Friday, October 4, 2013

4/10/2013: IMF 11th review of Ireland: Growth Warnings

So IMF released its 11th review of Irish economy under the Extended Arrangement for funding.

Key points:

"Real GDP declined in the first quarter, reflecting a fall in exports and weak domestic demand. Nonetheless, fiscal results remain on track and sovereign and bank bond yields have risen relatively modestly in response to declining global risk  appetite. A range of other economic indicators are more encouraging, suggesting lower but still positive growth in 2013, though uncertainty remains. Growth projections for 2014 are also lowered given weaker prospects for consumption recovery and for trading partner growth."

So weaker than forecast growth conditions… ok… How much weaker?

"Balancing the weak GDP results for the first quarter against a range of more positive indicators, the growth projection for 2013 has been pared back by a ½ percentage point to 0.6 percent y/y, but uncertainties remain." Boom! Ugly stuff, folks. And replace 'but' with 'and' and you will get a double Boom!

"Most importantly, export growth has been cut by 1½ percentage points as data indicate a larger impact from the patent cliff and tepid recoveries in important trading partners. Lower imports dampen the impact on growth." Wait, weren't we told that patent cliff doesn't matter much cause exports are offset by imports etc?

"Domestic demand is expected to be flat, with private consumption still contracting modestly owing to fiscal consolidation and household debt reduction, cushioned by employment growth and low inflation. Fixed investment is expected to expand by some 2 percent given improving business sentiment and the uptick in housing starts, but remains the most volatile GDP component. This projection will need to be further reviewed when Q2 national accounts data become available near end September." We have that Q2 data available now… see here: and it ain't pretty…

More details here: Net: Gross Fixed Capital Formation (basically investment in the economy) is down 9.40% in H1 2013 compared to H1 2012, down 14.09% compared to H1 2011 and down 67.73% compared to H1 2007. The reductions in capital investment jun H1 2013 compared to H1 2007 are ten-fold the size of reductions in current Government spending at EUR17,542 million. For another comparison, reductions in personal expenditure on goods and services by households over the same period is EUR4,757 million.

"Weaker consumption and export growth are expected to dampen the pace of recovery, with growth now penciled in at 1.8 percent in 2014. Export and consumption growth are expected to benefit from a projected rise in trading partner growth with employment growth contributing to incomes and confidence. Although consumption growth is still expected to become modestly positive in 2014, the pick up is weaker because a 1½ percentage point downward revision to household saving in 2012 suggests less room for lower savings given the priority households attach to debt reduction. Public consumption is also expected to be softer than previously anticipated as the full effects of the Haddington Road Agreement feed through in 2014. Export growth in 2014 is scaled back to reflect the possibility that recent weakness could persist."

Per IMF: "Growth firms to 2½ percent in 2015 as external growth rises further and fiscal consolidation eases, but durable recovery hinges on reversing the tide of NPLs." The miracle of 3%+ growth for ever, projected back in 2010-2011 to start in 2013-2014 is now replaced by the miracle of 2.5% growth projected to start in 2015… And the new projections out to 2018 no longer feature a single year of growth expected to rise above 2.5%… but all is still sustainable, just as it was in 2010 and 2011 and 2012 and… And the dream of 2.5% growth will, per IMF, be consistent with a positive output gap of ca 0.3%, which means that that is not the expected long-run real growth rate.

In effect, IMF admits now that Ireland cannot be expected to grow sustainably at the rates in excess of 3% per annum in real terms. Say goodbye to Ireland's 'growth miracle', say hello to Ireland's Belgium decades...

Another kicker: after 2015: "…the recovery continues to rely principally on net exports as domestic demand recovery is expected to be protracted as many households continue to deleverage in the medium term. Resolution of mortgages is not expected provide significant direct support to consumption recovery, as while some households may have a reduction in debt service due under a split mortgage restructuring, they may have previously been temporarily on interest-only terms, while other households may need to adjust consumption to serving their debt even if the debt service due is reduced. Rather it is expected that progress in reducing NPLs and enhancing bank profitability will gradually enhance the terms of banks’ access to market funding and their ability and willingness to lend to less indebted borrowers—which includes the younger cohort of households—unlocking housing market turnover and reducing household uncertainty."

Wow! So the IMF is warning us that things are going to remain tough even after the mortgages crisis 'resolutions'… Not like our Government is listening… And the IMF is telling us that the economy is going to get more polarised and paralysed... where did you hear that? Oh...

Employment: long-term unemployment remains a problem (we know that)… and surprisingly: "Facilitating SME examinership could aid resolution of SMEs in arrears, supporting their potential to invest and create jobs." Now, here's the key point: in all this excitement about family homes and repossessions we forgot that roughly 50% of SMEs loans are in arrears… and of the remaining 50%, unknown quantum is at risk… Hm… I wonder how that 'facilitated examinership' going to work for the employment stats and for property markets and mortgages arrears, when examiners go into the SMEs books to uncover potential subsidies to proprietor's income or when examinerships lead to cuts in employment levels?..

So back in 2011, IMF predicted Irish economy to grow 2.4% (GDP) in 2013, 2.9% in 2014 and 3.3% in 2015. This time, IMF is projecting Irish economy to grow 0.6% in 2013, 1.8% in 2014 and 2.5% in 2015. Nominal GDP was supposed to reach EUR182.5 billion by end of 2015 back in 2011 projections and is now forecast to reach EUR178.4 billion… What's being down EUR4.1 billion (one year difference) between friends, or EUR6.5 billion over three years, eh? Especially when all of this is sustainable, right?..

Still, gives us some perspective as to the whole circus going on: we are sticking to EUR3.1 billion fiscal target for 'adjustment' and washing off EUR4.1 billion in growth expectations underpinning 'sustainability' analysis… You'd think this is monkeys with abacus, but no - these are highly paid 'analysts', 'economists' on Government side, state side, sell-side at stockbrokerages and banks, ECB side, EU side, IMF side… And they all sing in unison: all is sustainable, just as they revise continuously their forecasts down and down and down. Which begs a question: at what stage will the sustainability malarky be replaced by the admission of the crisis? Presumably when GDP growth is revised to nil into perpetuity?

I will be updating charts on Irish economy forecasts from the IMF over the next few days, so stay tuned. Before that, I will be blogging more on key topics covered by the IMF review later today, also stay tuned…

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