Sunday, December 13, 2015

13/12/15: Irish National Accounts 3Q: Post 6: Exports and MNCs

In the previous 6 posts, I covered:

  1. Irish National Accounts 3Q: Sectoral Growth results;
  2. Irish year-on-year growth rates in GDP and GNP;
  3. Quarterly growth rates in Irish GDP and GNP
  4. Irish Domestic Demand (Household Consumption, Government Spending and Public and Private Investment)
  5. Irish external trade; and
  6. Evolution of per-capita metrics and the dynamics of the crisis.

So let’s get down to the last post on the matter of Irish National Accounts for 3Q 2015: the subject of Irish economy’s dependency on MNCs… err… exports that is.

Real Exports as a share of Irish real GDP stood at 120.1% in 3Q 2015, the second highest proportion on record, down from 123.0% in 2Q 2015 which was record-breaking level. Similarly, Nominal Exports as a share of nominal GDP fell from 127.2% in 2Q 2015 (highest on record) to 122.7% (second highest).

This is a remarkable set of numbers, driven predominantly by the activities of MNCs in Irish economy, and a number that is a signifier of all that is wrong with our National Accounts. Unlike countries that serve as a basis for production, Ireland serves as a basis for both some production of goods and services, but also as a platform for large scale tax optimisation. Vast majority of our exports are accounted for by MNCs trading from here, with large share of activity not taking place here, but being booked into Ireland from abroad. This distorts actual levels and value of production, but it also distorts the metrics of this economy’s openness to trade.

As the result on much of the MNCs activities, profits derived in Ireland by MNCs can go four ways:

  1. They can be booked into tax havens (in which case they register as outflows from Ireland or Irish imports);
  2. They can be booked in Ireland as profits and retained here (in which case they accrue to our National Accounts);
  3. They can be registered here and then repatriated abroad (in which case they register as outflows of factor income); and
  4. They can be booked into here and then expatriated, but remain on our books, as long as the MNCs is domiciled here (e.g. company created as an Irish entity via inversion).

We have zero ability to tell how much exactly do MNCs derive in profit from activities here and tax optimisation through here. But we do have a number that partially captures (3) above. This is provided by Net Factor Income Outflows to the Rest of the World and here is the chart showing how it evolved over time relative to Exports:

Do note that over 2011 - present period, average net outflow of factor payments abroad has fallen as a share of Exports from 17.5% in the period of 1Q 2002 - 4Q 2010 to 15.1%, the lowest period average on record. In other words, during the last 4 and 3/4 years MNCs operating from Ireland have been expatriating fewer profits abroad than in other periods in history. Question is: what happens to these retained profits over time? Obviously, these MNCs have absolutely no interest in re-investing these profits in Ireland (there is neither the scale for such reinvestment, nor the need). This suggests that either these profits are being parked until such a time as when they can be expatriated for the purpose of funding MNCs investments around the world, or the MNCs overall switched to declaring lower profits as a share of their exports.

Truth is - we do not know what is going on, though we do know that something is afoot.

Overall, however, Irish economic miracle’s dependence on MNCs-driven exports growth is growing, whilst transparency of MNCs operations here (at least as far as the National Accounts go) is declining. Happy FDI days are upon us… as long as the U.S., OECD, EU, and the rest of the host of states and organisations hell-bent on ending the free for all tax optimisation by corporates aren’t looking…

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