Tuesday, December 20, 2011

20/12/2011: IMF IV Review of Ireland Programme: part 2

This continues my review of the IMF's 4th review of Ireland. The previous post (here) covered the findings concerning mortgages arrears and property markets.

"Budget execution remains on track despite weakness in revenues linked to domestic demand. ...Excluding net banking sector support costs, the January–October Exchequer primary deficit was €12.1 billion, 0.8 percentage points of GDP narrower than the authorities’ profile after allowing for the impact of the Jobs Initiative introduced in May 2011." [In other words, folks, allowing for pensions levy hit]

"The smaller deficit primarily reflects tight expenditure control; net current spending undershot budgetary allocation by 1.6 percent (0.4 percent of GDP), while capital spending was below profile by 17.2 percent (0.8 percent of GDP)." [This further shows that the smallest positive impact on deficit was derived from the largest area of expenditure - current spending, with capital spending cuts acting as the main driver, once again, of budgetary adjustment. This, of course, has been highlighted by me on numerous occasions.]

"Overall revenues remained on track, with shortfalls in taxes such as VAT due to weak domestic demand offset by higher than budgeted non-tax revenues, such as bank guarantee fees." [That's right, folks, one-off hits on income and wealth are 'compensating' for tax revenues fall-off in income tax, VAT and corporation tax. Again, keep in mind that IMF analysis is based on data that excludes the largest revenue generating month of November.]

But here's an interesting note: "The cumulative Exchequer primary balance through end-September 2011 was -€18.3 billion, above the adjusted target of -€20.2 billion. Central government net debt was €111.7 billion, below the adjusted indicative target of €115.9 billion" [One might ask the following question, is that target of €115.9bn - set in December 2010 - reflects the €3.6bn error found in Q3 2011? If not, then, of course, our 'outperformance of the target shrinks to a virtually irrelevant €500mln which, itself, can be fully covered by capital expenditure shortfall on the target mentioned above. In other words, when all is factored in, are we really outperforming the target set, or are we simply overestimating the target and ignoring expected spending?]

The IMF catches up to that:
"Program ceilings for fiscal indicators at end-2011 are expected to be observed. Although spending will pick up toward year-end, and a funding need of 0.2 percent of GDP is expected in relation to the failure of a private insurance company, the end-December performance criterion is projected to be achieved."
[In other words, the State will have to cover €300mln of Quinn Insurance losses in 2011 and then another €400mln of same in 2012. Alas, due to the accounting trick, since these losses will be recovered by the State through an insurance levy - to be paid by the completely innocent dopes (aka, us, consumers of insurance products in Ireland), the whole thing is not counted as Government debt, even though the State will be borrowing these funds.]

"Similarly, the general government deficit is projected at 10.3 percent of GDP, within the European Council’s ceiling of 10.6 percent of GDP. The 2011 consolidation package of €5.3 billion (3.4 percent of GDP) is expected to reduce the primary deficit to 6.7 percent of GDP, representing a €3.1 billion (2 percent of GDP) year-on-year reduction." [Now, note the maths - 6.7% primary deficit remains to be closed before we can begin net debt repayments. Last year, we've closed - and that is based on pre-November 2011 pretty disastrous numbers - 2%, so 2/9th down, 7/9th still to go, roughly-speaking]

Crucially: "The realized increase in the primary balance will thus likely amount to only about three-fifths of the consolidation effort, which reflects the adverse impact of the contraction in domestic demand and the rise in unemployment, highlighting the challenge of implementing large fiscal consolidations when growth is weak." [Here's what this means - due to the adverse effects of lower growth and higher unemployment, some 40% of this year's adjustment has gone on fighting the rising tide of economic crisis, not on structural rebalancing of fiscal deficit. In other words, if this situation of fiscal targets set against unrealistic expectations for growth were to continue in 2012 and through 2015, we will get a deficit to GDP ratio of closer to 5.5-6% not 2.9% as envisaged. Now, think about this in the following terms - Budget 2012 assumes growth of 1.3% next year - although I have some questions as to whether that is indeed the number, given that a day before the Budget 2012 was published, the Department of Finance quoted the figure of 1.6% - and the expectations of ESRI, OECD, the EU Commission and the IMF are now for 0.9-1%... hmmm... realistic expectations, targets and outcomes risks are now pretty clear...]

As is, the IMF report shows progress achieved. But it also raises a number of questions:

  • Is this progress - 2% adjustment of which 2/5ths are simply gone to cover lost ground - sufficient?
  • Is this progress sustainable (see next post)?
  • Is this progress being achieved through structural reforms (current spending cuts and sustainable revenue raising) or through capital expenditure cuts and one-off tax measures?

The following post will cover the IMF analysis of the future outlook for the Irish economy.
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