Wednesday, November 23, 2011

23/11/2011: A longer term view of Ireland's structural deficits

Someone recently requested the analysis of structural deficits for Ireland. So here's a quick note. All data is taken from IMF WEO database for September 2011. IMF estimates 2011 deficit and forecasts deficits for 2012-2016. All frequencies and cumulative data calculations are my own.

Let's start with graphing our structural deficits. Remember, these are measured as % of total potential GDP, omitting the effects of business cycles on volatility in GDP. This makes structural deficits to be less precise than actual deficits, but useful in so far as they tell us the story of the long-term sustainability of the Exchequer spending.

Chart 1 below shows the overall structural deficits expressed as the percentage of potential GDP and in absolute national currency terms.

In the nutshell, the above chart shows that Ireland remained structurally insolvent for the entire history of the series since 1980 through 2010 and is expected to remain insolvent through 2016. It also shows that:

  • Ireland was least insolvent in 1997-200 when the average structural annual deficit was just -0.65% of potential GDP
  • The closest we came to structural balance was in 1997 when structural deficit hit -0.394% and in 2000 when it was at -0.209%
  • Our peaks of insolvency were 1981 (-14.034%) and 2008 (-13.323%)
  • Our worst periods of insolvency were the early 1980s, when 1981-1986 average annual deficit stood at -12.125% and 2007-2010 when structural deficits averaged -10.555% annually (omitting 2007 raises this to -11.266%)
  • In 2011 we are expected to run structural deficit of 6.761% and in 2012-2015 we are expected to run average structural deficits of -3.753%.
All of these deficits add up to a nifty number. Chart below shows cumulative structural deficits. Per this, by the end of this year, our structural deficits since 1980 on will be adding up to €162.3billion. By 2016 these numbers are forecast to rise to €193.6 billion.

In terms of the frequencies of various solvency performance conditions, Irish structural deficits historically exceeded 3% per annum in 26 out of 32 years, implying a 84% chance of excessive unsustainable structural deficits. In contrast, relatively safe deficits (<2%) occurred in only 4 years in 36 years of history plotted above: 1997-2000. Thus, Ireland was close to sustainability only 13% of the time.

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