Sunday, April 21, 2013

21/4/2014: Exports-led recovery? Not that promising so far...

Regular readers of this blog know that since the beginning of the crisis, I have been sceptical about the Government-pushed proposition that exports led recovery can be sufficient to lift Ireland out of the current crises-induced stagnation.

Over the recent years I have put forward a number of arguments as to why this proposition is faulty, including:

  1. A weakening link between our GDP, GNP and national income,
  2. A worrisome demographic trend that is structurally leading to lower labour markets participation, alongside the renewed emigration,
  3. Structural weaknesses in the economy left ravaged by some 15 years if not more of bubbles-driven growth,
  4. Taxation and state policy structures that favor old modes of economic development and which are incompatible with high value-added entrepreneurship, employment creation and growth, 
  5. Substitution away from more real economy-linked goods exports in favor of the superficially inflated exports of services in the ICT and international financial services sectors, etc
But the dynamics of our exports are also not encouraging. 

Here's a summary of some trends in Irish exports since 1930s, all expressed in relation to nominal value of merchandise trade (omitting effects of inflation). Based on 5-year cumulative trade volumes (summing up annual trade volumes over 5 year periods):
  • Irish exports grew 147.8% in 1980-1984 and 86.7% in 1985-1989 - during the 1980s recession. This did not lift Irish economy out of the crisis, then.
  • Irish exports grew 56.3% in 1990-1994 period and 56.4% in 1995-1999 period. Thus, slower  rate of growth in exports during the 1990s than in the 1980s accompanied growth in the 1990s. This hardly presents a strong case for an 'exports-led recovery'.
  • Irish exports expanded cumulatively 148.0% in 2000-2004, before shrinking by 0.4% in 2005-2009 period and is expected to grow at 4.6% cumulatively in 2010-2014 (using 2010-2012 data available to project trend to 2014). 
The last point above presents a problem for the Government thesis on exports-led recovery: the rates of growth in merchandise exports currently expected to prevail over 2010-2014 period are nowhere near either the 1980s crisis-period rates of growth or 1990s Celtic Tiger period rates of growth.

Ok, but what about trade surplus? Recall, trade surplus feeds directly into current account which, some believe almost religious, is the only thing that matters in determining the economy's ability to recover from debt-linked crises. Again, here are the facts:
  • During the 1980-1984 Ireland run trade deficit that on a cumulative basis amounted to EUR5,969mln. This gave way to a cumulated surplus of EUR8,938mln in 1985-1989 period. So attaining a relatively strong trade surplus did not lift Irish economy from the crisis of the 1980s.
  • In Celtic Tiger era, during 1990-1994 period, cumulated surpluses rose at a robust rate of 155.7% on previous 5 year period, and this increase was followed by a further improvement of 113.9% in 1995-1999 period. 
  • During Celtic Garfield stage, in 2000-2004 period Irish trade surplus increased by a cumulative 245.4%. However, in 2005-2009 period trade surplus shrunk 10.9% cumulatively on previous 5 years. Based on data through 2012, projected cumulated growth in trade surplus (recall, this is merchandise trade only) grew by 43.6%.
Again, trade surplus growth is strong, currently, but it is nowhere near being as strong as in the 1990s. Worse, current rate of growth in trade surplus is well below the rate of growth attained in the 1980s.

Charts to illustrate:

Oh, and do note in the above chart the inverse relationship between the ratio of merchandise exports to imports (that kept rising during the Celtic Tiger and Garfield periods as per trend) and the downward trend in exports growth. 
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