Wednesday, October 7, 2015

7/10/15: IMF's Latest Fiscal Data and That "Iceland v Ireland" Question

You know, there’s always fun to be had with the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor updates. If only because they throw some light onto yet to be published WEO updates. But this time around, I was given a mission. Someone few weeks ago on twitter suggested that I should revisit some comparatives between Iceland and Ireland. And so here we are, fresh Fiscal Monitor at hand, let’s crunch the numbers.

Take General Government Overall Balance as % of GDP. In 2014, Ireland (best pupil in the Euro class) had a deficit of 4%. This year, IMF forecasts a deficit of 2% (significantly outperforming our Troika allowance). Which is great news. Iceland (the ‘bad pupil in class’ judging by its desire to burn bondholders in the past) had deficit of 0.2% of GDP in 2014 and is forecast to post a surplus of 1.3% in 2015. Add two numbers together and you get 2 years cumulative deficit of ca 6% for Ireland and cumulative surplus of ca 1.1% for Iceland. Iceland will be posting its first full budgetary surplus in  2015 according to the IMF latest figures, Ireland will get there in… well, not any time before 2021 as IMF projects our best performance to be 0% deficit in 2018-2020. Who’s that pupil at the back row?..

Now, take General Government Primary Balance (so stripping out the pesky payments of interest on debt). Ireland had a deficit of 0.6% of GDP in 2014, moving onto a forecast surplus of 0.8%. So net over two years, roughly 0.2% primary surplus. Take Iceland now: 2014  primary surplus of 3.5% and 2015 projected primary surplus of 4%. Net over two years, roughly 7.5% surplus. Which is, sort of, kind of 37.5 times better than Ireland?.. But wait, Iceland reached its first primary surplus in 2013. Ireland will reach its first primary surplus in 2015. Best, you know, in the class… may be not quite in the school, but…

Onto Cyclically-adjusted Balance (government balance accounting for business cycles). Ireland to start with again: -2.5% of potential GDP deficit in 2014 and -1.4% of potential GDP deficit in 2015. Not bad. Poor Iceland: cyclically adjusted deficit of 0.1% in 2014 and projected surplus of 1% in 2015. Cumulative two years for Ireland: deficit of ca 3.9% of GDP, for Iceland: surplus of 0.9% of potential GDP.

Soldier on. Next up, Cyclically-adjusted Primary Balance. Ireland: 0.9% surplus in 2014 and 1.3% surplus in 2015. Iceland: 3.8% surplus in 2014 with projected surplus of 4.1% in 2015. Two years cumulative: Ireland’s surplus of ca 2.2% of potential GDP, Iceland’s surplus of 7.9% of potential GDP.

Both countries took on hefty debt beating in the crisis. Back in 2006, Gross Government Debt in Ireland was 23.6% of GDP and in Iceland it was 29.3% of GDP. Iceland was underperforming Ireland. In 2014 gross government debt in Ireland was 107.6% of GDP and in Iceland it was 82.5% of GDP. In 2015, as IMF projects, the figures will be 75.3% of GDP for Iceland and 100.6% for Ireland. Oh dear… but perhaps things are going to catch up for us in the medium term future? Ok, IMF projects Gross Government Debt out to 2020. This is, of course, no guarantee, but the best we can go by. In that somewhat not too distant future, Iceland’s Gross Government Debt is projected to be around 54.9% of GDP. Ireland’s - at 82.9% of GDP. Here’s a bit of farce: at the peak of debt crisis for both Ireland and Iceland - in 2012, our debt to GDP ratio was 27.5 percentage points higher than that of Iceland. Per IMF projections out to 2020, the difference will be… 28 percentage points.

Of course, nowadays it is fashionable to remind ourselves that despite having lots of debts we have some assets (AIB shares and stuff). IMF partially accounts for these by estimating Net Government Debt. So let’s take a look at that metric. Per IMF data, peak of net debt levels in Iceland and Ireland took place around 2012 (for Iceland) and 2013 (for Ireland). Back then Icelandic Net Government Debt was 25 percentage points lower than our Net Government Debt. This year, IMF projects, it will be 31.6 percentage points lower (50.8% of GDP for Iceland and 82.4% of GDP for Ireland). But may be we are on track to watch up with Iceland by 2020? Not really, per IMF forecasts, our Net Government Debt will be 29.6 percentage points higher then than Icelandic Net Debt.

So I’ll sum up for you the IMF latest data in 2 charts. Self-explanatory. In both charts, positive values showing Iceland outperforming Ireland in fiscal metrics. Enjoy:

While Ireland did deliver impressive adjustments on fiscal side post-crisis peak, it is simply incorrect to identify our adjustments as being consistent with achieving performance better than that found in Iceland over the same period.

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