Monday, June 20, 2016

20/6/16: Creating Fiscal Space. Or Money Growing on Trees


You might excuse an average punter for thinking things are going the beleaguered Irish Health Services ways with some EUR500 ml added to the spending bin (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/eu-ruling-means-extra-540m-for-health-fbpnqcqb8?shareToken=699206929a359223e8662e8ae88a18d2). After all, even the good folks of The Times bought into the positive story.


But, such a conjecture is wrong. What really is happening, thus? In simple terms, the Eurostat reclassification of the Government conversion of AIB preference shares into ordinary shares generates several implications:

  1. Preference shares represent a preferred (or senior) claim on AIB assets in the case of default or dilution compared to ordinary shares. That is the basics corporate finance and as such implies that State conversion of shares adds new risk to the State holdings, as well as reduces the value of that holding. It does create a marginal improvement in the AIB’s outlook for selling shares in the markets, however.
  2. The conversion also raises official State deficit and spending volume for 2015, which has no direct material impact on 2015 spending, except via two channels: Channel 1 is the impact that added spending has on future (2016) spending; and Channel 2 is the GDP effect - as AIB transaction added some EUR500 million to State official spending, that EUR500 million is now an addition to 2015 GDP.
  3. Because State spending for 2015 is now EUR500 million higher, and because our 2015 deficit was still below the approved (by the EU) target, the State is allowed - by the EU rules - to spend extra cash this year.
  4. Although Ireland has funds ‘available’ for such increased spending, the funding will come from borrowing. The reason for this is simple: Ireland is still running a general deficit. Not a general surplus. If the State were to spend EUR500 million of ‘added fiscal space’ on activities for which it is borrowing funds under pre-existent budgetary commitments, the deficit would have dropped - in 2016 - by, roughly, that amount. However, if Ireland were to spend it on a new spending line or to increase spending above previously planned, the funding will come via borrowing from some other activity, such as repaying Government debt.


In simple terms, there is no free lunch. Irish State does not have extra EUR500 million floating around that it did not have before. No matter what you classify things as, basic accounting means: unless you got paid by someone EUR500 million, you have to borrow EUR 500 million in order to spend it.

Simples. But not for Irish media that keeps confusing deficit financing via debt for resources.

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