First, consider the flows of trade and trade balance:
There is a clear regime shift in the data since 2009 with a rise in trade surplus. This confirms that Irish net external trade has entered a recovery stage post-crisis in 2009, not in late 2010-early 2011 as the IMF officials claimed recently. The second thing the chart highlights is the dramatic rise in trade balance in 2009-2010, even compared to the strong performance pre-2002. In fact, we reached beyond our trend (for 1997-2010 period) back in 2009.
This might suggest validity to the 'exports-led recovery' thesis, except for two issues:
- Two years are hardly a trend, especially if coincident with extremely robust global trade recovery post-crisis, and
- The trade balance is only relevant to Irish economy as a whole if we actually get to keep it here - in other words, if it accrues to companies with really sizeable investment and employment activities here. Note that in the chart above, the last two years have actually seen a negative relationship between growth in the economy and growth in the trade balance.
Notice the decline in Net Factor Income from Abroad (NFIAF) in 2009-2010 period. This is linked directly (more closely than in the case of GDP and GNP changes) to our trade balance:
In other words, what gets produced here in terms of trade surplus gets remitted out of here. As we become more open to trade - as shown below - by any metric possible, we get more open to exporting profits and surpluses accumulated in the economy.
This is similar to an analogy of draining water out of a sinking boat with a coal bucket - when you scoop up water, the bucket is full, by the time you turn it overboard, the bucket is empty...
Some interesting correlations to that effect - all for data from 1997 through 2010, so small sample bias obviously is there:
- Trade balance correlations with GDP and GNP are 0.613 and 0.543, but with NFIFA it is -0.866
- NFIFA itself is correlated with GDP and GNP at -0.904 and -0.861.