In the previous post I covered some of the macroeconomic differences between Ireland and Iceland. One core conclusion that can be drawn from the previous post is that while Ireland retains stronger longer-term economic foundations based on historical performance, these foundations are not sufficient for us to achieve better performance than Iceland in the current crisis.
One might wonder what is the reason for this. Let’s recap how both countries have arrived into the current situation.
Both Ireland and Iceland have experienced rapid collapse of their asset markets (in both, there was a property bubble and a general financial services bubble, albeit Iceland had much smaller property sector than Ireland and in another crucial difference, Iceland had IFS bubble, while Ireland experienced a domestic financial services implosion). Hence, both economies started from roughly speaking similar conditions.
The crucial difference between the two can be found in the responses to the crisis. Iceland defaulted on its banks liabilities, writing them off the country economy’s balancesheet. Ireland took the entire banking sector liabilities and loaded it onto the shoulders of its economy.
This story can be traced through the fiscal positions comparatives.
Chart above shows that the two countries have run significantly different fiscal policies through the crisis, with Government revenues deteriorating much more sharply during the early stages of the crisis in Iceland than in Ireland. From the peak of 47.671% in 2007, Iceland’s government revenues fell to 39.447% of GDP in 2010 and are expected to reach the lowest point of 38.464% of GDP in 2011. In the mean time, Ireland’s government revenue fell from 35.83% of GDP in 2007 to 34.423% in 2009 and then rose to 35.362% in 2010. Ex-ante, this suggests that Irish Government balance should be more benign than that of Iceland.
The above conclusion is supported by the data on Government expenditure above. Both countries peaked in terms of their Government spending in 2009 (Iceland at 52.09% of GDP) and 2010 (Ireland at 53.03% of GDP). But in terms of starting points, Iceland was in a much worse shape than Ireland with total expenditure in 2007 at 42.27% of GDP as opposed to Ireland with 35.78%.
However, the ex-ante expected deeper deterioration in fiscal positions for Iceland turns out to be incorrect.
As the chart above clearly shows, Iceland’s public net borrowing requirements were much more benign and are expected to be much shorter lived, than those of Ireland. In 2007 Ireland’s net lending stood at 0.051% of GDP, while Iceland posted a lending surplus of 5.402%. In 2009 Iceland hit the rock bottom in terms of its Government borrowings at 12.644% of GDP. But Ireland kept on going: from the net Government borrowing of 14.613% in 2009, we fell to 17.667% in 2010. By 2015 Iceland is expected to enjoy three years of surplus and its forecast government net lending in 2015 is set at 2.757%. Over the same time, Ireland will remain firmly in net borrower hole, with 2015 net government borrowing expected at 5.153% of GDP.
Much of this gap between Ireland and Iceland is accounted for by the liabilities assumed by the Irish state from its banking sector. Stripping out Government interest bill – again massively overextended by the banking sector rescue funding, primary net lending/deficits of the two governments are shown in the chart below.
Now, let’s take a look at the overall public debt levels. First the IMF data
It does appear that Irish Exchequer, despite having run smaller surpluses in 2004-2007 and despite having suffered much deeper crisis in the banking and own balancesheets is going to end up holding less debt than Iceland. This, however, does not reflect the quasi-Governmental debt, which relates to banks rescue packages and which in Ireland adds to at least 25% of GDP ion today’s terms while in Iceland the same debt adds up to nothing courtesy of their decision to default on banks liabilities.
The chart below corrects for this omission.
In fact in its recent assessment of the Irish economy prospects for recovery, the IMF stated that they expect Irish Government debt to GDP ratio peaking at over 120% and in the case of an adverse economic growth scenario – reaching possibly 150% of GDP.
Finally, here are the summaries of data from the IMF comparing two economies performance.
First - period averages:
And finally - starting year spot values: