Saturday, July 31, 2010

Economics 31/7/10: Credit flows in Ireland

Central Bank quarterly was published yesterday. Here are some updated charts on credit flows (data through May). The main conclusions are:
  1. Private sector credit continues to contract and is again accelerating in the annual rate of decline (-10.4% yoy in May as compared to -9.3% declines in April and March).
  2. Mortgage credit contractions are steadily declining (-1.8% in May against -1.6% in April & 1.4% in March).
  3. Non-mortgage credit is accelerating in the rate of decline (-12.8% in May compared to -11.4% in April)
  4. Nama - now through 50% of the loans purchases - has had no positive impact on credit supply. If anything, as charts for households lending show blow, it is being accompanied by a dramatic increase in the cost of borrowing for ordinary families.
Charts:
Aggregate private sector credit above. Disastrous trends of the last 2 year continue unabated, despite the already significant contraction in the credit supply. This suggests that we are in a continued downward spiral when it comes to business and household investment (future capacity is under continued pressure down and the only thing that provides some positive support to capital side is, most likely, MNCs own inter-company investments). This goes to explain why one cannot accept earlier DofF projections for 2013-2015 potential rates of growth. We are in a situation very similar to Japan in the mid-1990s, where existent production is being driven at the expense of capital stock.

Mortgages:Clearly, no signs of moderation in the rates of decay anywhere here. But the picture is more sluggish than that for non-mortgages lending:
The reason for the different dynamics is that it is easier for households to cut back on smaller credit demand than on massive mortgages burden. Hence, non-mortgages lending is a leading indicator for what we can expect to follow in the mortgages markets. Not exactly a bright future for the housing markets, then.

Deposits side of our financial system:
Notice that deposits are down, mom, across the board, except for shorter term maturity corporate deposits. But yoy all deposits are down. Combined decline in all deposits in volume since January 2010 is €1,869 mln, or 3.4%. Not a small change. All deposit rates are down year on year - we are being paid less to save, but are charged more to borrow.

Loans stats next.
Loans for house purchases are falling, while mortgages rates are rocketing. The orange line above shows just what is happening with the cost of financing one's own home in Ireland, courtesy of our regulators (keen on talking about 'moral hazard'), all the special 'Working Groups' aiming to address the problems in the housing markets, and Nama. Remember - our Government (by now pretty much every minister in the cabinet) had sworn to us that Nama will restore functional banking. May be this is what they had in mind...

Last year I predicted that the game in the mortgages markets will play as follows:
  • Once Nama starts transfers, incentives for the banks to play a Good Fella will diminish - repossessions will remain low, but rates will rise. We now can see this happening around us.
  • Once Nama completes transfers, banks will go in earnest at rebuilding their margins & capital, meaning - repossessions will accelerate dramatically and rates will rise to the levels where the burden of financing mortgages will become a driver for more repossessions.
  • 3-6 months after the above stage, banks will start hoarding repossessed property on their books. They will be forced to start selling it ca 6-9 months after February 2011 (completion date for Nama purchases).
  • Combined effect of massively more expensive mortgages credit and inflow of repossessed properties into the market will drive prices in housing markets even further down.
So far, we are through the 1st bullet point and getting closer to the second one.

Meanwhile, in the land of short term loans, rates are more steady and credit supply is falling gently.
Now, let me ask you this question. What should be the priority here? Making sure people are not being skinned to pay for their homes, or making sure that credit cards rates and car loans are being underpinned by more stable interest rates?

Credit to non-financial corporations is continuing to slide. Year on year, shorter term (working capital) credit is now off a massive 19.3%. Longer term credit is off 2.7% yoy. What does this tell me about the economy?
  1. Capital investment is going nowhere fast, with any rosy figures on volumes we might hear over the coming weeks being most likely driven by the MNCs own in-house investment flows; and
  2. Companies have no capacity to refinance shorter term credit obligations, resulting in a cash flow pressures and lack of operating capital.
Not exactly a success story for our financial system administrators and regulators, then.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Economics 30/7/10: No double dip for the euro area, yet...

New data from eurocoin is out - time to update euro area forecasts. Aptly in line with the US Q2 growth now coming at a slower 2.4% annualized rate, both the leading eurocoin indicator of activity (down to 0.4 in July from 0.46 in June) and my forecast for Q2 and Q3 2010 growth for the euro area are also moderated. Chart below illustrates:
GDP forecast range is for quarterly growth of -0.1% to +0.05% in Q3 2009.

So no double dip for the euro area yet, but things continue to head that way...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Economics 29/7/10: PTSB house prices

PTSB/ESRI house price index is in for Q2 2010. The core result: house prices were down, again, by 1.7% qoq in Q2 2010 - a lower rate of change on Q1 2010 contraction of 4.8% qoq. Thus, prices are now off-peak by 35% to an average of €201,364.

Dublin prices are down 3.5% qoq in Q2 2010 and are off 44% relative to peak. This gap between nation average and Dublin, assuming (as seems to be reasonable) that capital prices appreciation prior to the current crisis were significantly affected by underlying demand, should be erased over the next 12 months plus. Which means we can expect at some point that Dublin will lead the recovery across the country, while other regions continue to contract toward the 45-50% nationwide average off-peak pricing.

NCB stockbrokers gave a good comparison to fundamentals-determined prices. Per their analysis,
  • Rental yield model implies house prices equilibrium at between €118,000 and €157,000, or a mid-range house price of €137,500;
  • Earnings multiples model implies €170,000;
  • Present value model (although not detailed as to the assumptions built in) implies the range of €158,000 to €236,000 for an mid-range of €197,000
You can see where these valuations are heading, don't you? Take a full range of estimates mid-range point of €177,000 - that would be a decline of 43% off the peak prices. Take the simple average price of all mid-range points to get 46% decline.

Now, recall - these are equilibrium prices. In normal price adjustments, there is a relatively pronounced undershooting in prices - in other words, we can expect prices to fall below equilibrium levels before reverting toward longer term values over time.

The depth of this undershooting and its duration depend on some external factors, such as the ease of getting mortgages approvals, mortgage conditions etc - none of which are currently helping the housing markets. So there is a very strong possibility for prices to hit the floor at around -55-60% off the peak.

Lastly, there is a question to be asked as to the validity of PTSB's data - the country largest mortgages holder might no longer be the country largest mortgages issuer. And the sample size globally has shrunk substantially. In other words, if a desperate homeowner in the distant province sells a house for, say, €120,000 while a dozen of his neighbors are not braving the market, does this really tell us anything about the market clearing price? Not really. Imagine what the said homeowner would have got for his dwelling if 12 more identical dwellings in the neighborhood had a 'For Sale' sign.

So a grain of salt is due - the size of an orange...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Economics 27/7/10: Stress tests of Irish banks? Get real!

An excellent comment on AIB and BofI 'stress tests' results from Peter Mathews, worth a direct post (rather than 'just' a comment) on this blog. Read it here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Economics 26/7/10: Old Capital Investment 'news'?

Updated: per some detailed feedback from the DofF, see updated text below.


The latest announcement of the extended capital investment programme for 2010-2016 is sounding like a PR exercise. Majority of the projects announced in the programme are the left-overs from the previous National Development Plan. So there is no real news on spending volumes / stimulus extent in the Taoiseach's announcement.

This does not imply that the programme is without a merit, but it does imply that the media circus about 'major new investment programme' announcement is seriously overdone.

There are, however, some details worth covering.

First, the level of 'new' investment. At €39 billion over 7 years it is hardly a 'significant' increase on the historic levels. Taken as an average of 2008-2010 gross voted capital spending, the six year plan that would have stuck to the average would imply a capital spending of over €51.8bn through 2016. Well in excess of Mr Cowen's latest 'Great 7-year Leap Forward'.

DofF latest projections submitted to the EU in SPU2010, prepared in December 2009, show expected capital investment of €5,500 per annum in 2011-2014, which, is now exactly matched by today's 'new' announcement.

Chart below illustrates, drawing on data from Department of Finance own projections delivered for the Budget 2010.

The news component of the announcement is in the detailed breakdown of the numbers by department and within departments - by the specific lines and projects. This is a significant improvement on the SPU 2010, where the same €5,500 million in annual investments was just a number. And then there are cuts in some of the really less economically feasible (or I would say 'White elephant') investments envisioned in the original NDP.

These are welcomed changes that are worth the report that DofF did produce to accompany the announcement (links here). Where credit due...


Second, Department of Finance SPU submission to the EU has built in (Table 9: Additional Annual Measures to be delivered in 2011 and 2012) as "Capital already identified and incorporated into the base" the following cuts to capital investment: 2011=1bn, 2012=2bn.

If Taoiseach's announcement relates to the new investment on top of the planned NPRF contributions, then the future (2013-2014) savings will have to come out of some other lines of Exchequer balance sheet. Croke Park deal effectively closed the doors on generating new savings from the non-welfare lines of current spending. This means that our Taoiseach, in making today's announcement will be aiming for clawing at least €3bn in new taxes on top of the at least €2bn already planned in Budget 2010 for the years 2011-2012.

Now, recall that the same SPU - which is now replicated in the 7-year plan for capital investment - had its validity questioned by the IMF as being too optimistic on the assumptions, imprecise on planned savings and at a risk of failing due to the possible Government fatigue to cuts. Are we now seeing the very things that IMF was warning us about unfolding in front of our eyes. The IMF also said that it is likely that the additional (not planned in SPU) adjustments to fiscal balance will require savings and/or tax increases of ca 2.3% of 2014 GDP, or roughly speaking €5bn.

So in the nutshell - either we will be borrowing more to finance that which we already announced years ago, or we will be taxed to death to pay for it. Or both.


Oh, and on a funny note - the Irish Times (here) reported that Government is hoping that the new 'investment' will create some 270,000 new jobs, directly and indirectly.

My original comment was: so we spend ca €6,500 mln to generate 270,000 new jobs? At this rate of 'expected' jobs creation, we should have some 6.5 million workers in Ireland, using 2009 GDP levels. Was someone in the Government buildings smoking something funny coming up with these numbers?

A person close to the report came back to me with their explanation of the numbers. The figures quoted on the aggregate are multi-annual 6-year forward projections that incorporate previously announced jobs targets from IDA and EI. So the direct jobs creation (remember - indirect jobs creation is highly uncertain, while IDA and EI targets are not subject to the announced investment measures) is around 1/2 that number. Now, at 130-140,000 per 7 years and at €39bn total would be in the region of €280-300,000 per job in one-off gross investment.

It still looks to me like something a tad too optimistic is happening here:
  • Suppose we spend €5,500 million in year 2011 building stuff. This means we hire builders etc. Suppose we manage to get them at a pittance of €100,000 per job (a very low number). We just increased employment by 55,000.
  • Suppose in 2012 we spend €5,500 again on building some more stuff, plus spend more funds on running the stuff just completed in 2011 (remember, we cannot use €5,500mln allocation in 2012 to operate the stuff just built in 2011, as it would be a current expenditure item). So we have to hire new and re-hire old, but the same number of 55,000 workers.
  • Between 2 years, new jobs creation is 55,000. Not 110,000.
And this is what worries me here. Despite the explanations I got from DofF, the document numbers on the jobs front still do not add up to me.

Worse than that. Some of the programmes envisioned in the plan will require people to run/operate them in the future, post-construction, and will also require considerable spending of funds on amortization and depreciation, maintenance and operations.

Are there any estimates as to what will be the budgetary impact of these 'new investments' on the current expenditure in the future?

Let me explain here. Suppose I spend €2mln building a school building. Unless I get the existent staff to run the building, I will have to hire new teachers, new service providers, and I will have running and operating costs. For a school, suppose I will need 2 teachers and 1 service personnel (split into part-time admin and part-time maintenance staff). That's ca €150K annually in wages, plus mark ups for pensions etc - roughly speaking €280-300K per annum. Utilities etc, plus scheduled maintenance, say another €50K. So my initial investment of €1mln creates a continuous liability of up to €350K. Of course, I can cut my construction workforce hired in 2011 and divert 'investment' to funding staff operating my new facility. But that makes it a current expenditure. And it means that the rate of jobs creation will be crowded out over time by the newly added infrastructure demands.

Note, these are illustrative figures, but they add up.
  • In 2012: projects from 2010 come on-line, implying (using above assumptions) that current spending side swells by €1,100 million (gross side);
  • In 2013: projects from 2011 come on-line, yielding another €950mln, adding to 2012 to generate a permanent increase in gross current spending of €2,050mln.
  • and so on...
These are crude illustrations, but you get my concerns? Yep - these current costs will have to be paid by us, the taxpayers. And it scares me.

And yes, I still do not believe that 270,000 figure. In fairness to the DofF - they have been stressing since yesterday that the figure is there just because they needed some anchor to the economic impact. It is neither rigorous, nor definitive.


Lastly, I would like to thank DofF for engaging in the debate and providing some very fair clarifications and explanations of their position on the paper.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Economics 25/7/10: What lending markets tell us about EU policies

So the markets are not that enthused about the stress tests. After the initial bounce on the back of 'pass' grades, there are rising concerns about some 19 banks, including AIB, which were given 'all clear' with some serious stretch of assumptions.

But to see what is really going on behind the scenes, look no further than the actual interbank lending rates. In fact, the interbank lending markets provide a good reflection on the combined euroz one policies enacted since the beginning of the Greek debt crisis. Both euribor (the rate for uncollateralized lending across euro zone's prime banks) and eurepo (lending rates for collateralized loans between euro zone's prime banks) are significantly elevated on twin concerns about:
  1. The quality of the borrowing banks (recall - these are prime banks); and
  2. The quality of the collateral (with sovereign bonds being top tier quality, deterioration in sovereign debt ratings is hitting interbank markets hard).
Here are the usual, updated charts:

Chart 1Long maturities have been signalling extremely adverse effect of the Euro rescue package since its inception.

Medium-term maturities show severe deterioration since the euro rescue package. Steepest, and uninterrupted rise in 3 months euribor signals that the rescue package is faltering in delivering anything more than a buy-time for the euro… In other words, we have an expensive (€750 billion-sized) buy-in of short time.

The ECB claw back on longer term lending window did not help this process either. But the stress tests are doing nothing to stop the negative sentiment dynamics.

Chart 2Per chart 2 above, short-term maturities are showing that despite supplying underwriting to about a half of the full year worth of euro area bonds refinancing, the rescue package has achieved no moderation in the short-term risk perceptions of the market. In fact, the rise in euribor is more pronounced in the short term than in longer maturities, suggesting that short term risks of sovereign default remain unaddressed by the rescue package and are exerting a continuous pressure on interbank lending.

Introduction of the stress tests also did nothing to reduce overall cost of borrowing amongst the prime banks which were fully expected to pass the test even before the EU got on with setting test parameters.

In turn, all of this spells much higher costs of funding for the banks which have shorter term financing needs, such as the Irish banks. The implicit cost of taxpayers’ guarantee for Irish banks debt is therefore rising.

And panicked markets are not about to surrender their fears to the EU PR machine. With all the increases in the euribor, the volatility of the interbank lending rates also increased, across all maturities, as shown in charts 3 and 4 below.

Chart 3Chart 4As evident, in particular, from chart 4, in the longer term, credit markets are absolutely not buying the combination of the EU rescue package, ECB liquidity measures and the stress tests. Euribor trajectory for maturities of 6 months and higher firmly re-established and vastly exceeded volatility that preceded the pre-rescue panic. We are now worse off in terms of the cost of banks financing than we were before the Greek crisis blew up.


To remind you - Slide 5eurepo is the rate at which one prime bank lends funds in euro to another prime bank if in exchange the former receives from the latter the best collateral in terms of rating and liquidity within the Eurepo basket. Eurepo rates have posted dramatic increases since mid-June 2010. The original effect of the June 2010 closure of the longer maturity (12 months) ECB discount lending was a temporary reduction in the rates, followed by a stratospheric rise two week later that has been sustained through the end of this week. This is especially true for shorter term maturities, suggesting that part of the adverse effect was due to the heightened uncertainty around the EU stress tests. Chart 5 below illustrates.

Chart 5
Chart 6The u-shaped response in the interbank lending rates to ECB lending changes and to stress tests is even better reflected in the longer maturity eurepo rates, as highlighted in chart 6 above.

3-months and 12-months eurepo rates are now at the levels consistent with the height of the sovereign default crisis. There are significant differences in the rates by maturity group and vis-à-vis euribor due to the fact that the quality of collateral offered in the markets is now itself uncertain as sovereign credit quality continues to deteriorate both in terms of increasing probabilities of default and thus associated risk premia, but also due to the regulatory treatment of collateral that is being signalled by the stress tests.

As with euribor, eurepo rates are showing remarkable increases in volatility, for both shorter and longer term maturities.


Let us finally put the two rates side by side
to compare evolution of euribor against eurepo, setting index for all at 100=January 4, 2010

Chart 7
Chart 8
Some pretty dramatic stuff. To round off, recall that since the beginning of April 2010, the eurozone has undertaken the following measures to shore up its financial markets:
  1. Set up a sovereign rescue fund worth more than €750 billion to underpin roughly 50% of the total borrowing requirement in the euro zone (which could have been expected to yeild an improvement in banks collateral and thus a reduction in overall systemic risks in the interbank markets as well);
  2. Reduce maturity profile of ECB lending window (which was from the get-go equivalent to dumping more petrol on the forest fire);
  3. Deploy aggressive quantitative easing by the ECB (again, this should have reduced uncertainty in the interbank markets as in theory improved pricing for sovereign bonds should have increased the quality of interbank collateral and improve banks own books);
  4. Conduct an absolutely discredited stress test of the banks (designed to provide positive newsflow for the banks, especially for prime banks which should have seen their risk profiles reduced by a mere setting up of the test).
In short, none of the measures seem to be working, folks... May be, just may be, the real problem with EU banks is their unwillingness to come clean on loans losses and start honestly repairing their balancesheets?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Economics 22/7/10: EU stress tests - what do they tell us, really?

The EU stress tests of the banks confirm the worst fears of all analysts – including myself. The tests were simply a PR exercise, so poorly conducted that no one can have any credibility in their outcomes. Worse than that, the whole circus:
  • The difficulty with which the EU member states appeared to be willing to release information about the tests;
  • The way in which information is being released (via a drip feed – bit by bit over time, with massive leaks beforehand);
  • The struggle through which member states have gone in order to even agree to carry out the tests in the first place;
  • The rhetoric from the EU regulators assigning an almost heroic quality to its efforts to test the banks in the face of a clear shambolic nature of the whole exercise.
All of these things provide for a strong suspicion that the EU will not be able to undertake robust regulation and monitoring of the euro zone banking system in the future, plus a clear cut realization that the entire idea of the euro member states coming together to police their own fiscal behaviour will be even less honest, transparent or robust. In other words, how can we expect the EU to act as a functional policeman of its members fiscal policies if:
  1. It failed to do so over years past, even armed with already robust and automatic regime of the Stability & Growth Pact, and
  2. It failed to properly stress test its own banks?
In the nutshell: German banks, including Landesbanken, have already privately leaked the ‘news’ that they all had passed the test. Ditto for banks in France, Ireland and Italy. Only one German bank – already failed HRE – has failed the test from among 91 institutions.

In the case of AIB – the sick puppy was ‘passed’ by allowing to include into regulators’ calculations the €7.4 billion the bank plans to raise by the end of 2010. Good intentions count for hard evidence, then, per EU regulators. And Bank of Ireland passed - along with all the rest of the PIIGS banks is by the test excluding any possibility of twin shocks - simultaneous continued deterioration in quality of loans and a sovereign debt crisis. Now, in all likelihood, if the sovereign debt crisis continues to rage, does anyone in their right mind thinks that housing and other asset markets in the likes of Ireland and Spain are going to improve to alleviate the loans book pressures?

Farcical!

What the 91 tested banks did ‘pass’ was not a stress test, but a joke, concocted either by those with no understanding of banking (Eurocrats?) or created specifically with an ex ante intent of passing them all. The French and Greek banks privately said that the haircut applied to their holdings of Greek government debt were about 23%. Markets are factoring in 50-70% haircuts, so the EU stress test was less than half as severe as what is being priced already. Worse than that – the sovereign debt haircuts were applied only to bonds held in banks’ trading books. That accounts for just 10% of all Greek bonds held by the euro area banks, as 90% of Greek sovereign debt has been already moved to ‘held to maturity’ parts of banks assets portoflia, not reflected on trading books.

In other words, when it comes to Greek sovereign debt exposure, the EU tests were capturing no more than 5% of the total risk of such exposure for the banks. Like a doctor, looking at the brain activity chart of the patient and saying: ‘Look, there’s no activity at all. But 95% of all other vital signs are performing just fine. Indeed, no worries old man, the patient is still looking 95% alive then…’

And there's more. Per media reports, a memo from Germany's Financial regulator BaFin earlier this year said the real concern should be contagion from "collective difficulties" across the PIIGS, not an isolated default of Greece.

All of this did not prevent Irish stockbrokers from issuing upbeat reports about 'the good news' for BofI and AIB. What good news? The shares in two banks rallied today because someone, somewhere, allegedly decided that if Greece softly defaults, Irish banks will survive? Did that someone actually paused for a second to think, before placing a 'buy' order if Irish banks can survive their own home-made disasters? Or whether they can survive a meltdown of Greek debt default as priced by the markets? Or whether they can survive both happening at the same time?

Irish analysts, who issue these forecasts should be required to read Taleb's 'Fooled by randomness', though one wonders if they will understand much of what Taleb is saying for years now. Investors who chose to belive that AIB and BofI passing of the 'test' this week is some sort of a 'good news' are simply fooling themselves by ignoring a simple fact of life - misdiagnosing a patient with heart attack as being free of an Avian flu is not going to improving the patient's chances of survival. It actually reduces them.

Shamed by this absolutely incompetent, if not outright markets manipulating ‘testing’, you’d think the EU leaders would step back and start an earnest conversation between themselves as to what has gone wrong here. Nope. They are hell bent on creating more Napoleonic sounding, but utterly unrealistic and even disastrously risky plans. This time around – for fiscal harmonization. France and Germany – the two countries that have been clearly at odds with each other in responses to the current crisis have decided that a bout of amicable activism is long overdue. So behold the latest Franco-German alliance on a list of fiscal policy co-ordination proposals.

Per reports in today’s media: a French cabinet meeting took place with German presence, during which Sarkozy called for a complete harmonisation of European tax systems. ‘He did whaaat?!’ I hear you cry… yeah, he did call for that which was explicitly denied by him and the entire EU leadership core as ever having a chance of happening in the run up to the Lisbon II referendum in Ireland.

Now, don’t take me wrong here – this is not a voluntary call for individual states cooperative action – it is a call for an EU-wide ‘reform’. And if you don’t think so, the same meeting called, once again, for member states with excessive deficits to be punished by withdrawal of voting rights in the Council of Ministers, plus a fine and the compulsory imposition of an interest-bearing deposit for member states.

Eurointelligence blog has put it succinctly: “In other words, France and Germany [have called] to continue the same dysfunction regime, except that they strengthen those parts that have prove the most dysfunctional.”

Let me be a tad controversial here - wasn't all of this predicted to happen by Declan Ganley, Anthony Coughlan, Mary Ellen Synon and others who argue in favour of democratic reforms in the EU? Weren't they 'refuted' on exactly these predictions by the entire 'establishment' in Brussels and the all-knowing dons of the Upper Merrion Street? You don't have to agree with their points of view. You might as well agree that the idea of fiscal harmonization is a great thing. But what cannot be denied is that:
  1. Any policies absent meaningful ability to honestly, transparently and effectively enforce them (and EU has shown none of these in its stress tests of the banks - the easiest area to deliver them in current political and economic environment) is destined to be nothing more than a bullying pit for some states to arbitrarily control others; and
  2. Given grave doubts about EU's capabilities to provide for (a), the automatic default option of any new policies should be to scale opportunism and adopt pragmatic, cautious, incremental reforms approach - when in doubt, measure and caution must be the prevalent guide.
After all, if I were a person with the power to shape EU principles, I would adopt the milenia-old medical code of ethics, that is based on the fundamental axiom of morality: Primum non nocere, or First, do no harm.

Then again, adopting such a principle would have meant not conducting these 'stress tests'.

Economics 22/7/10: Irish bonds auctions - a Pyrrhic victory?

“Despite Moody’s downgrade on Ireland’s credit rating on Monday, the NTMA successfully borrowed €1.5bn yesterday. Yesterday’s auction showed increased demand from investors for Irish debt and now means that the NTMA has completed 90% of its 2010 long-term borrowing programme.”

That was the swan song from one of Irish stock brokerages.

Lex column in the FT was far less upbeat, saying Ireland “offers a not terribly encouraging example of how difficult it is to overcome a massive debt binge.”

NTMA might have pre-borrowed 90% of this year’s €20bn borrowing target . But two things are coming to mind when one hears this ‘bullish’ statement.

Firstly, the €20bn is a target, not the hard requirement. If banks come for more cash, Brian Lenihan will have to get more bonds printed.

Secondly, Irish spread over German bunds is now higher than it was at the peak of the crisis in early 2009.

Want see some pictures illustrating Irish borrowing ‘success story’?

Let us start on the shorter end of maturity spectrum – 5 years and under:

Chart 1Average yields are trending up over the entire crisis term and are soudly above their entire crisis trend line since June. More significantly, the trend is now broken. As yields declined in 2009, hitting bottom in October, since then, they have posted a firm reversion up and once again, June and July auctions came at yields above those for this dramatic sub-trend.

Worse than that – in complete refutation of ‘improved demand’ claim by the brokers – yield spreads are now elevated. This spread – the difference between highest yield allocated and lowest yield allocated – suggests that markets are having trouble calmly pricing Irish bonds issues. Success or psychosis?

Chart 2 below illustrates the same happening in terms of price spreads.

Chart 2Auctions cover for shorter term paper is still below the long term trend line, although the line is positively sloped.

Chart 3Chart 3 above shows just how dramatic was the price decline and yields rise in Q2 2010 and how this is continued to be the case in July.

Chart 4Chart 4 gives a snapshot on pricing.

Next, move on to longer term bonds (10 years and over). There has been only one issue of 15 year bonds, so it is clear that the NTMA is simply unwilling to currently issue anything above 10 year horizon because of prohibitive yields.

Chart 5Chart 5 above shows upward trend in yields and July relative underperformance compared to longer term trends. It also shows yield spreads – again posting some pretty impressive volatility in June and bang-on long-term average (or crisis-average) performance in July. If that’s the ‘good news’ I should join a circus.

Chart 6Weighted average price is not changing much over the crisis period, so no improvement is happening here. In fact, since May it is trending down below the long term trend line, suggesting significant and persistent deterioration. Cover is on the up-trending line, but came in below the trend in June and July.

Chart 7 below shows more details on max and min prices and yields.

Chart 7Chart 8Chart 8 above clearly shows how average price is now in the new sub0trend pattern since November 09 price peak. May-July prices achieved are clearly below long term trend line and even more importantly – below the sub-trend line.

Finally, chart 9 shows the maturity profile of auctioned bonds:

Chart 9Notice how before the 2014 deadline, the Exchequer is facing the need to roll over €6,381 million in bonds issued during the 2009-present auctions. If Ireland Inc were to issue more 3-year bonds, that number will rise. That should put some nasty spanners into Irish deficits-reduction machine. But hey, what’s to worry about – our kids will have to roll over some €21,264 million worth of our debts (and rising), assuming the Bearded Ones of Siptu/Ictu & Co don’t get their way into borrowing even more.

Let us summarize the ‘success story’ that our brokerage houses are keen on repeating:

Table 1In other words, we are now worse off in terms of the cost of borrowing than in January 2010 – despite the ‘target’ for new issuance remaining the same throughout the period. We are even worse off now than at the peak of the crisis in March-April 2009 in short-term borrowing costs, although, courtesy of the German bund performance since then, we are only slightly better off in terms of longer maturity borrowings.

The compression in yield term structure delivered in June-July this year is worrisome as well. It suggests that the markets are not willing to assume that Irish Government longer term position is that much different from its shorter term prospects.

So on the net, then, what 'success' are our stock brokers talking about then? The success, of course is that NTMA was able to get someone pick up the phone and place an order, at pretty much any price? Next time, they should try selling pizzas alongside the bonds - the cover might rise again and they might convince the Eurostat that pizza delivery services are not part of the public deficit...

Economics 22/7/10: Banks downgraded - expect more fireworks

After hammering Irish sovereign ratings, Moody’s rightly took the shine off the six guaranteed banks’ bonds. Not surprising, really, and goes to show just how meaningless the term ‘stable outlook’ can be. Now, few facts:
  • Moody’s has downgraded the long-term ratings for EBS Building Society and Irish Life & Permanent from A2 to A3, stable outlook didn’t help much here.
  • Moody’s also downgraded the government-guaranteed debt of all six guaranteed institutions: AIB, Bank of Ireland, EBS, Anglo, IL&P and Irish Nationwide.
  • Prior to the latest downgrade, AIB and BofI both had stable outlook, and this has been maintained.
  • The reason for the downgrades was the reduction in the government’s ability to support the banks stemming from the sovereign debt downgrade announced Monday.
What’s next, you might ask? Barring any news on loans impairments etc, the growth prospects for banks will have to be the key. And here, folks, there isn’t any good news. No matter how you can spin the thing.

BofI and AIB are disposing of their performing assets – divisions and businesses in the US, UK and elsewhere – in order to plug the vast holes in their balance sheets caused by their non-performing assets.

And it’s a fire sale: Polish BZWBK – 70.5%-owned by AIB – is the only growth hopeful in the entire AIB stable. Yesterday, some reports in Poland suggested that PKO Bank Polski, Banco Santander, BNP Paribas and Intesa San Paolo are the only ones remaining in the bidding. Neither one can be expected to pay a serious premium.

Take a look at M&T in which AIB holds a 22.5%. Not a growth engine, but a solid contributor to the balance sheet. The US bank Q2 profit quadrupled as it is facing the market with structural aversion to banks shares. So M&T is losing value in the market as it is gaining value on AIB’s balance sheet. But hey, let’s sell that, the gurus from Ballsbridge say, and pay off those fantastic development deals we’ve done in Meath and Dundalk.

Likewise, BofI are selling tons of proprietary assets, including proprietary wholesale services platforms, which are performing well.

Will the money raised go to provide a basis for growth in revenue in 2010-2012? Not really. BofI needs new capital. Not as badly as AIB, but still - €2.9bn capital injection in June is not going to be enough to cover future losses. It is just a temporary stop-gap measure to cover already expected losses plus new regulatory capital floors. Future losses will require future capital.

AIB is desperate. €7.4bn is a serious amount of dosh and there are indicators they’ll need more. Of course, in order to properly repair its balance sheet, AIB will need closer to €10bn this side of Christmas (as estimated by Peter Mathews - see here).

However, the bank won’t make any noise about that for political reasons.

Even after getting no serious opposition to their banks recovery plans for some two years already, the Government is starting to get concerned about continuous and never diminishing demand for capital from our banks. This concern is not motivated by the suddenly acquired desire to be prudent with taxpayers’ cash. Instead it is motivated by the optical impressions Irish banks appetite for Exchequer funding is creating around the world. Sovereign ratings are now directly being impacted by banks weaknesses and some investors are starting to ask uncomfortable questions about viability of AIB outside state control. There’s an added sticky issue of Irish Government deficit potentially reaching 20% of GDP this year should our banks come for more cash.

And they will... not in 2010, possibly, but in 2011, once Nama last tranche closes in February (or thereabouts - remember, it has blown through few deadlines already and can strategically move past February 2011 with closing off its purchases, to allow more time for banks to play the 'Head in the Sand' game).

If you want to see what is really happening in our sovereign bonds markets, check out the next post on this blog, which will be covering this.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Economics 20/7/10: EU test - have a Pass grade before you turn up for a check...

Per Bloomberg report today: “Hypo Real Estate Holding AG, the commercial-property and public-finance lender taken over by the German government, failed a Europe-wide banking stress test, two people familiar with the results said.” Crucially, however, “the Munich-based lender is probably the only German bank to fail the test, one person said.”

Makes you wonder – what kind of test is that if out of 91 not exactly rude-health institutions, only one is expected to fail? At an expected 99% success rate, the EU stress test is clearly designed to put a PR spin on banking sector shares, bonds and interbank credit markets.

The only sticky part is that if any of the ‘passed’ banks fail in the near future, the investors should be able to sue the EU for any losses incurred. You see, the EU stress test is designed – at least in theory – to provide important markets-relevant information to investors. If so, someone should be liable for the quality of the test. Had the EU authorities given this a thought?

The test is farcical. And you don’t need to see the results to know this much. European banks are set minimum requirement of 6% Tier 1 capital ratio. This is the number being tested. But the US banks had this requirement 2 years ago, and since then have beefed up their capital ratios to well in excess of 9%. UK banks are now in excess of 10%. Where does this put the Eurozone with its banking system ‘tested’ to 6%? In a circus terminology – with the clowns, large shoes, red noses and curly wigs in place. So the EU regulators’ decision to put some more powder over their mugs wont be doing much good.

FT blogs' Tracy Alloway reported today on what the markets think. The article (linked here) reports that there has been a 50% or more rise in the short positions held against a number of Eurozone banks. Ireland’s sick puppies – BofI and AIB are actually most active on long investors’ lists with long positions up ca 20%. But the two are also amongst the most expensive securities to borrow. In other words, it does seem like shorts are heavily on the side of Ireland Inc’s grand dames.

Funny thing, relating to the stress tests, is that a number of public officials – from Greece, to Belgium to Ireland – have already been leaking heavily the ‘news’ that stress tests will clear their banks’ names. One wonders if there is anything else the EU can do to make the whole exercise even more farcical?

Economics 20/7/10: Is Zombie Nama propping up Mummified Irish Banks?

As the independents – Brian Lucey, Karl Whelan, Peter Mathews and myself – have warned (actively denied by the Government and its backyard ‘experts’), Nama Tranche II turned out to be yet another unmitigated disaster.

Nama paid €2.7bn for loans that its experts valued at €5.2bn. Of course, these ‘experts’ include many who were responsible for some of the most disastrous valuations of the Celtic Tiger era and are now ‘entrusted’ as being ‘experienced’ with re-valuing their own errors, while collecting a handsome pay packet courtesy of the Irish taxpayers. The implied average discount these folks put on the loans this time around is 48%. Anglo failed to transfer its loans – some €7-8bn worth – due to delays caused, per what I am hearing, by a rather shoddy documentation quality.

Per RTE: “The biggest discount on the second batch of loans was for those from Irish Nationwide. NAMA paid the society just €163m for loans of €591m, a discount of 72% [an increase of 14% on Tranche 1]. The figures for AIB and EBS were 48.5% [on €2.73bn marking a 6.5% increase on Tranche 1], and 46.5% [on €35.9mln and an increase of 9% on Tranche 1] respectively, while the Bank of Ireland discount was 37.8% [on €1.82bn - an increase of 2.8% on T1].” Overall, Nama now has in its vaults €20.5bn worth of loans (or rather largely worthless paper few years ago labeled as loans) for which it paid at a discount of 50.7%.

The loans are concentrated - related to just 23 property developers who are deemed to be 'second tier' aka less flamboyant than those in Tranche 1 and most likely, less experienced too.

It makes me laugh when I recall how our stock brokerage 'analysts' were chirping a year ago that a 20-25% haircut would be warranted by market valuations of these loans.

However, the real problem with all of these numbers is that while the discounts might sound impressive, they are not reflective of any reality. Instead, they are now fully bootstrapped to the capital commitments issued to the banks by Brian Lenihan. You see, as we warned from the start – and this too was vigorously denied by the Government – the heavier the haircut, the greater will be banks’ demand for capital, the greater will be the share of bank equity owned by the taxpayers. Mindful not to take too much stake in BofI – for that would produce poor optics internationally – Brian Lenihan is content to oversee a 38% discount on its loans. Having pumped capital up to 50% of risk-weighted assets transfers to Nama for AIB, the Minister is equally happy not to impose heavier haircuts on AIB Tranche 2 transfers than 50%. Hence the ‘magic’ 48.5% figure. Ditto for EBS. Sounds precise – not 49%, nor 48%. But in the end – the number is most likely utterly bogus.

To put some fluff in the air about ‘Nama is a tough player with the banks’, Tranche 2 hammered INBS and most likely will hammer Anglo. Unless, that is, Anglo fatigue has finally reached Upper Merrion Street buildings. In this case, a discount can be less than that for INBS. Not because Anglo loans have miraculously become sterling in quality, but because the DofF might be just slightly concerned that the bank will come with a fresh capital demand.

So instead of pricing the loans to market, Nama now appears to be pricing them to keep required post-Nama recapitalizations at the levels consistent with earlier Government capital commitments.

In the end, however, a 48% average discount is still a gross overpayment on these loans. Let’s do a back of the envelope calculation here.

25% of Nama loans are ‘cash generative’ – i.e. paying some sort of an interest repayment on interest due. Suppose – just for the sake of making an assumption – that 50% of those cash generative loans are paying full interest due and 50% are paying ½ interest due. Assuming average interest rate on the loan of 8% (a generous assumption, given that banks were lending at lower rates than that) and cost of refinancing banks funds at 3% (well below current yields on banks bonds, even way lower than the latest Exchequer yields of 5.25%, but let’s be generous), if the cost of managing loans at 1% (consistent with Irish banks’ margins), then:
  • 75% of Nama loans are losing have a negative yield of 12% (annual loss on interest alone);
  • 12.5% of Nama loans are losing 2% pa in net costs, plus 8% rolled up interest, implying their negative yield of 10% pa;
  • 12.5% of Nama loans are losing net 8% pa.
Expected average annual loss on Nama overall portfolio is therefore 11.25% pa. Value this at x3 revenue flow. Nama portoflia of loans would have a negative, yes, negative, - 34% break-even valuation in the market. Just on the back of interest and costs alone, the value of Nama purchased portfolio of loans should be no more than 66 cents on the euro of face value.

Next, subtract the percentage of loans that are unsecured – while allowing for the expected recovery, subject to the risk. Suppose that 20% of loans taken on by Nama are unsecured (again, likely to be conservative assumption). Suppose these are distributed across the same 12.5%, 12.5% and 75% sub-portoflia following a uniform distribution (again, this is a generous assumption as lower quality loans are more likely to be less secured in the real world). The value of the entire package of loans is now worth only 59 cents on the euro.

Secured loans are also subject to a recovery risk. In general, risk of recovery implies that over 70% for loans in arrears will be non-recoverable, ca 50% for loans under stress (e.g. failing to pay principal when it is due) and 20-25% for loans that are fully performing (e.g. those that are repaying principal and interest to the full amount). These are numbers consistent with the 1990s experiences in Sweden and UK. Translating these into our valuation, adjusted for risk of recovery implies the value of Nama-bound loans around 30-32 cents on the euro.

Other risks can be priced as well, but let us stop here.

Even with relatively rosy assumptions, the value of the loans being purchased by Nama should be at maximum 32 cents on the euro.

Allowing for assets appreciation of 10% over 3 years would imply a valuation of no more than 37 cents on the euro without applying a PDV adjustment.

We are told that Nama is being a tough buyer, paying 52 cents on the euro. Who’s fooling who here?

Incidentally, 30 cents on the euro is what independent banking expert Peter Mathews has estimated as recoverable for all development and property loans held by the banks. It is also the number that myself and Brian Lucey have arrived at in our previous estimates of required haircuts, which were based on analysis of underlying property markets.

What is now clear is that 24 months since the crisis fully exploded in our faces and 15 months after the independent analysts started telling the Government that it is committing a grave error in pushing forward the solution that, under the original name TARP was rejected in the US two weeks after it was put in place, the Irish Government remains hell-bent on pursuing this wrong approach to banks recovery. More egregiously, with Tranche II loans in, there is a strong enough reason to suspect that Nama has turned into nothing more than a façade for delaying even more capital demands from the banks until the end of 2010. The reason for this, one might speculate, is to keep our 2010 public deficit from exploding to beyond 20% of GDP.

A zombie institution (Nama) now is fully in charge of our mummified banking system. What can they do next to make things even more dynamic than that?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ecoinomics 19/7/10: Moody's downgrade Redux

As Brian Cowen has been telling the world that Ireland has turned the corner, the country got some rude awakening.

First, Moody’s – aka the lagging indicator – pushed Irish bond ratings one notch down to aa2. Second - and I will be covering this in a separate blog post - Nama has completed transfer of the second tranche of loans.

With it, Moody’s also downgraded to aa2 that ‘not our problem, says Lenihan’ debt called Nama bonds. Irony has it, for all the SPV accounting tricks deployed by the Government, Nama bonds are rated on par with sovereign bonds and Moody’s statement justified both downgrades as being primarily driven by “the government’s gradual but significant loss of financial strength, as reflected by its deteriorating debt affordability”.

Per Moody’s, the third key factor driving rating cut is “the crystallization of contingent liabilities from the banking system... Overall, the recapitalization measures announced to date could reach almost €25bn …and Moody's expects that Anglo Irish Bank may need further support. … While we do not expect the government -- not even in a moderately stressed scenario -- to incur permanent losses in excess of 25% of the country's 2009 GDP as a result of [Nama] obligations, we believe that the uncertainty surrounding final [Nama] losses would exert additional pressure on the government's financial strength.”

Oh, mighty. So Moody’s believes that Nama will generate final losses. May be not as bad as €41bn (1/4 of GDP), but certainly losses. And notice that losses below 25% of GDP are expected by Moody’s explicitly in the scenarios that are better than or equivalent to their ‘moderately stressed scenario’… Of course, Nama’s Business Plan Redux envisions losses only in the ‘worst case scenario’ and even then, the modest €800mln.

“Moody's notes that the country could experience downward rating pressure in the event of (i) a failure of the economy to rebound in a meaningful way; and/or (ii) a severe deterioration in the country's debt metrics triggered by a further crystallization of bank contingent liabilities beyond Moody's current expectations.”

Err… let me see…

Bank recapitalizations that Moody’s have factored in – at €25bn to date – have already been exceeded, with current running estimate at €32bn committed, plus last week’s open-ended offer to give AIB anything it needs from Brian Cowen. These are likely to rise once again after today’s announcement from Nama on tranche II transfers. So condition (ii) is already satisfied.

Per economy’s likelihood of a rebound – well, give it a thought. Government policy over the last two years was characterized by increased taxes, retained waste, lack of reforms in public sector, lack of reforms in state-controlled private economy, lack of reforms in bankruptcy laws, massive waste of funds on poorly structured banks supports, and laissez fare in relation to banks and semi-state companies ripping off consumers and businesses. None of it is likely to change in 2011-2012. Which part of this litany of economic policies misfires can contribute to an increasing likelihood of a robust economic rebound?


Ireland is clearly not out of the woods when it comes to bonds ratings and this persistent problem of continued deterioration of public debt ratings will be a costly one.

Mark my words – as Ireland’s public finances continue to deteriorate, our debt will become more costly to finance. Should the Government opt for any tax increases in order to raise 2011 revenue, it will face continued fall off in income and transactions taxes collected, as people engage more actively in tax liability minimization. This will trigger widening of our deficits in excess of international forecasts (no one pays attention to our own ‘rosy’ forecasts anymore), leading to further debt downgrades. In particular, I would expect Fitch to move first once again to put two notches between itself, Moody’s and S&P.

One more point before we conclude. Irish banks are heavily dependent for capital and collateral on Irish sovereign and Nama bonds. The latest downgrade must have an adverse longer term impact on the quality of the banks balance sheets. Regardless whether AIB and BofI pass their EU-administered stress tests or not, I would expect the Moody's downgrade to have potentially significant adverse effect on Irish banks ability to tap private markets for funding in the near future. This, of course, might trigger another run on the Exchequer and customers by our leading banks.

Economics 19/7/10: Urban growth, education & knowledge intensive services - part 2

In the previous post (here) on the issues of growth, education and knowledge intensive sectors, I showed that
  • There is a strong positive resilience in income per capita levels across urban economies, with almost 94% of variation in income per capita in 2007 being associated with the variation in income per capita found in 1999. This strong persistency in GDP levels over time implies there is only a weak (but positive) relationship between the past and the future growth rates.
  • Data also shows that there is a weak positive relationship between long term growth in education and long term growth in income per capita. Growth in education between 1999 and 2007 was able to explain just 0.54% of the overall variation in growth in income per capita across various regions.
  • However, over time, the relationship between the levels of education of the workforce and the levels income per capita is becoming stronger both in terms of education impact and the overall explanatory power as to the direct positive correlation between education and income. By 2007 over 14.5% of variation in income per capita across major urban regions was explained by variations in education, up from 7.3% in 1999. If in 1999 1% increase in the proportion of population with 3rd level education was associated with a USD336.53 increase in income per capita (PPP-adjusted), by 2007 this effect rose to USD730.92.
  • Lagged period education levels were shown to be a better determinant of income per capita than contemporaneous levels of education, which suggests that causality flows from education to growth, rather than the other way around.

Chart 7 below explores the relationship between the levels of education in the labour force and two core higher value added sectors of economy: high tech manufacturing (HTM) and knowledge intensive services (KIS).

Chart 7
Consider the blue and the red lines. More educated workforce, it seems, is negatively correlated with high tech manufacturing role in the economy. And this correlation is becoming more negative over time (with lags). In other words, an urban centre that started with highly educated workforce in 1999 is more likely to see declining share of its economic activity accruing to HTM in 2007.

This can be related to the changes in manufacturing that took place over the last two decades, with manufacturing in general becoming increasingly more capital intensive. It is also likely to be due to the fact that with greater outsourcing of core activities and greater offshoring of manufacturing, much of higher value added activities related to high tech manufacturing, such as design and development, and marketing of new products, is now classed separately as services, and geographically removed from manufacturing activities, despite being physically embodied in the value of manufactured goods.

The opposite is true of the relationship between education levels of the workforce and knowledge intensive services role in the economy, although the positive correlation here is not becoming stronger over time (orange and green lines).

Knowledge economics – at least as proxied by education levels – is about the positive role of education in services, but it is not about the links between high-tech manufacturing and education. The dumber is your workforce (in extremely simplistic terms), the higher will be the importance of HTM to your economy… or so it appears…

Chart 8
A look at contemporaneous data reported in the chart above also confirms the previous chart 7 conclusions.

What is even more interesting here are the slopes of the two relationships.

First, the negative correlation between the degree of workforce education and high-tech manufacturing (HTM) had become more negative, from -0.1032 in 1999 to -0.1633 in 2007, while the overall relationship has strengthened (R2 = 0.0836 back in 1999 to R2=0.2341 in 2007).

This relationship is very robust and shows relatively less dispersion in the data than the relationship between education and knowledge intensive sectors.

Second, the slope of the positive relationship between the degree of workforce education and knowledge intensive sectors (KIS) has become weaker over time (from 0.5961, R2 = 0.3104 to 0.3877, R2 = 0.1396).

This result is surprising. Are we hitting diminishing returns to education in terms of increasing importance of KIS in the economy? Or are we simply at the flatter end of asymptotic KIS growth curve with much of knowledge economy already in place so that new education yields lower marginal returns? Alternatively, this might suggest that education is an imperfect instrument for skills and talent and that today, skills and talent gained outside formal classrooms matter more than before.

Finally, it is also worth noting that KIS results are significantly impacted by three observations which tend to drag the slope of the relationship down somewhat. The three, however, do not appear to represent statistically significant outliers.

Another striking relationship is shown in chart 9 below. Greater importance of high-tech manufacturing in the economy is associated with lower GDP per capita, and this negative relationship is strengthening over time, both in the explanatory power and in the size of overall negative effect. This again illustrates, most likely, the growth in capital-intensity of high tech manufacturing and disembodiment of the services-related components of high-tech manufacturing (such as R&D etc).

Chart 9
Lags in data confirm the above conclusion.

Chart 10
Chart 10 shows that identical conclusions to those presented in Chart 9 are warranted when we look at the lagged structure of economy with respect to high-tech manufacturing role in overall economic activity, so that regions that started (back in 1999) with greater share of HTM in overall economy tended to have lower GDP per capita 9 years later.

Lastly, unlike High-Tech Manufacturing, Knowledge Intensive Services are strongly positively correlated with GDP per capita, as shown in chart 11 below. This relationship is true for contemporaneous correlations and for the lagged one. And it is increasing in strength (slopes) over time, as well as in statistical significance. Furthermore, between 1999 and 2007 there has been an acceleration in the strengthening of the relationship. Finally, it is worth noting that lagged role of KIS in economy is almost as strong as 2007 contemporaneous relationship, suggesting that there is significant persistence in the positive effect that KIS have on overall income per capita.

Chart 11.


So let me summarize the main results:
  1. There is a weak positive relationship between long term growth in education and long term growth in income per capita between 1999 and 2007 across various regions.
  2. Over time, the relationship between the levels of education of the workforce and the levels income per capita is becoming stronger both in terms of education impact and the overall explanatory power as to the direct positive correlation between education and income
  3. Lagged levels of education are a better determinant of income per capita than contemporaneous levels of education, which suggests that causality flows from education to growth, rather than the other way around.
  4. More educated workforce is negatively correlated with the importance of high tech manufacturing in the economy. This correlation is becoming more negative over time (with lags).
  5. The relationship between education levels of the workforce and the importance of the knowledge intensive services role in the economy is positive. This positive correlation is not increasing over time.
  6. Overall, knowledge economy – as far as it is captured by third level education – is positively linked to services, and negatively linked to high-tech manufacturing.
  7. The negative correlation between the degree of workforce education and the extent of the high-tech manufacturing (HTM) in overall economy had become even more negative between 1999 and 2007.
  8. The positive relationship between the degree of workforce education and knowledge intensive sectors (KIS) has become weaker over 1999-2007 period.
  9. Greater importance of high-tech manufacturing in the economy is associated with lower GDP per capita, and this negative relationship is strengthening over time, both in the explanatory power and in the size of overall negative effect.
  10. Regions that started (back in 1999) with greater share of HTM in overall economy tended to have lower GDP per capita 9 years later.
  11. Knowledge Intensive Services are strongly positively correlated with GDP per capita. This relationship is true for contemporaneous correlations and for the lagged one.
  12. The positive correlation between income and KIS is increasing in strength (slopes) over time, as well as in statistical significance.

Note: you won’t be able to read this anywhere else – the two blog posts on urban economies, knowledge, education and the roles of high tech manufacturing and knowledge intensive services is an exclusive, just for the readers of this blog…

Economics 19/7/10: Urban growth, education & knowledge intensive services - part 1

As promised few days ago, here are the first couple results from an interesting data set from the OECD on regional economies.

Let me first explain what I have done to data in order to derive this (and the next post) analysis:

  • Out of 350 regions defined by the OECD, I have selected 50 regions that are directly aligned and dominated by capital cities and major industrial and commerce centers.
  • Countries covered are: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, UK and US.
  • I tested for, and controlled for influential outliers (in particular Bratislava and Washington DC) where their presence distorted the overall results of estimations.
  • Time horizon covered by data is years 1999-2000 and 2006-2007.
  • Where the data was available for both 1999 and 2000, 1999 data was used. Where the data was available only for 2000, this data was used with 1999 label. Where the data was available for both 2006 and 2007, data for 2007 was used. Where the data was available only for 2006, it was used with 2007 label.
  • There were only 7 occurrences where pairs of 1999 and 2000, and 20006 and 2007 data were not available.
  • In addition to the OECD original data, I computed 1999-2007 growth rates.
The first chart below precisely plots what I call here Greater Dublin and South region (which, in the case of OECD includes Cork). OECD defines two regions for Ireland: Southern region and Border, Midlands and West region. Obviously, these are proxies for our more detailed traditional regional classification – perhaps, they are a hint that a country with 4.5 million inhabitants shouldn’t really have a Byzantine system of local authorities and Napoleonic system of regions that we have. Either way, the chart provides some very striking comparisons.

Chart 1
The size of each bubble corresponds to income per capita. This is not what I am after here. Instead, focus on change between blue dots – regional positions in terms of 1999 levels of education and the share of knowledge intensive services in overall economic activity, and green dots – the same data for 2007.

First, observe that while Dublin & South were clearly no better educated than the rest of the country in 1999, their share of higher value added knowledge intensive services (KIS) was much greater back then.


Second, notice that neither part of the country was anywhere near being in the leaders group in terms of either education or in terms of knowledge intensive services back in 1999 when compared to their peers worldwide. I always said that the claimed Irish advantage in terms of educated labour force back in the 1990s was nothing more than an urban myth. We were, frankly speaking below average in terms of education back then.


Third, note how dramatic was the increase between 1999 and 2007 in the levels of education in Dublin and South, especially compared to Border, Midlands & West. Within just 8 years or so, we moved Dublin & South out of the followers or laggards pack and into the lower end of the leaders group of better educated regional economies.


Fourth, notice that BMW region was rapidly catching up with Dublin in terms of its share of KIS in the economy, closing some of the earlier gap between 1999 and 2007, although still remaining out side the leaders group of regions.


This is interesting for a number of reasons, but chiefly, it is interesting since BMW levels of education did not rise as dramatically. There are couple of things going on here, which might explain this strange result. On the one hand, low early starting position in terms of higher value added KIS in BMW region might have resulted in a more significant growth during the financial services boom years. On the other hand, there might be a diminishing return to growth in education in the labour force present in Dublin & South region, especially as lower value added construction boomed during these years. Finally, one might conjecture that with a gradual decline in manufacturing in the country, BMW region saw increased inflows of less educated, but somewhat more experienced workers into KIS activities.


These are speculative reasons, but some are supported by the evidence presented and discussed below.



Chart 2
Chart above shows that there is a strong positive resilience in income per capita levels across urban economies. This implies that future income levels are strongly correlated with past income levels. Almost 94% of variation in income per capita in 2007 is associated with the variation in income per capita found in 1999.

This means that we have to be careful directly interpreting data showing, for example, that in a specific country, such as the US, a number of cities with highly evolved economic environment to support economic growth might be underperforming in terms of actual achieved growth their less advanced counterparts. In fact, across the 350 regions defined by the OECD, there is no statistically meaningful direct relationship between urban economies growth and levels of GDP per capita, neither in 1999, nor in 2007. Rich states in 1999 might have either lower or higher income growth through 2007 and vice versa.

Chart 3 below shows that strong persistency in GDP levels over time implies there is only a weak (but positive) relationship between the past and the future growth rates.

Chart 3

Chart 4
Chart above shows that
there is also a weak positive relationship between long term growth in education and long term growth in income per capita. A 1% growth in the proportion of population with 3rd level education between 1999 and 2007 accounted for 0.13% increase in the growth rate of income per capita. Growth in education between 1999 and 2007 was able to explain just 0.54% of the overall growth in income per capita over the same period. Although this contrasts the relationship between levels of education and levels of income per capita as shown in the chart below:

Chart 5

Over time, per above chart, the relationship between the levels of education of the workforce and the levels income per capita is becoming stronger both in terms of education impact and the overall explanatory power as to the direct positive correlation between education and income. In 1999, 7.3% of variation in income per capita across major urban regions was explained by variations in education. By 2007 this has increased to over 14.5%. If in 1999 1% increase in the proportion of population with 3rd level education was associated with a USD336.53 increase in income per capita (PPP-adjusted), by 2007 this effect rose to USD730.92.

Lagged period education levels are better determinants of income per capita than contemporaneous levels of education, which suggests that causality flows from education to growth, rather than the other way around. This is illustrated in the chart below. Notice also that this is true both in terms of explanatory power (R2) and the overall impact of education (slope coefficient). At the same time, compared to 2007 data (previous chart), this relationship (lagged 1999 education to 2007 income per capita) is weaker in the overall effect of education on income, suggesting that in recent years, there has been a significant shift in the importance of education in determining income per capita.

Chart 6

I will explore some of the possible explanations for these results in the next log post on the matter, so stay tuned…