And so two things come to pass in the last few days that will have a significant bearing on Ireland in years to come.
Issue 1: the ECB has firmly set its sight on exiting from money printing business sooner rather than later. Per ECB's statement last week, the bank will close off its 1 year discount window, cutting maturity of the loans available to the banking sector in the euro area from 1 year long term maturity to 3 months traditional maturity. This will mean two things for Irish banks who are the heaviest borrowers from the ECB by all possible measures (see here):
- Irish banks will face much faster transmission of any rates increases into their cost of borrowing increases;
- Irish banks will see higher cost of borrowing directly due to them being unable to access 3-12 months maturity instruments outside the interbank lending markets (currently they are collecting a handsome subsidy from the ECB’s discount window by borrowing at rates well below those offered in euribor).
And all of this will mean that our banks will once again see their margins squeezed by the credit markets, implying an even greater incentive for them to go after their paying customers with higher mortgage rates, credit cards rates and banking fees and costs.
Issue 2: earlier this week, the EU produced an estimate that the Union members’ total public debt could reach 100% of GDP by 2014 up from 66% in 2007. Last month, the Commission forecast that EU debt levels will rise to 84% in 2010 and 88.2% in 2011. Now, it says that not only the debt will top 100% of GDP in 2014, but that it will keep on rising after that. And the Commission named the row of culprits most responsible for fiscal debacle: Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Spain and the UK. This is linked to the earlier paper from the Commission that looked at long-term demographic challenges to deficit financing, where Ireland and other countries were presented as basket cases in terms of pensions liabilities and expected healthcare costs associated with ageing population.
This, of course means the following two things for Irish economy:
- Despite all extension for 2013 deadline for Mr Cowen to deliver SGP-compliant budget for Ireland, the EU is going to put more pressure on Ireland to bring its house in order. Not doing so will risk derailing of stimulus exits and deficits rollbacks by the likes of Italy, followed by Austria, Spain, Portugal and France. This simply cannot be allowed for the fear of undermining euro’s credibility and with it any plans Brussels might have for the tidy earnings from reserve currency seignorage in the future;
- Brussels will be pushing harder and harder for own tax revenue source – some sort of a unified federal tax – in order to divorce itself from the precarious and uncertain (i.e volatile) sources of state-level revenues.
The net effect of all of this – taxes will go up. To put this into perspective, should the EU allow us the deadline of 2014 to sort out our deficit, this will mean our debt will be up by another €20-22bn and our cumulative interest bill will rise (by the end of 2014) by another €5.5-7bn.
Alternatively, consider the annual bill for this debt – at 4.7-6% per annum (a reasonable range starting from today’s low rates and reaching into rates consistent with ca 1.75-2.0% base ECB rate), the new, shall we call it ‘delay the pain SIPTU’-debt, will cost us every year something to the tune of €940-1,320 million, or just about what Mr Cowen is now promising to shave off the public sector pay bill.
So do the math – accumulation of liabilities (interest only) of up to €1.3bn per annum and political process delivering promises of savings of €1.3bn after two years of the crisis… Path to solvency indeed.
Now, per one reader's request, here is my view on what this means for the euro:
Macro side: unwinding of deficits will mean a steep fall off in Government consumption and investment, so both - short term and longer term demand for euro will fall. This will be offset by the simultaneous unwinding of quantitative easing, so supply of euro will also decline. Three scenarios and paths are possible from there:
- If the two offset each other, we are down to interest rate differences to drive currency pairs against the euro (more on this below);
- If monetary tightening will be lagging fiscal constraints, then euro will be heading south vis-a-vis dollar but not by much as it is highly unlikely that Obama Administration will be able to sustain its own deficits for much longer;
- If monetary tightening leads fiscal tightening, then euro might head further north vis-a-vis the dollar.
- Interest rates effects are most likely to drive euro up for several reasons: the US Fed is likely to continue easing as fiscal stimulus runs out; the ECB has reputation building (re-building?) to do; US has higher tolerance for inflation.
- Last issue to watch over is the financial sectors demand for liquidity. Here, the US is more likely to face smaller demand for liquidity than euro area and this will imply a net positive to the dollar upside.
So my view is that dollar-euro pair will remain volatile over some time, with some limited upside to the dollar in the medium term. Carry trades in dollar will be continuing especially as the BRICs and the rest of the world launch into a new investment cycle in early 2010. Depending on whether this will coincide with monetary/ fiscal tightening in the euro area, we might see temporary testing of $/€1.65 barrier.
Euro-sterling story is a different story. The UK will be unwinding fiscal stimulus, while continuing monetary easing (banks are still in need of capital and writedowns will remain pronounced), which means we shall see plenty excess supply of sterling. The pressure is to the downside here and parity can be approached once again (remember that 0.98 moment in December 2008?).