and Emerging Markets’ Equities, Liquidity Risk and Product Innovation: The Perspective of a Pension Fund Trust” by Stephanie Condra, CFA, Invesco Pension Consultants; “An Update on Current Issues in the EU Government Bond Market” by Catherine McLaughlin, CFA, Irish Life;
  • For those interested in CDS bond spreads - the hot potato in today's media and politicos discussions - Brian Lucey will be presenting a paper (in which yours truly is one of the co-authors) "CDS Bond Spreads among the PIIGS 2006-2010"
Ok, enough of praise singing - couple of links: programme for Infinity is available here. I intend to blog and twitter on it during the proceedings. I also intend to do one or two interviews with top participants - hopefully might convince Business & Finance to run something on this.

Finally, in a note of custom for this blog - Infinity is a fully self-financed conference, built on work of Brian Lucey, Linda Sorinton and others in TCD School of Business, excellent researchers like Elaine Hutson of UCD and many others. Many involved are co-authors in academic life, so all discussions are frank, open and usually free of agendas. Infinity has no reliance on subsidies of any sort. Unlike many other 'specialist' or 'futurist' conferences out there, richly sprinkled across Irish calendars. So no taxpayers funds will be harmed in the preparation of this event - an example of real academic sustainability!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Economics 22/05/2010: More nonsensical German proposals

Thursday was another day of great ideas from Berlin on “How to wreck world financial infrastructure while earning little political capital: the Angela Merkel Way”.

For a couple of weeks now, global investors have shown Madam Chance-a-lot (oops… Chancellor) that Greek Tragedy rule 1 applies: If you want to write a tragedy, set up a story where an irrational, arrogant and morally reprehensible sovereign challenges the Gods. Inevitably, in Greek classical tradition, the Gods win, while having a laugh. Mrs Merkel’s epic battle with the markets is exactly that. Markets, like Greek deities, are inevitably going to prevail. And Mrs Merkel and the retinue of euro area leaders – bent on ring-fencing their own politically connected banking sectors and shielding them from any meaningful pain for the errors committed in the past – will lose. The only thing that still might be at stake here is the degree of vengeance the markets will deal to the EU, should the euro zone embrace German proposals. With every new ‘bright idea’ on punishing the markets coming, the likelihood of an awesome spectacle of the Gods punishment meted out to Europe is rising too.

Following new taxes and short selling ban (covered by me yesterday) Mrs Merkel has now unveiled her third pillar of the reform strategy: a European ratings agency. It’s bonkers, folks. Just as the rest of the European financial sector reforms proposals so far:
  • EU Rating Agency will never be independent of political interference, so no one, save for the institutionalised writers in the EU official press will ever pay any attention to whatever the agency might produce. In so far as delivering anything usable by the market or by anyone, save Eurocrats, the EURA will be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.
  • EU premise for launching EURA will be as crooked as an old local authorities politico with development firm in his backyard. Germany has departed on the EURA trip from the assertion that Euro needs an agency that can honestly upraise the extent of fiscal risks on sovereign balance sheets. Were EURA to do so, its ratings will have to be even gloomier than those of the Big 3 private rating agencies.
  • EURA is unlikely to have any serious competency in what it does because unlike the Big 3 it will never be a rating agency for non-EU sovereign debt. In other words, EURA, having no recognition of non-EU sovereigns, will be forced to look at the EUniverse, a subset of the world bond markets. Which makes a proposal equivalent to simulating a tsunami in a coffee mug.
  • And, of course, as any other rating agency, EURA will be no more than a lagging indicator, which means that its musings on bond valuations are going to be read only by retired intellectuals, plus pensions funds with automatic quality mandates. And even then, EURA will be forced to follow, in the news hierarchy, the Big 3.

In response to Mrs Merkel’s expensive (and it is expensive, from the point of view of European economy and taxpayers – see here) populism, Canadian finance minister told Mrs Merkel into her face last night that his country would not take part in either one of the three European policy follies. You see, Canada has a healthy banking system. And it has the intellectual and policy capital to understand that finance is crucial to country economic prosperity.

Americans, like Canadians and the Brits, think that the idea of a transaction tax is downright potty. All three have done the right things in trying to reform their banks. The EU, so far, is staunchly refusing to do the same. Why should the sane join the outright gaga club of countries that keep preserving rotten banking system at the expense of the real economy?

Even Finnish finance minister is saying Germany’s short sale ban had surprised everybody, unpleasantly. Finns can see through the German plans to the point where a Tobin tax on financial services will exert adverse selection against smaller exchanges in favour of the larger ones (again, see more on this here).

Why? Because the problem with financial institutions today has nothing to do with volatility in financial assets prices. It has everything to do with reckless lending by the banks and the willingness of bondholders to underwrite excessive borrowing (including that by the sovereigns). In the real world banks are willing to write poor loans because they and their shareholders and bondholders know that they will be rescued by the state, should things go pear-shape. And, of course, governments always oblige. Look no further than Nama. Wrecking regulatory vengeance on the markets in order to address the problems with the banks – as Mrs Merkel is doing – is hardly a way forward.

Only a massive scale intervention by the ECB, going most likely well beyond simple sterilization of €20 billion of sovereign bonds purchased by the bank so far, has pushed the euro up against the dollar. But at what cost, one might wonder, especially in the environment where deflation is creeping back into the US stats? I don’t have the data on ECB operations this week, but something was certainly hitting the markets for FX and bonds. Of course, sterilizing and supporting currency are two individually costly propositions. But for ECB to engage in this double game for a prolonged period of time will spell significant drying up of the liquidity. It is like an overweight elderly amateur playing alone against, simultaneously, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The result will be painful, quick and devastating.

Sterilized cash can be re-injected into the banks reserves, without cash hitting the streets, but that would only mean more real money being trapped in the liquidity sucking spiral of government financing via ECB lending to the banks. We’ve been there for the last 24 months and it is not pretty.

In addition, there is a pesky issue of the US position. In effect, Japan, China, Germany and the entire euro zone are playing beggar-thy-neighbour game with the US by artificially suppressing the cost of their exports to America. The problem, as I have pointed out before (here) is that this requires US consumers to start borrowing again to sustain massive trade deficits. If this fails to materialise, and it is hard to see how it can, then the entire pyramid scheme of global trade will collapse. In the end, the double dip, this time caused by trade tensions and falling exports, is on the cards for all, as undervalued currencies in the three major powerhouses of global trade will prevent their consumers from expanding their own imports demand.

Such an outcome, however, will be preceded by a significant pain for Europe’s domestic economy. While a 10% devaluation of the Euro against a basket of global currencies can be expected to lead to a significant boost in Euro area economy (ca +0.7% in year one after devaluation and up to +1.8% in year 4), this exports-led growth will be associated with massive increases in the interest rates (+85bps in year one, to +220bps in year 3). These estimates are taken from Econbrowser (here). Obviously, the rest of the world will be just cheering EU and Mrs Merkel in this destruction of economic growth... or not?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Economics 20/05/2010: No comment needed

This is in just now from Ryanair:



(Thursday, 20th May 2010) ...At a press conference in Mainz today, hosted by Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and Minister for Economics and Transport, Hendrik Hering, Ryanair announced that it would invest €25m in building a new two bay aircraft maintenance hangar including two aircraft simulators and a 16 room cabin crew training centre, in a move which will create up to 200 new Ryanair jobs at Frankfurt Hahn Airport.

...This new facility and jobs will replace those previously offered to the Irish Government earlier this year in the empty Hangar 6 at Dublin Airport. Ryanair regrets that even today, many months later, Hangar 6 remains unused for base maintenance, while up to 900 SRT Engineers remain unemployed, drawing the dole. Many of these people could have found skilled, well paid work, with Ryanair, had the Irish Government accepted the airline’s offer to buy or lease Hangar 6 and divert a significant proportion of Ryanair’s base maintenance to Dublin Airport.

Speaking today in Germany, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary said:

“While we are pleased to announce this new investment in Germany and Frankfurt Hahn Airport, I regret that the Irish Government stood idly by and did nothing to win these new jobs for Ireland. The Irish Government talks a lot about competitiveness, but is short on action.

“At a time when traffic and tourism is collapsing in Ireland, the Irish Government prefers to impose tourist taxes, and order big increases in Dublin Airport’s fees, rather than work with the world’s largest airline to lower access costs, win investment in maintenance or create hundreds of well paid engineering jobs at Dublin Airport.

“Sadly in Ireland, we are stuck with a Government which likes talking about the “smart economy” but prefers implementing “dumb policy”. The sooner they reverse these tourist taxes and slash high costs at the Government owned DAA airports, then the sooner Irish airports and tourism can return to low cost access and traffic growth”.

Ends. Thursday, 20th May 2010

Economics 20/05/2010: Germany's new plan for Europe

“Berlin means business” says Spiegel about the latest plans by German Government for an EU-wide revision of fiscal and financial architecture.

This Tuesday, “EU finance ministers announced efforts to both rein in hedge funds operating in Europe and to introduce a tax on financial transactions”.

Wait a second, folks – take Ireland: a sick financial system with plenty of financial services taxes, including a stamp duty on transactions, all the way down to bank cards levies. Has the presence of the Tobin tax here helped to prevent the crisis? Will it work in Europe? Not really. Why? For several reasons:
  1. Tax is avoidable by offshoring trades outside the EU. The effect of this will be – higher cost of capital raising for companies, selection bias in favour of larger companies in access to the capital market (AIG advantage anyone?), lower after-tax returns to investors and higher cost of financial services to all of us. Falling listings in Europe and greater state pensions reliance. Which part of this equation makes any economic sense?
  2. The tax will not fund sufficient insurance provision against the need for future bailouts. When you think of the magnitude of bailouts we’ve witnessed, the levels of taxation would have to be so high, there will be no financial markets in Europe left.
  3. The tax will, however, fund general Government spending in the Eurozone. Which, of course, means more of our money (yes, yours and mine – as long as we have pensions, savings, investments or if we work for companies that have listed shares or have plcs as their clients…) will be going to noble causes of public sector retirement and wages packages, social welfare spending, politically motivated pet projects, and so on.
  4. The tax will retard economic development in Europe. One of the reason why European banks are so sick is because European companies are heavily reliant on banks lending. European businesses are based on loans, not equity - in other words, they are based on debt. Vast amounts of debt. And when such culture of financing collides with an asset bubble drivers of exuberant expectations, banks balance sheets swell with bad loans. The new tax will only perpetuate this inherently inefficient utilization of equity financing across Europe. Which means less growth, fewer businesses and fewer jobs.

Next, of course, in the line of fire are the hedge funds. They had to be reined in because… no wait, remind me, why exactly? Hedge funds did not cause the current fiscal crisis (they have no control over the Governments’ borrowings and spending), nor did they pollute banks balance sheets or caused the property bubbles. Why are they a target then? Because for European leadership, ‘Doing right’ means ‘Doing politically easy’. Hedgies have no strong lobbyist interest behind them, unlike the banks, property developers, sovereign bondholders, sovereign bond issuers, farmers, trade unions and public 'servants' - all who inhabit the vast ques to the trough of Government subsidies. So here you are – we attack a bystander to pretend that we are tackling the criminal in sight.

After hedgies, came in other imaginary villains. On Tuesday night the EU banned naked short-selling and the trading of naked credit default swaps involving euro-zone debt. Oops.. before Tuesday night we knew what markets were betting on into the future – the short positions revealed actual expectations with the power of having real money put behind them. Now we do not. This, per EU leaders, is some sort of transparency. Socratic cave analogy comes to mind.

The EU ban target two types of trading that “have been blamed for exacerbating the financial crisis and Europe's sovereign debt crisis.” Actually, IMF explicitly said (here) in its report last week that the entire CDS markets - not just short sales in these markets - were not enough to cause the crisis. Never mind - EU leaders know how to deal with independent advice from international experts. Any hope, then, that Mrs Merkel's pipe dream of 'independent budgets oversight' (see below) can come true in this land of pure politicization of everything - from rating agencies, to traders, to investors?

It turns out, folks, that European crisis was, after all, not about absurdly high levels of public debt carried by PIIGS, nor by fraudulent (yes, fraudulent) deception by some Governments of investors about the true extent of national deficits. It was not exacerbated by the decade-long low growth recession across the Euro area, nor by a recent severe depression that afflicted Euro area economies. Nope. The cause of this, per Mrs Merkel & Co, were investors who were betting on all of these factors adding up to an unsustainable fiscal and economic situation in Europe. Off we fighting the evil windmills, then, Don Quixote from Berlin!

Worse than that, on top of the ridiculous policies decisions made over the last two days, Chancellor Merkel has also been working hard “on far-reaching changes to the treaty underpinning Europe's common currency, the euro.” Per Der Speigel, “Merkel would like to see increased monitoring of member states' annual budgets, the introduction of stiff sanctions for those in violation of euro-zone debt rules and the suspension of voting rights in the European Council. Furthermore, Germany wants to establish bankruptcy proceedings for insolvent euro-zone countries.”

Really? I wrote about the actual chances of any of this working to the desired effect in the earlier post (here). But now we have some details to the plan:

“According to the document, Germany would like to see annual budgets in euro-zone countries undergo a "strict and independent check." Berlin proposes that the job be taken over by the European Central Bank or by a collection of economic research institutes.”

Now, the problem with this part is that there are no independent organizations in Europe left. The ECB is now a full hostage to Europe’s push for retaining fiscal sovereignty while maintaining unsustainable prolificacy. ‘Institutes’ Mrs Merkel has in mind are a host of EU-funded ‘Yes, Minister’ organizations that populate the realm of economic policymaking on the continent (with a number of them operating in Ireland). By-and-large, they have no capability of delivering anything of real value, let alone anything independent. Even the likes of the OECD – a very capable organization with some degree of independence – is not free from European political interference.

"Euro-zone member states that do not conform to deficit reduction rules should temporarily be disallowed from receiving structural funds," the draft reads. In extreme cases, that funding could be permanently eliminated.”

Imagine Greece today, receiving €110 billion bailout today, being told, ‘Naughty! We will withhold some €5 billion in funds.” Apart from being unrealistic, this idea is potentially quite dangerous. Structural funds go to finance infrastructure and other longer term investment programmes. Many of these rely on co-funding from the Member States and/or private partners. All have private contractors. Impose this potential penalty and cost of public projects financing will have to rise due to uncertain nature of the funding stream.

Withholding these funds will either be meaningless (if the funds withheld are small, as it will cause no damage and will have no power of prevention) or it will cause an economic mayhem as bills go unpaid and workers lose jobs (in which case the sanction will be undermining the process of fiscal recovery and triggering more bailouts).

In short, the threat is either toothless or self-defeating. Either way – it is a cure that threatens to make the disease incurable.

Two more proposals are mentioned in the Spiegel.

“Earlier this month, Schäuble had mentioned the possibility of suspending member states' votes should they find themselves in violation of European debt rules, an idea which is mentioned in the draft proposal.”

This should make wonders of the EU efforts to strengthen its democratic legitimacy. And would this extend to suspending MEPs powers too? European court judges? Commissioners? Where does the buck stop? Should this come to pass, Italy, Greece… no wait – at 60% debt to GDP level, virtually the entire EU will be suspended (see table here). Who will end up voting in Europe? Germany won’t – its own debt/GDP ratio is 72.5%... Ditto for the deficits benchmark.

Finally, per plan: “Should all else fail, the draft calls for a plan to be established for euro-zone members to declare bankruptcy.”

Err… what? Hold on – bankruptcy? Given that the EU own rules to date have so spectacularly failed to contain debts and deficits from breaching EU-own rules, that would be a collective bankruptcy then… One presumes with Germany in tow?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Economics 19/05/2010: Euro rescue and tax burdens

So the Euro has hit 1.219 against the USD last night and has been bouncing erratically throughout today. The markets are flashing red across pretty much entire listings on the back of German 'talking tough' to the speculators. Rumors of Greeks contemplating an exit from the euro are swirling across the forex traders'-frequented blogs. ECB has abandoned all caution and previous policy mandates and is now pumping euros out of FX markets. Sterilizing Europe's economy into a liquidity crisis, before the insolvency crisis is resolved.

In short, there is a clear lack of conviction in the markets about the Euro area plans for more fiscal discipline, as well as a general apprehension about the bans of naked shorts. This is a direct corollary of the 'rescue' package and the political rhetoric that surrounded German Government decision to back the PIIGS - or more aptly BAN-PIIGS - debts. Yesterday, John Cochrane of UofC, my old professor - had a superb analysis of the whole circus (here).

Of course, banning naked shorts for their alleged role in causing market panics is like banning oxygen for its role in causing fires. Short sales positions are about the last bastion of transparency in the murky waters of sovereign finances.

But take a look as to why the entire package of 'fiscal oversight' proposed by the EU has no legs.

First there is an argument to be made that the 'new package' is really 'old news'. In effect it simply front-loads the Stability Programme Updates reporting (currently submitted to Brussels for approval ex post adoption of the budgets). In theory, supplying SPU statements prior to the budget is supposed to provide for (1) time to adjust budgetary positions in response to the Commission criticism; and (2) a chance for 'peer-review' of the budgetary proposals. Apparently, no individual lines of either spending or taxation will be considered, but instead, the headline figures (macro side) will be looked at.

What's wrong with this picture? A lot.
  1. Stability & Growth pact already tasks the EU Commission with such oversight and with tools to fine serial abusers. Yet, countries like Greece have been in an obvious violation of the SGP criteria since at least the late 1980s and nothing was done to enforce the existent compliance mechanism. France has been in violation for about 8 out of 11 years of SGP application. Italy - since the foundation of EMU. The list can go on.
  2. Peer-review by fellow countries does not work in international policy processes. Look no further than heavily edited (by Member States) 'consultative' documents from the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank and so on. States do not criticise states and there is no real mechanics for ensuring that euro area peer review is going to have any more integrity than the 'business-as-usual' Brussels approach to policy making and analysis.
  3. Creation of a formal Eurozone-wide supervisory mechanism will de facto guarantee future bailouts, thus inducing a massive moral hazard on future Governments and fueling risk appetite for the markets. After all, if the budgets are approved collectively, there is at least an implicit collective responsibility when things go wrong. As rightly argued in John Cochrane's article linked above, such a guarantee will be an open invitation to continued unsustainable risk-free lending to the reckless sovereigns from the bond markets.
  4. With peer review mechanism having no real power, the power to police deficits will fall with the Commission. Does anyone have any serious belief that the Commission has whereabouts to enforce the restrictions it cannot adhere to itself? After all, the Commission has failed, repeatedly, to clear its own budgets in the past. And very little positive can be said about the Commission historical ability to produce high level macroeconomic policy analysis. Do we need to be reminded of the Lisbon Agenda or the Social Economy or the Knowledge Economy or the latest pie-in-the-sky Agenda 2020?
  5. Lacking specific powers to go through the member states' budgets line by line - covering all of the expenditure and revenue measures - the oversight process will simply be out of power to either alter anything in response to adverse findings, or to even understand the nature of and risks involved in each headline budgetary projection.
  6. Front loading SPU reporting will do nothing to the Budgetary outcomes, as SPUs, alongside the Budgets are subject to built-in assumptions/expectations. Are we really saying the Commission will be able to tell, for example, Irish Government: 'Boys, you are assuming here economic growth of 4% in year X. That's not going to happen. Revise?' I doubt it.
Notice, I am disregarding the longer-term economic side of the proposal. The EU Commission, as well as many peer states in the review process will have a heavily pro-tax Government spending-favoring and economic growth retarding policies. The Commission, alongside many peer member states consistently believe that budgetary / fiscal health is assured when tax revenue equals tax expenditure (roughly speaking). And they believe that more expenditure is a good thing. Thus, the process is likely to be biased heavily in favour of high-tax, high-spend economic development model. Of course, there isn't a country on earth that has been able to deliver such a model while maintaining dynamic economy. Are we settling Europe into a slow decay model that suits declining demographics of the Continent?

Here is the comparative table on tax revenue collected by the various advanced economies in the boom year of 2007. Notice that the countries currently in trouble - the BAN-PIIGS (Belgium, Austria, Netherlands + PIIGS):
What does this analysis tell us?
  • Tax revenues as a share of economy is well above average for BAN-PIIGS. So low taxes are not a problem that caused their bankruptcy.
  • The structure of taxation - the spread over various tax heads, is pretty much even across various heads, suggesting that over-reliance on a specific tax head is not a cause of excessive deficits.
  • The deficits, at least on revenue side, simply could not have been caused by the adverse recessionary shocks.
All of this means that the deficits are structural. And that the debt accumulation was not only visible well before the crisis (which of course means that SGP supervision has failed) but was also caused by the expenditure side of the Government balance sheets.

Remember, these figures are from the boom-time 2007! And take a look at Ireland, expressed in GNP terms. The table below is self-explanatory:
So we do live between Boston and Berlin, folks? And we do have exceptionally low tax burden? We really do need more the Brussels-styled fiscal discipline?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Economics 17/05/2010: BofI rights offer - back of an envelope

Update: Tasc have published a very interesting piece of research (here) mapping the real Golden Circle of Ireland's interconnected political and economic elites. Fair play to Tasc for covering semi-state bodies and companies. Well done to the authors! (hat tip to RDelevan)

Back of an envelope calculations for the BofI rights offer - self explanatory stuff:
But what about taxpayers' buy-in into BofI under this deal? Well, if the value of this offer is negative at the buy-in price of 55 cents per share, think what the value is for the taxpayers, who bought at €1.80 per share! Ok, let's do the maths: we have post-rights price of BofI at 81.9 cents, for which we paid 180 cents - the net return is the loss of 98.1 cents per share bought by the Irish Exchequer... Amazingly, there is no reason for this loss whatsoever - as an existent shareholder in the bank, Irish Exchequer is entitled to participate in the same deal offered to all current shareholders. we, therefore, could have limited our losses to 24.75 cents per share from 81.9 cents per share and still done the same deal!

Note: the above estimates are based on straight forward linear model of equity-price relationship. These are, therefore approximations. Based on expected balance sheet model, the returns can be estimated different - with upside growth scenario over the next few years potentially yielding a positive return, while downside growth scenario can yield an even deeper loss. You be the judge, but my figures should be treated as being closer to risk-adjusted (static model) averages.

Disclaimer - I do not hold any shares or any other financial instruments (equity or debt) in any of the Irish banks.

Economics 17/05/2010: Jose Maria Aznar's proposals that ireland should adopt

When Spain beats you in a race of setting out pro-market reforms, can you still claim you are open for business? Well, that's a conundrum Ireland is likely to face. For 'all talk, no action' Messrs Cowen & Lenihan, here's a proposal from Spain's José Marià Aznar - a rather sensible list of reforms Spain needs to adopt in the next few years, published in FT:

  1. Large-scale labour reform to transform collective bargaining (equivalent to killing off our own Social Partnership to which Messrs Cowen & Lenihan seem to be totally wedded), deregulate labour recruitment services (which is now out of reach for Ireland since Messrs Cowen & Lenihan subscribed to the Croke Park deal) and, lower taxes on employment (which is, of course, an impossibility for Ireland as we continue destroying our domestic and exporting capacity by saddling workers with the bills for banks and public sector rescues) and encourage the unemployed into work (a possible by-product of the next wave of public spending cuts, but not a concerted effort that pairs both negative and positive incentives and access to training and entrepreneurship resources for the unemployed);
  2. a new energy policy to avoid the shutdown of nuclear plants, deregulate markets and cut subsidies on inefficient renewable energy sources (which, of course, would run counter to our Government's insistence on preserving ESB's market power and building windmills to escape modernity. Do note that our refusal to properly deregulate energy distribution rests on the Government continued protection of the ESB trade unions' interests in maintaining their ownership of the national grid);
  3. a bank shake-up, including authorising the investment of private capital in savings banks (yeah, right, as if we really have a chance of reforming our banks with Nama assuring they will remain zombie lenders for a good part of the next 10 years);
  4. sweeping reforms to reduce the size of regional administrations and create a viable and efficient state (again, we have no reform agenda on local authorities, and no reform agenda on creating any meaningful efficiency gains in the public services);
  5. changes to the state pension system to guarantee its mid-term and long-term sustainability (in Ireland's case, this is equivalent to the earlier Government promise to... create a new compulsory quasi-tax on our incomes that would underpin state-controlled, privately supplied pension system, while maintaining the status quo of inefficient, and politically manipulated social security);
  6. deregulation to increase competition, including reforms to the welfare state and further privatisation of public companies (Messr Cowen & Lenihan have not got this far, and are unlikely to get there in the future. Instead of stimulating private growth by opening state-controlled markets to competition and breaking up Government near-monopolies, our Government is keen on actually providing more cash for semi-states to engage in 'investment' which normally - DAA, anyone, or ESB - yields no real returns to the economy, but always acts to increase market power of these semi-states);
  7. tax reform to foster competitiveness (again, not a peep on this one from Messrs Cowen & Lenihan. Instead of tax reforms, we have Commission on Taxation report and a promise of pushing tax rates even higher in the next couple of years. Take a wild guess which 'programme' will this Government pursue).
That's right, folks. Our ex-politicians now line up to take state jobs at the insolvent banks. Spain's ex-leaders are trying to design new policies. Any idea who's got a better shot at a recovery?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Economics 16/05/2010: IMF on fiscal stability IV

So continuing with the IMF Fiscal Outlook report data, building on the three previous posts: Part 1 (here), Part 2 (here) and Part 3 (here), take a look at another wonderfully ludicrous myth perpetrated by the Irish Left: the Myth of Underinvestment in Public Health in Ireland.

The Myth of Healthcare has two parts to it: Part 1: "Irish Government has under-invested in Irish public health." Part 2: "We need to ramp up Health spending to achieve better services".

The data above is taken from the paper that formed the background to the IMF report, titled “From Stimulus to Consolidation: Revenue and Expenditure Policies in Advanced and Emerging Economies”, Prepared by Fiscal Affairs Department, Approved by Carlo Cottarelli (30-Apr-10). My calculations cover GNP comparatives and ranked results, plus the change between 1990 and 2007. IMF reports changes between 1960 and 2007 and 1970 and 2007. I find these data problematic, because of a large number of gaps in the data for these years. In addition, I would have trouble comparing Ireland between 1960 and 1970 through 2007 to majority of the countries on the list, as arguably, Ireland was not a developed or advanced economy in the decades prior to 1990.

What the table above clearly shows is that:
  • In 2007 Irish Government spending on public healthcare was 8th highest in the group of advanced economies, measured as a share of our income.
  • Accounting for the size of the recession in Ireland and a lack of significant fall-off in public spending on health in Budgets 2009-2010, one can relatively safely assume that we at least retained this position in 2010.
  • In terms of increases in spending, we are clearly nowhere near the bottom of the league. We recorded 8th highest increase in spending in the last 17 years of all countries in terms of GDP.
  • We achieved second highest increase in spending as a share of national income in the sample of developed nations.
  • Our increase in health expenditure as a share of GDP was 21.4% above the average for the group of countries. It was 107% (more than double) above the average in relation to our GNP.
  • A large number of countries - marked in bold red - to my knowledge offer superior health services to their citizens compared to Ireland while spending less, sometimes vastly less, public resources on healthcare provision. This statement does not take into account that many of these countries have much older population than Ireland.
  • Have the FF/PD Governments been any worse (or better) than other Governments in financing health expenditure increases (or dumping good money after bad, if you want)? I don't know - the data above cannot tell me quality differentials or efficiency of spend. But what I can tell is that until 200 we were spending less than the group average on health. In 2007 we were spending above the average (based on GNP).
The problem, of course, is that we cannot perfectly measure the output we get for the money we spend on public health. Alas, somehow, I know that any foreigner living in this country runs for the airport the minute they get sick, desperately trying to avoid HSE's kingdom. French, Italians, Germans, Belgians, Spaniards, Czechs, Dutch - you name a country within the EU - all have been dreading the need to face our 'centres of excellence' where medical staff needs to be reminded to wash their hands and lines of sick patients stretch the length of the lines to the infamous Lenin's Tomb's in the hey days of the CPSU.

It looks like, according to hard data, this adverse reaction is not due to the lack of cash in the health system...

Economics 16/05/2010: EU on the brink

, in today's piece (link here) has a superb analysis as to why Euro is in the end game, with pat not an option for its fierce opponents. And, incidentally, why it's the markets that are getting things right in nailing Euro zone. Let me quote few passages (as usual, comments are mine):

"Geneva professor Charles Wyplosz said EU leaders made the error of overselling up their shock and awe package [€750 billion rescue package issued two weeks ago] before establishing any political mechanism to mobilise such sums. The fund is an empty shell, he wrote at Vox EU. Worse still, crucial principles have been sacrificed for the sake of unconvincing announcements."

Bingo: Wyplosz is 100% correct, as I wrote here, the package is a bizarre amalgamation of impossible, improbable and outright reckless:
  • It contains guarantees that cannot be backed by resources
  • It shoves more debt onto the shoulders of already insolvent sovereigns
  • It turns Germany - a solvent nation - into an implicitly (as long as guarantees remain implicit) insolvent nation
  • It contains no real mechanism for imposing any sort of discipline on Eurozone sovereigns who might continue engaging into reckless deficit financing
  • It demolishes any credibility built up by the ECB over the last decade and with it tears the fabric of the Euro
  • It represents a massive cost imposition on Eurozone's economies

"Brussels was unwise to talk of smashing the wolf pack speculators and defeat the worldwide organised attack on the Eurozone. As Napoleon said, if you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna. Besides, the language of the EU priesthood ex-ECB board member Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa talks of the advancing battalions of the anti-euro army frightens Chinese and Mid-East investors needed to soak up EU debt. These metaphors are a mental flight from the issue at hand, which is that vast imbalances masked by EMU, indeed made possible only by EMU have been decorked by the Greek crisis and now pose a danger to the entire world."

Bingo again! Since the foundation of the EU in its modern incarnation - in other words since the mid 1990s, Brussels did nothing in terms of economic policies other than issue lofty plans and guidance documents - which promptly went nowhere real, and blame 'others' for its own troubles. At times, this reminded me of the good old Sovietskies whose entire edifice of the state was supported - from the early 1970s through the late 1980s - solely by the threat of 'others' coming to take over the Motherland.

"One can only guess what Mr Trichet meant when he said we are living through the most difficult situation since the Second World War, and perhaps the First. ...was Mr Trichet alluding to something else after witnessing the Brussels tantrum by President Nicolas Sarkozy? According to El Pais, Mr Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the euro and break the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU project unless Germany capitulated. To utter such threats is to bring them about. You cannot treat Germany in that fashion."

And herein is where the trouble's brewing. One thing for people to say Germany should exit the troubled Euro to save itself. Another thing for the country like France, which never really bothered to comply with the budgetary restrictions of the Maastricht Criteria or SGP to threaten to pull out, leaving Germany to pick up the pieces...

"The German nation is moving on. I was struck by a piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeine proposing a new hard currency made up of Germany, Austria, Benelux, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Poland, but without France. The piece entitled The Alternative says deflation policies may push Greece to the brink of civil war and concludes that Europe would better off if it abandoned the attempt to hold together two incompatible halves. It can be done, the piece says."

So the rationale for a German exit is there. As it has been since the first day of the Euro creation and the massive pan-European euphoria (or call it chauvinism) that engendered the idea (no matter how absurd) that EU can absorb the entire Continent into its folds and stretch into Asia via 'acquisition' of Turkey, plus the grand delusion of the Euro becoming the reserve currency of the world. Only now, this rationale has real feet - the markets gave them these by exposing the weakness behind Europe's great experiment. The markets did exactly that with the USSR in the 1980s, with Asia in the second half of the 1990s, Russia in 1998, New York in the 1970s, Orange County in the 1990s, Latina America in the 1980s and then in 2002-2003. They will, once the European day-dreams are fully dealt with, do the same to China's economy on state steroids. After all, this is what the markets are designed to do - expose lies and support the true value.

But, says "What makes this crisis so dangerous is not just that Europe's banks are still reeling, with wafer-thin capital ratios. The new twist is that markets are no longer sure whether sovereign states are strong enough to shoulder rescue costs. The IMF warned in last weeks Fiscal Monitor that the tail risk of a widespread loss of confidence in fiscal solvency could no longer be ignored. By 2015 public debt will be 250pc in Japan, 125pc in Italy, 110pc in the US, 95pc in France, and 91pc in the UK."

Do I need to remind you what it will be like in Ireland? Check out here. And that's with only direct cost of Nama factored in. 122% of the national income by 2015! And our Minister for Finance dares to call us turning the corner.

"There is a way out of this crisis, but it is not the policy of wage deflation imposed on Ireland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, with Italy now also mulling an austerity package. This can only lead to a debt-deflation spiral. ...The only viable policies short of breaking up EMU or imposing capital controls is to offset fiscal cuts with monetary stimulus for as long it takes. Will it happen, given the conflicting ideologies of Germany and Club Med? Probably not. The ECB denies that it is engaged in Fed-style quantitative easing, vowing to sterilise its bond purchases euro for euro. If they mean it, they must doom southern Europe to depression. No democracy will immolate itself on the altar of monetary union for long."

Note to all folks eagerly rubbing their hands in hope of getting their hands on Government 'stimulus' to offset deflationary effects of austerity in Ireland:
  • €2 trillion issued directly to each adult and child inhabiting Europe (EU27) and
  • €1 trillion issued to the EU16 sovereigns on the basis of each sovereign share of the total Euroarea population.
Wait another month, and we'll need €4 trillion...

Of course, there's always an option of Germany leaving the Euro and setting up a separate, credible currency. It's the lower cost solution, for it requires no replay of the same crisis 10 years from now - which is, of course, an inevitability given the nature of the Euro area. No matter whether fiscally integrated or not.