Thursday, November 4, 2010

Economics 4/11/10: Early DofF Estimates for Budget 2011

DofF has published some preliminary projections for Budget 2011 tonight, titled "Information Note
on the Economic and Budgetary Outlook 2011 – 2014 (in advance of the publication of the Government’s Four-Year Budgetary Plan)". Catchy, isn't it?

Here's my high-level read through:

1) pages 2-3 (note DofF couldn't even number actual pages in the document) present some rosy scenarios concerning growth. Most notably, DofF doesn't seem to think that Dollar is going to devalue against the Euro significantly in 2011. As if QE2 will have no effect or will be offset, under DofF expectations by a QETrichet. This is non-trivial, of course. Price of oil is expected to rise by 10.4% over 2011, but dollar will devalue by just 3.7% and sterling by 2.3%. Absent robust demand growth (per DofF-mentioned global slowdown) what would drive oil up at a rate more than 4 times dollar devaluation? This is non-trivial - any devaluation of sterling and dollar will impact adversely our exports and will increase our imports bills, chipping at GDP and GNP from both ends.

2) "in overall terms, real GDP is projected to increase by 1¾% next year (GNP by 1%). This takes account of budgetary adjustments amounting to €6 billion, which are estimated to reduce the rate of growth by somewhere in the region of 1½ - 2 percentage points. Nominal GDP is set to grow by 2.5% in 2011, implying a GDP price deflator of ¾%." Errr... ok, I can buy into low inflation, but... folks - DofF is talking tough budget. which will mean inflation on state-controlled sectors is going to be rampant. To keep total inflation at just 0.75%, you have to get either a strong revaluation of the euro (ain't there, as we've seen in (1)) or a strong deflation in the private sectors (possible, but if so, what would that do to Exchequer returns and to domestic activity? Interestingly, DofF refer to HICP, not CPI when they talk about moderate inflation of 3/4%. Of course, they wouldn't dare touch upon the prospects of our banks skinning their customers (err... also shareholders, rescuers etc) with mortgage costs hikes.

3) Now, consider that 1.75% growth in real GDP and 1% growth in GNP. Where, exactly will this come from? IMF projection for WEO October 2010 (before Government latest adjustment in deficit announcement) factored in 2.277% growth in constant prices GDP for 2011. DoF says that the reduction in Government consumption will amount to 1.2-2% point in the rate of growth. This is, I assume, before factoring in second order effects of higher taxation measures - just a brutal cut. So IMF, less DofF estimate leads to growth rate of 0.227-1.077%, which is less than what DofF assumes. Of course, that range - with a mid-point of 0.652% still does not capture the adverse effects of increased taxes and other charges, which - if we are to take €6bn headline figure for deficit reductions, applying 1.2-2% of GDP net adjustment on expected Government consumption side and factoring in stabilizers of 20% implies that DofF is aiming to get well in excess of €1.9-3bn in new revenues in 2011. Of these, maximum of €1.1-1.2 billion can be expected to arise from DofF forecast growth, leaving €0.8-1.9bn to be raised from tax increases and other charges. Apart from being optimistic, it does look to me like DofF didn't factor the effects of this into their growth projections.

4) About the only realistic assumption that DofF makes is that investment will contract by far less next year than in 2010. The reason is simple - stuff is going to start falling apart in private sector, so companies will have to replace some of the capital stock sooner or later. I can tell from here whether investment will fall 6% (as DofF assume) or 10%, but I doubt there is much upside from DofF assumption. The problem is that if you expect investment goods decline to be reversed on plant and machinery side (continuing to allow for investment to fall further on housing and construction sides) you are going to get an increase in imports, as we import much of equipment we use. So I suspect imports are going to rise more than 2.75% that DofF factored into their estimates.

5) I also think DofF are too optimistic on the employment contraction side. The Department assumes -0.25% change in overall employment levels in the Republic. I would say that several longer term trends are going to push this deeper into the red: pharma sector restructuring, continued shutting down of MNCs-led manufacturing, declines in public contracts etc.

6) All of the above is crucial, as per Table 3 we can see that even with the €6bn taken out, 2011 Exchequer balance will be exactly the same as in 2010: €19.25bn deficit in cash terms. In other words, folks - of the total €6bn in cuts almost €3.1bn will go to cover... errr... you've guessed it - BANKS! another €1.25bn to cover interest on the BANKS rescue notes (net under Non-voted expenditure). More bizarre, unless you understand our Government's logic, which escapes me - our Current Expenditure will not fall next year at all. Instead it will rise from €47.25bn in 2010 to €49.75bn in 2011, while Current Revenue will fall by €500mln, leaving our Current Budget Balance at -€16.25bn - deeper than -€13.5bn achieved this year. Under this arithmetic, the only way this Government can claim that it will be on any track in the general direction of 3% deficit by 2014 is by building in some mighty optimistic assumptions on growth side, plus projecting no further demands for funding from the banks.

7) Now, let me touch upon the last part of the concluding sentence in (6) above. Oh, boy. The Government, therefore is reliant on €31bn in promisory notes to cover the entire rescue of the banking sector. Yet, not reflected in any of DofF estimates, AIB's latest failure to raise requisite capital is likely to cost this Government additional €2bn on top of already promised funds. Toss into the mix expected losses for 2011-2012 on all banks balancesheets, and you get pretty quickly into high figures. Let's suppose that the whole banking sector will cost the state ca €60bn (this is well below my estimate of 67-70bn, Peter Mathews' estimate of 66.5bn, etc). The state will be on the hook for some €29bn more in 'promisory' notes. Suppose none are redeemed and no new borrowing against them takes place. The gross cost per annum of these notes will be roughly at least what DofF estimated for €31bn or €150mln in 2011, while the borrowing requirement for the state will have to go up by €2.9billion annually (if structured as previous promisory notes).

Overall, I have significant doubts that the numbers presented in these early estimates will survive the test of reality. However, the Department of Finance seemed to have gotten slightly more realistic in these estimates, when compared to the stuff produced a year ago. It remains to be seen if the learning curve is steep enough to get them to reach full realism by the Budget 2011 day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I wholly agree with you.

The government has consistently averted its gaze from facts which might prove uncomfortable or inconvenient. This has led it to underestimate the size of our problems and to overestimate the capacity of the economy to pay for fixing them.

In this it has been afforded intellectual assistance by too many "professional" economists. With your mental clarity and moral honesty you, by contrast, have been an intellectual beacon in a fog of mediocrity.

Some simple examples of key matters which are being ignored ...

1. Eventual bank losses - I fear that total write-offs could eventually exceed €100 billion when the final shortfalls on corporate loans and residential mortgages come in. The article on Balmoral International Land in the current edition of The Phoenix offers a ddetailed example of this phenomenon.

The further property prices fall, the greater those shortfalls may be. And property prices show no evidence of bottoming.

Based on the long-run trendline of Irish residential property prices since 1971 (available on website of Dept of Environment), I expect residential prices to fall at least 75% from peak values before they bottoming i.e. having halved once, I expect them to halve again from current levels.

2. Wealth destruction - there is a considerable body of literature around the concept of the Balance Sheet Recession. Yet no "respected, mainstream" economist has applied simple estimated haircuts to the Irish wealth estimates of Bank of Ireland Wealth Management prepared in 2006 when they reckoned we were the second most wealthy people on the planet.

My, very rough, calculations show wealth destruction of the order of €450-500 billion based largely on my estimate that residential property prices have fallen 50% from 2006 levels. In national income terms, that exceeds Japan. This - rather than uncertainty about budgetary measures to come - is the key reason for Ireland's ballooning savings rate as individuals and companies seek to repair their obliterated balance sheets.

3. EMU interest rates - a Taylor Rule framework would show that interest rates appropriate to the Eurozone were too low for Ireland from 1997 - 2007 because (a) our actual inflation exceeded that of the Eurozone average and (b) our spare economic capacity, as measured by unemployment, lay below the Eurozone average.

But both the relative inflation and relative unemployment indices have swung in the opposite direction since 2008. This means that, for the foreseeable future (2008-2018?), interest rates that are appropriate to the Eurozone as a whole will be inappropriately high for Ireland. And this at a time when the Irish public and private sectors are grossly overindebted.

None of the above points are startling or innovative. But they are resolutely ignored. My own conclusions from all this are:

a. like you say, things remain considerably worse than the government lets on.

b. people's capacity to look hard facts in the face is disappointingly limited. This skews politicians in the direction of structural optimism (as opposed to structural realism).

c. most economists do not actually understand economics. They use economic qualifications as meal tickets rather than to gain insight into how the world works. Thankfully, you are an exception to the rule!

Cormac Lucey