Thursday, October 14, 2010

Economics 14/10/10: Rip-off Ireland is roaring its ugly head

CPI for September is out... kinda out... it was sent out yesterday without an embargo, by mistake, and now it was re-released again.

So the headline figure is: +0.5% yoy gain in CPI and -1.0% yoy loss in HICP. Mixed bag, you'd say. By one measure (CPI) it looks like things are getting back to a (positive) normal, while by HICP reading we are still in the (crisis) normal.

But let's take a closer look at decomposition of price changes. Per CSO, the most notable changes in the year were:
  • increases in Education (+9.5%),
  • increases in Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas & Other Fuels (+8.5%) and Communications (+2.9%) [Note: monthly CPI ex mortgage interest decreased by 0.2% in the month and was down by 0.9% in the year], and
  • decreases in Clothing & Footwear (-7.4%), Furnishings, Household Equipment & Routine Household Maintenance (-3.7%) and Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (-3.1%).
The annual rate of inflation for Services was 2.1% in the year to September, while Goods experienced continued deflation of -1.6%.

The most significant monthly price changes were:
  • decreases in Transport (-1.6%) - driven by airfares drop (not by the state-controlled bus and train fares, mind you) and
  • decreases in Miscellaneous Goods &Services (-0.4%) - primarily due to cuts in health insurance charges;
  • increase in Clothing & Footwear (+4.5%).
Per CSO: "The CPI excluding tobacco index for September decreased by 0.2% in the month and was up by 0.4% in the year. The CPI excluding energy products fell by 0.2% in the month and decreased by 0.2% in the year. "

So good news then is that:
  1. State services, such as Education (+9.5% ! in 12 months);
  2. Banks payback to consumers for propping them up (CPI is up +0.5% yoy and ex-mortgages CPI is down -0.9% over the same period. So far, we have had, courtesy of our banks rescue plans: in a year to September 2009 mortgages costs fell 48%, in a year to September 2010 they rose 25.1%. All despite the fact that Irish banks are no longer facing higher costs of funding - instead they are simply borrowing from ECB using our bonds, for which you, me and our kids will be liable);
  3. State-set charges on energy (+8% yoy);
  4. State set health costs (+0.5%);
  5. Largely state-set or influenced transport costs (+1.4%)
are all signaling that we are living in a public sector boom times, as the Government seemingly pushes forward with the agenda of beefing up semi-states revenues at our expense.

Clearly, we've turned another corner, folks, and it's the 'Ugly Boulevard' ahead of us, consumers.


Seamus said...

Hi Constantin,

I know you have beaten this drum before but I think the link you draw between public sector inefficiency and the consumer price index is, at best, misleading and is a nit I cannot resist picking.

The CPI is a measure of prices. For many of the services provided by the state sector a consumer price does not exist, hence the CPI offers no insight into the performance of most state sectors. I have previously addressed similar commentary.

You can see what is in the 'Education' sub-group here. Prices for private primary, private secondard, driving lessons and other training are largely outside the impact of the state sector. The huge amount of primary and secondary education services provided by the state make no appearance in the CPI. There is no price to measure.

It is notable, though, that almost half of the Education sub-group is prices in third-level education. The increase in registration fees is driving the 20% inflation in this sub-category (and the 9.5% inflation in the overall education sub-group). This is a state- controlled price. This increase entered into the October 2009 CPI, and with registration fees largely unchanged in 2010 this increase is about to fall out of the CPI.

The health sub-group can be seen here. Again, it is driven by consumer prices rather than state costs. Obviously the state has a huge role to play in the health sector but one can only infer an indirect effect on the medical goods, drugs and services prices measured by the CPI.

The most recent OECD statistics show health care expenditure makes up nearly 9% of GDP. The health sub-group of the CPI has a weighting of just over 3%.

The Energy sub-category may be up by 8.0% year-on-year, but again these are not "state-controlled costs". See here. Electricity (-1.3%) and Natural Gas (-10.6%) are both down on the year. The increase in this category is almost completely down to inflation in petrol (+11.9%) and diesel (+17.0%). Some of this is down to government (carbon tax) with another portion due to external factors (commodity markets).

Finally, your claim that the 1.4% inflation rate in transport costs is "state-set or influenced" is again wide of the mark. See here.

Nearly 88% of the Transport sub-group comes from the Purchase of Vehicles and Operation of Personal Transport Equipment. As with the Energy sub-group the positive inflation rate in the Transport group is largely the result of increases in petrol and diesel prices. The only other significant annual increase is in air transport (+16.1%). These prices are largely outside the state sector.

State-controlled rail and bus transport make up only 4.6% of this sub-group (and only 0.6% of the overall index) and both are essentially unchanged on the year.

There is lots of useful information in the CPI but support for "an agenda of beefing up semi-state revenues" is not part of it.

Eoin Ryan said...

That's a very well argued comment, and it might well change Constantin's mind on this issue. Perhaps he was a bit hasty in laying blame at Tue governments door in this case.