Thursday, December 19, 2019

19/12/19: Irish Planning Permissions 3Q 2019: Some Goods, Some Bads

The latest Irish data for Planning Permissions approvals is a mix of some good news, some bad news and some ugly trends. Here is the summary of them for 3Q 2019:

  1. Overall, planning permissions numbers for housing applications are up 4.02% y/y - this is the good news. Better news: cumulative 1Q-3Q 2019 numbers are up 7.12%  on the same period in 2018.
  2. New dwelling planning permissions are up 6.01% y/y - this too is the good news. Also exciting: cumulative 9 months permissions are up 6.33% y/y.
  3. Other new construction ex-dwellings permissions are up 6.29% - another bit of good news.
  4. Extensions and alterations-related planning permissions are up only 1.42%. But this is offset by the cumulative 9 months gain of 7.65% y/y. Which is a nice number.
  5. Bad news: private homes permissions are up only 1.13% y/y in 3Q 2019, and worse news: the same are down massive 5.57% y/y on a cumulative basis for the first 9 months of 2019.
  6. Great news: apartments permissions (for units, not aggregated over schemes) are up massive 80.15% in 3Q 2019 y/y and are cumulatively up 86.81% y/y for the first nine months of 2019.
  7. Average area of the houses for which new permissions are grated is up 0.82% in 3Q 2019 compared to 3Q 2018, but average area of the apartments with new permissions granted is down big time: down 14% y/y in 3Q 2019 and on average down 7.1% in the first 9 months of 2019.
So we are planning more apartments (good), not as significantly more homes (bad), but our apartments planned are getting smaller (bad). 

Now for some other bad news, or trends, rather. 

Given the demographic demand and the state of construction industry in the post-crisis period, we are continuing to under-supply new housing to the markets. Based on the assumed demand for 25,000 new homes annually, cumulative undersupply of new permissions to build residential units since 1Q 2010 currently stands at around 81,900 units and although this number is finally declining (since 4Q 2017), at the current rate of new planning permissions approvals (Q1-Q3 2019 figure), it would take almost 6.5 years to clear the backlog. That is, assuming in the mean time, there is no new recession to knock out the wind from the building and construction sector, and/or no significant inward / return migration to boost demand. Accounting for depreciation at ca 4100 units per annum ( extends this horizon to 10.3 years. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

18/12/19: Winning Trade [Price] Wars: Updated Data

With the recent announcement of the so-called Phase 1 'Trade Deal' with China, the U.S. President has claimed that his Administration is winning the trade war with Beijing and that the U.S. economy is gaining from the rounds and rounds of tariffs and trade restrictions imposed on its bilateral trade with China.

Here is a tangible set of metrics showing the cost indices for U.S. trade (exports and imports) over the period of President Trump's tenure, compared to the track record of his predecessors:

In basic terms, the adverse movements in imports prices have been more than offset by the positive movements in export prices since the start of the Trump presidency. However, two caveats to this warrant more cautious analysis of this data:

  1. Mr. Trump's presidency has not been associated with statistically distinct imports prices performance, compared to the Obama administration (see averages and levels for import price indices in the above), while Mr. Trump's tenure has been associated with markedly lower export prices for the U.S. exporters (the blue line above); and
  2. The gap between export prices and import prices (positive and larger gap signals higher relative prices of exports compared to imports - a net positive for the external balance), under Trump administration remains well below previous administration's track record (see chart next).

There is preciously little if any evidence in the trade prices indices to suggest that the Trump administration is either winning any trade wars or improving U.S. exporters' environment. If anything, there is more evidence that the U.S. economy is facing similar supportive tailwinds from global imports prices deflation to those experienced by its counterparts, and these are broadly in line with the tailwinds experienced by China:

Monday, December 16, 2019

16/12/19: There is no Inflation, folks... none...

There is no inflation, folks. This is what the Fed been telling us for some time now. And the CPI figures, on aggregate, say the same.

Unless it is if you need health services or health insurance, or if you happen to *want* education. These discretionary items of spending, avoidable by choice of a prudent consumer, are, of course, exceptions to the rule...

Note, of course, the standard inflation measurements of price changes in healthcare are a bit obscure too, as they average-out effects of private insurance inflation by adding old-age and low-income insurance purchases by the state:

But, never mind, as I said above, these are purely discretionary spending items, so we should not let them cloud out the net official results that show 'no inflation'.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

15/12/19: Under the Hood of Irish National Accounts: 3Q 2019 Data

CSO have released the latest (3Q 2019) data for the National Accounts. The headlines are covered in the release here: and are worth checking. There was a massive q/q increase in GNP (+8.9%) and a strong rise in GDP (+1.7%).

Official value added q/q growth figures were quite impressive too:

  • Financial & Insurance Activities value added was +5.7 percent in volume, all of which, judging by the state of the Irish banks came probably from the IFSC and insurance premiums hikes
  • Professional, Administrative & Support Services +5.1 percent (this sector is now heavily dominated by the multinationals)
  • Public Administration, Education and Health sector lagged with a +1.5 percent 
  • Arts & Entertainment +1.8 percent
  • Construction grew by much more modest +1.3 percent 
  • Industry (ex-Construction) fared worse at +1.1 percent 
  • Information & Communication increased by 0.8 percent over the same period
  • Meanwhile, more domestic-focused Agriculture recorded a decline of 3.2 percent 
  • Distribution, Transport, Hotels & Restaurants posted a decline of 1.0 percent.
On the expenditure side of accounts:
  • Personal Consumption Expenditure increased by 0.9 percent q/q
  • Government expenditure increased 1.2 percent.
Not exactly the gap we want to see, especially during the expansionary cycle, but public consumption has been running below private consumption in level terms ever since the onset of the recovery.

With this in mind, here is what is not discussed in-depth in the CSO release. CSO reports a measure of economic activity that attempts to strip out some (but not all) of the more egregious effects of the tax optimising multinational enterprises' on our national accounts. The official name for it is 'Modified Domestic Demand', "an indicator of domestic demand that excludes the impact of trade in aircraft by aircraft leasing companies and trade in R&D service imports of intellectual property". Alas, the figures do include intangibles inflows, especially IP on-shoring, income from domiciled intangible assets, and transfer pricing activities. Appreciating CSO's difficulties, it is virtually impossible to make a judgement as to what of these three components is real (in so far as it may be actually physically material to Irish enterprises and MNCs trading from here) and what relates to pure tax optimisation.

With liberty not permitted to CSO, let's take the two categories out of the aggregate modified demand figures.

So, this good news first: Modified Total Domestic Demand is growing and this growth (y/y) is improving since hitting the recovery period low in 3Q 2018. 

Bad news: growth in modified domestic demand remains extremely volatile - a feature of the Irish economy since mid-2014 when the first big splashes of the Leprechaun Economics started manifesting themselves (also see last chart below).

Not great news, again, is that domestic growth is not associated with increases in investment (first chart above, blue line). 

More good news: in levels terms, adjusting for inflation, Ireland's Modified Domestic Demand has been running well-above pre-crisis period peak average levels for quite some time (chart below). Even better news, it appears that much of the recent support for growth in demand has been genuinely domestic.

Next chart shows y/y growth rates in the headline Modified Total Domestic Demand as reported by the CSO (blue line) and the same, less transfer pricing, stocks flows and IP flows (grey line). 

Starting with mid-2014, there is a massive variation in growth rates between the domestic economy growth rates as reported by the CSO and the same, adjusting for MNCs-dominated IP and transfer pricing flows, as well as one-off effects of changes in stocks (inventories). There is also tremendous volatility in the MNCs-led activities overall. Historically, standard deviation in the y/y growth rates in official modified domestic demand is 5.68, and for the period from 3Q 2014 this is running at 5.09. For modified demand ex-transfer pricing, IP and stocks flows, the same numbers are 6.12 and 1.62. 

Overall, growth data for Ireland has been quite misleading in terms of capturing the actual tangible activities on the ground in prior years. But since mid-2014, we have entered an entirely new dimension of accounting shenanigans by the multinationals. Much of this is driven by two factors:
  1. Changes in tax optimisation strategies driven by the international reforms to taxation regimes and the resulting push by the Irish authorities to alter the more egregious loopholes of the past by replacing them with new (IP-related and intangible capital-favouring) regime; and
  2. Changes in the ays in which MNCs prioritise specific investment inflows into Ireland, namely the drive by the MNCs to artificially or superficially increase tangible footprint in the Irish economy (investment in buildings, facilities and on-shored employment) to provide cover for more tax-driven FDI.
Time will tell if these changes will lead to more or less actual growth in the real economy, but it is notable that the likes of the IMF have recently focused their efforts at detecting tax optimising activities at national levels away from income flows (OECD approach to tax reforms) to FDI stocks and firm-level capital activities. By these (IMF's) metrics, Ireland has now been formally identified as a corporate tax haven. How soon before the OECD notices?..

Saturday, December 14, 2019

14/12/19: Governance and Government Debt

What I am reading this week: a new paper via EFMA, titled "Governance and Government Debt" by João Imaginário and Maria João Guedes, available here:

The paper looks at "the relationship between Worldwide Governance Indicators [a proxy for governance quality] and Government Debt in 164 countries for the period between 2002 and 2015." Using fixed effects (FE) and generalized method of moments (GMM) models the authors show that "governance quality is negatively and statistically related with government debt. For Low Income countries was found evidence that better governance environment is associated with lower public debt levels."

More specifically, "for a set of 164 countries on a period between 2002 and 2015, ... estimation results for FE model suggest that Control of Corruption (CC) and Voice and Accountability (VA) indexes are negative and statistically significant on influencing government debt. In part, this result confirms our Hypothesis 1 that better governance quality is associated with lower levels of public
debt." But the study also shows that these 'global' effects are predominantly driven by the presence of low income countries in the full sample. The authors find that "the link between good governance quality and government debt reduction is more evident for Low Income countries."

As a caveat, the authors do find that overall higher score in the World Governance Indicators Index (as opposed to specific sub scores) has a negative and statistically significant impact on the levels of government debt, so that overall higher measure of governance quality is associated with lower government debt for the High Income economies. The magnitude of this effect was reasonably large, as well.

Friday, December 13, 2019

13/12/19: World Bank and WEF reports highlight relatively poor competitiveness rankings for Ireland

The latest World Bank "Doing Business" report rankings and the WEF's "Global Competitiveness Report" rankings show Ireland in a mid-tier 1 position (24th ranked in both tables) in terms of competitiveness - hardly an enviable position.

Ireland's position marks a deterioration from 23rd rank in WEF table, driven by relatively poor performance in ICT adoption (hmmm... Silicon Docks economy is ranked 49th in the World), macroeconomic stability (ranked 34th), product markets competitiveness (35th), and financial system (42nd).

Full WEF report here: and full WB report here: WB country profile for Ireland:

A summary chart for Ireland from WB report:

Which, again shows poor performance in the area of credit supply, as well as trading across the border (correlated to the effective market size),  but also in access to electricity, registering property, dealing with construction permits, and enforcing contracts.

13/12/19: UK Vote and Younger Voters

On foot of the UK General Elections results, here is a telling sign of the changing generational effects on voting with some questions for the U.S. 2020 election:

Given the above numbers, the 'younger voters tide of change' expected in 2020 in the U.S. elections is a function of two factors: turnouts and demographic concentrations. We are, of course, yet to get this data from the UK polls.

Worth thinking about these, if you are a political analyst.

Note: some data on voter turnout as of 627 MPs elections completed.

  • Turnout was about 67%; circa two-points lower than in 2017, signalling no upswell in political activism by the voters. Given that younger cohorts of eligible voters increased in numbers, while older cohorts diminished due to time lapse, this suggests that younger voters were not as energised to show up at the polls as media hype suggested.
  • Per Brunel University analysis: "youth turnout lagged well behind that of their elders. If we look at the 20 constituencies with the highest proportion of 18-35 year olds, the average turnout yesterday was 63%; the turnout for the 20 constituencies with the fewest 18-35 year olds was 72%." See:'s-car-crash-result-by-age-group. Again, evidence that the younger, more 'Remain', voters were not sufficiently fired up to show up at the polls. 
  • Per same source: "The decline in turnout since 2017 was also slightly greater – at 1.5 points lower – in those constituencies with more young adults than those with the fewest – where it was 0.8 points lower." Again, a signal of younger voter apathy?
  • Younger voters did go for Labour: "Labour held onto every one of the constituencies with the highest number of 18-35 year olds that it won in 2017."
Here is a really damning conclusion, emphasis mine: "What is clear is that, once again, claims of a youthquake – a sharp rise in turnout among young voters that would benefit the Labour party – have proven well short of the mark. At no point in the campaign have the opinion polls suggested that a youth turnout surge would materialise, but there was a great deal of excitement surrounding the surge in voter registrations among the under-35s – 2.8 million between October and December of this year, more than half a million more than in the same period before the 2017 election – which fuelled claims that a youthquake was on the horizon."

12/12/19: Ireland's Jobs Creation Track Record: Raising Some Questions

Doing some research on the state of precariat in modern labor markets, I came across some interesting data from the 'poster country' of the post-GFC recovery: Ireland.

Ireland's economy and its recovery from the crisis are both characterised by the huge role played by the internationally-trading multinational corporations. In recent years, these companies have been gearing up for the upcoming OECD-led BEPS reforms (more on this coming up next month in my usual contribution to the Manning Financial publication, but you can read academic-level analysis o the BEPS here: The strategic shift this entails involves MNCs domiciling into Ireland intangible property and new business functions to create a larger 'footprint' in the economy. With this, employment in MNCs operations in Dublin and elsewhere boomed.

Why is this important? Because the main story of the Celtic Tiger revival has been about the aforementioned jobs creation and accompanying dramatic drop in official unemployment. Less covered in the media and politicians' statements, over the same period of time as 'jobs creation' was allegedly booming, Irish labour force participation remained well below pre-crisis levels (meaning there were more discouraged unemployed who stopped being counted as unemployed). Even less attention has been paid to the quality of jobs creation.

The above chart partially reflects the latter concern. It shows that full-time employment as a a share of total working age population has improved from the bottom of the series at the peak of the recession, but the rebound has been largely incomplete. Similarly (not shown in the chart) the percentage of those in part-time employment as a share of total number of those in employment has remained above pre-crisis levels. Over 1998 through the first half of 2008 (the pre-crisis period), that share averaged 17.5 percent. This rose to above 23 percent in the years of the crisis (2H 2008 - 2013). It remained at around 23 percent through 4Q 2016, and has declined to around 20.3-20.5 percent since then. This too signals that the quality of jobs being added even in the mature stage of the recovery is still lagging the quality of jobs in the pre-crisis period.

Now, imagine what these figures would have been were it not for the MNCs latest tax shenanigans...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

11/12/19: Private Sector Leads Electrification of Transport in Ireland

Ireland's uptake of electric vehicles has risen dramatically in 2019 (to-date, data through November), according to the data release from CSO.

Based on annualized numbers, Ireland is on track to add 3,790 new electric vehicles in 2019, of which 3,998 are expected to be private vehicles. In general, across all years we have data for, private sector (households) leads uptake of electric vehicles, with public sector lagging.

In 2019, new electric vehicles will account for ca 3% of the total new vehicles registered in Ireland. In the private sector, electric vehicles will account for 2.53% and in the public sector the share of electric vehicles in all new vehicles registered will rise to 1.07%. This marks major increases over 2015-2018 cumulative additions share of 0.44% total, 0.53% private and 0.32% public.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

10/12/19: Irish Banks: Part 2

Continuing with the coverage of the Irish banks, in the second article for The Currency, available here:, I cover the assets side of the banks' balancesheets.

The article argues that "The banks are failing to provide sufficient support for the demand for investment funding, and are effectively removed from financing corporate investment. In this case, what does not make sense to investors does not make sense to society at large." In other words, strategic errors that have been forced onto the banks by deleveraging post-crisis have resulted in the Irish banks becoming a de facto peripheral play within the Euro area financial system, making them unattractive - from growth potential - to international markets.

The key conclusions are: "From investors’ perspective, neither of these parts of the Irish lenders’ story makes much sense as a long term investment proposition. From the Irish economy’s point of view, the banks are failing to provide sufficient support for the demand for investment funding, and are effectively removed from financing corporate investment. In this case, what doesn’t make sense to investors doesn’t make sense to the society at large."

10/12/19: Irish Banks: Part 1

Returning back to the blog after a break, some updates on recent published work.

In the first article on Irish banking for The Currency, titled "Culture wars and poor financial performance: examining Ireland’s dysfunctional, beleaguered banking system", I argued that "The financial performance of the Irish banks has been abysmal. Not for the lack of profit margins, but due to strategic decisions to withdraw from lending in the potential growth segments of the domestic and European economies." The article shows the funding side of the Irish banks and the explicit subsidy they receive from the ECB through monetary easing policies - a subsidy not passed to the end credit users.

In simple terms, high profit margins are underpinned - in Irish banks case - by low cost of funding.

Conclusions: "The implications of the lower cost of banks equity, interbank loans, as well as deposits for the Irish banking sector are clear cut: since the start of the economic recovery, Irish banks have enjoyed an effectively free ride through the funding markets courtesy of the ECB and the blind eye of the Irish consumer protection regulators. Yet, despite sky-high profit margins extracted by the banks from the households and businesses, the Irish banking sector remains the weakest link in the entire Eurozone’s financial services sector, save for Greece and Cyprus. If the funding side of the equation is not the culprit for this woeful record of recovery, the other two sides of the banking business, namely assets and regulatory costs, must be."

Read the full article here:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

16/10/19: Recalling the Celtic Tiger

Recalling the Celtic Tiger, edited by Brian Lucey, Eamon Maher and Eugene O’Brien is coming out this week from the series of Reimagining Ireland Volume 93, published by Peter Lang, DOI 10.3726/b16190, ISBN 978-1-78997-286-3.

The book includes 12 mini-chapters by myself and multitude of contributions from some top-level contributors. Wroth buying and reading... and can be ordered here:

16/10/19: Euromoney Risk Survey Q3 2019 Results

Euromoney analysis of Q3 2019 results for country risk surveys and risk outlook forward, with lots of comments from myself and others:

16/10/19: Ireland and the Global Trade Wars

My first column for The Currency covering "Ireland, global trade wars and economic growth: Why Ireland’s economic future needs to be re-imagined":

Synopsis: “Trade conflicts sweeping across the globe today are making these types of narrower bilateral agreements the new reality for our producers and policymakers.”

16/10/2019:Corporate Bond Markets are Primed for a Blowout

My this week's column for The Currency is covering the build up of systemic risks in the global corporate bond markets:

Synopsis: "Individual firms can be sensitive to the periodic repricing of risk by the investors. But collectively, the entire global corporate bond market is sitting on a powder keg of ultra-low government bond yields, with a risk-off fuse lit by the strengthening worries about global economic growth prospects. Currently, over USD 16 trillion worth of government bonds are traded at negative yields. This implies that in the longer run, market pricing is forcing accumulation of significant losses on balance sheets of all institutional investors holding government securities. Even a small correction in these markets can trigger investors to start offloading higher-risk corporate debt to pre-empt contagion from sovereign bonds markets and liquidate liquidity risk exposures."

Monday, October 7, 2019

7/10/19: Bitcoin, ethereum and ripple: a fractal and wavelet analysis

Myself and Professor Shaen Corbet of DCU have a new article on the LSE Business Review site covering our latest published research into cryptocurrencies valuations and dynamics:

The article profiles in non-technical terms our paper "Fractal dynamics and wavelet analysis: Deep volatility and return properties of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple" currently in the process of publication with the The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance (link here).

Sunday, September 29, 2019

29/9/19: Divided ECB

Divided they stand...


The ECB is more divided than ever on the 'new' direction of QE policies announced earlier this month, as its severely restricted 'political mandate' comes hard against the reality of VUCA environment the euro area is facing, with:

  1.  Reduced forward growth forecasts (net positive uncertainty factor for QE)
  2. Anaemic inflation expectations (net positive risk factor for QE), but reduced expectations as to the effectiveness of the QE measures in their ability to lift these expectations (net negative uncertainty factor)
  3. Low unemployment and long duration of the current recovery period (net negative uncertainty factor for QE)
  4. Relative strength of the euro, as per chart below, going into QE (net positive risk factor for QE)
  5. Related to (5), deteriorating global growth and trade outlooks, with the euro area being a beneficiary of the Trump Trade Wars so far (ambiguous support for QE)
  6. Expectations concerning the Fed, Bank of Japan, Bank of England etc policy directions (a complexity factor in favour of QE), and
  7. Expectations concerning the potential impact of Brexit on euro area economy (another complexity factor supporting QE).
Here is a chart showing exchange rate evolution for the euro area, and key QE programs timings (higher values denote stronger euro):

Meanwhile, for the measures of monetary policy effectiveness (lack thereof) see upcoming analysis of the forward forecasts for euro area growth on this blog in relation to Eurocoin data.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

28/9/19: Evidence of Systemic Risk from Major Cybersecurity Breaches

In our post for Columbia Law School's CLS Blue Sky Blog, myself and Shaen Corbet explain in non-technical terms our ground-breaking findings on systemic nature of cybersecurity risks in financial markets:

Our study is the first in the literature showing evidence of systemic contagion from cyber attacks on one company to other companies and stock exchanges.

Based on these findings, we have a chapter forthcoming in an academic volume on the future of regulation, proposing a novel mechanism for regulatory detection, monitoring and enforcement of cybersecurity risks. We will post this chapter when it goes to print, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

20/9/19: New paper: Systematic risk contagion from cyber events

Our new paper, "What the hack: Systematic risk contagion from cyber events" is now available at International Review of Financial Analysis in pre-print version here:

Highlights include:

  • We examine the impact of cybercrime and hacking events on equity market volatility across publicly traded corporations.
  • The volatility generated due to cybercrime events is shown to be dependent on the number of clients exposed.
  • Significantly large volatility effects are presented for companies who find themselves exposed to hacking events.
  • Corporations with large data breaches are punished substantially in the form of stock market volatility and significantly reduced abnormal stock returns.
  • Companies with lower levels of market capitalisation are found to be most susceptible to share price reductions.
  • Minor data breaches appear to be relatively unpunished by the stock market.

Friday, September 20, 2019

20/9/19: New paper on Cryptos pricing

Our paper "Fractal dynamics and wavelet analysis: Deep volatility and return properties of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple" is now available in The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance - early stage print version - here

Monday, September 9, 2019

9/9/19: Ireland and OECD: Income Tax Rates Comparatives

Based on the OECD data for 2018, Ireland is the second worst OECD country to earn income from work at the upper margin of earnings (167% of the average annual gross wage earnings of adult, full-time manual and non manual workers in the industry), compared to lower earners (67% of the average wage earnings). And although this story is not new (we were in the same position back in 2014), the gap in effective marginal taxes charged on the higher earners relative to lower earners is getting worse.

Here is the chart for 2014 data:

And a comparative 2018 data:

Back in 2014, nine of the OECD countries had zero or negative upper marginal tax rate penalty on higher wage earners. In 2018, the number rose to ten. In 2014, seven countries, including Ireland, had a tax rate penalty on higher wage earners in excess of 10 percentage points. In 2018, that number rose to eight. Ireland ranked second in terms of tax penalty on higher labour income tax burden relative to lower income in both 2014 and 2018. In 2014, our relative penalty stood at 18.961 percentage points, 2.753 percentage points below Sweden. In 2018, our relative penalty was 20.974 percent, 3.04 percentage points below Sweden. The OECD average penalty was 5.31 percentage points in 2018, down from 5.57 percentage points in 2014.

It is worth noting that in Ireland, voluntary spending on healthcare (indirect tax) is roughly 50 percent higher than it is in Sweden ( Ireland spends less than half what Sweden does on early childhood education per pupil, and about 60 percent of what Sweden spends on tertiary education per pupil ( In other words, higher taxes on higher earners in Sweden seem to be purchasing substantially more services for taxpayers than they do in Ireland. Sweden also has older demographics and a somewhat functional military. Ireland has younger (lower health spending) demographics and not much in terms of a military expenditure. Of course, Swedish parliamentarians earned EUR 6,269 per month salary in 2918, when their Irish counterparts were paid EUR 7,878, but that hardly explains the gaps in spending and taxation systems.

So where all this tax penalty or surcharge on the higher earners levied on Irish residents is being spent? Clearly not on better financed education or health services, and not on military.

Another interesting way of looking at the figures is by comparing the actual tax rates. For those on 67% of average labour income, Ireland's rate of taxation in 2014 was 37.7 percent or 3.92 percentage points below the OECD average,. This fell in Ireland to 35.72 percent in 2018, while the gap with OECD average rose to 6.29 percentage points. If you consider OECD average to be a realistic metric for tax burden on lower earners, Irish lower earners were more substantially undertaxed in 2018 than they were in 2014. For higher earners, disregarding the fact that Irish upper marginal tax rates kick in at an absurdly low level, for wage earners of 167% of the average wage, Irish tax rates were 56.66% and 56.70 percent in 2014 and 2018, respectively. This means that in 2014, Irish higher earners tax rates were 9.34 percentage points above the OECD average and in 2018 these were 9.38 percentage points above the OECD average. In both cases, higher earners were taxed more severely in Ireland when compared to the OECD average. The matters are similar if we were to run a comparative between Ireland and OECD median tax rates, so there is no point of arguing that OECD data includes 'outlier' countries.

On a personal note, I do not think comparatives between Sweden and Ireland paint the latter in any better terms than the former. However, if one were to look at the OECD figures as some objective measures of tax burdens, Irish lower and higher earners (labour income) are overtaxed by the OECD 'norms' (average and median). When one takes into the account a relatively scarce supply of services to the taxpayers as well as a relatively higher out-of-pocket costs of the services supplied, things appear to be even worse. This is not a value judgement. It simply down to the plain numbers.

Friday, September 6, 2019

6/9/19: Small Cap Stocks EPS: racing to the bottom of the MAGA barrel

Everything is going just plain swimmingly in the Land of MAGA, where American companies are now expected to do their duty by President Trump's agenda for investment in the U.S. because, you know, this:

As 'share' part of the EPS ratio has shrunk (thanks to buybacks and M&As tsunami of recent vintage), earnings per share should have gone up... and up... and up. Instead, small cap stocks' EPS has collapsed. To the lowest levels since the 2007-2008 crisis.

But never mind, more money printing by the Fed will surely cure it all.

Source for the above chart: @soberlook and WSJ.

Monday, September 2, 2019

2/9/19: Trump's Tariffs of War...

Two charts summarizing the effects of the ongoing Trump Trade War on U.S. tariffs (overall, first chart) and on bilateral U.S.-China trade (second chart)

Source: @Soberlook

In the mean time, China's tariffs vis a vis the rest of the world are falling:
Source: ibid.

Someone is winning in this war (maybe Europeans or others but it ain't the U.S.

2/9/19: One view of Austerity

A picture is worth a thousand words, some say. So here is a picture of austerity we've had (allegedly) in recent decades:

Source: @Soberlook 

The things are savage: debt is up from ca 70% to over 110%. Cost of debt carry is down from just under 4% to under 1.75%. So where are all those fabled public investments? And who has benefited from this massive increase in debt? Virtually all - financialized (a nice euphemism for being absorbed into financial assets valuations). Austerity, after all, is just the old-fashioned transfer of resources from the broader economy to the select few, made more palatable by the superficially low cost of borrowing.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

1/9/19: U.S. Non-Financial Corporate Sector: Stagnation in Net Value Added

Value added by the U.S. non-financial corporates has been languishing well below the cyclical peak for some months now:

In fact, since Q3 2016, net value added by the non-financial corporations has been running below long run trend, and has been basically flat. This suggests substantial pressures build up in the economy, consistent with all previous early indicators of a recession. Interestingly, there is zero evidence of any improvement in the non-financial economy in the U.S. since 2016 election.

1/9/19: Priming the Bubble Pump: Extreme Credit Accommodation in the U.S.

Using Chicago Fed National Financial Conditions Credit Subindex (weekly, not seasonally adjusted data), I have plotted credit conditions measurements for expansionary cycles from 1971 through late August 2019. Positive values of the index indicate tightening of credit conditions in the economy, while negative values denote loosening of credit conditions.

Since the start of the 1982 expansionary cycle, every consecutive cycle was associated with sustained, long term loosening of credit conditions, which means the Fed and the regulatory authorities have effectively pumped up credit in the economy during economic expansions - a mark of a pro-cyclical approach to financial policies. This trend became extreme in the last three expansionary cycles, including the current one. In simple terms, credit conditions from the end of the 1990s recession, through today, have been exceptionally accommodating. Not surprisingly, all three expansionary cycles in question have been associated with massive increases in leverage and financialization of the economy, as well as resulting asset bubbles ( bubble in the 1990s, property bubble in the 2000s, and financial assets bubbles in the 2010s).

The current cycle, however, takes this broader trend toward pro-cyclical financial policies to a new level in terms of the duration of accommodation and the fact that it lacks any significant indication of moderation.

Monday, August 26, 2019

26/8/19: ifo Survey Shows Increasing Business Concerns in Germany

Ifo Institute's Business Climate indicator for Germany is falling off the cliff:

In simple terms, current business situation assessment has now fallen to its lowest reading since March 2015, forward business expectations are the lowest since June 2009, and overall Business Climate index is at its lowest reading since November 2012.

August 2019 marks fifth consecutive month of decline in the overall Business Climate index, current Business Situation index, and Business Expectations index.

Overall, the indicator is still pointing to a downturn in growth, as opposed to a recession:

The Dispersion Index - a measure of the degree of businesses-perceived uncertainty about the future direction of the economy - has now risen to the levels last seen in April 2010.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

25/8/19: My talk at IIBN event

A brief snippet of my talk earlier this year at Irish International Business Network event:

Saturday, August 24, 2019

23/8/19: Counting Trillions: The Unrelenting March of Debt

The never-ending march of leverage:

Between 2001 and 2008, Big 4 Non-Financial Sector Debt rose USD 30.04 trillion or 96.5 percent from trough to peak. Since 1Q 2009 financial crisis trough through 2Q 2019, the same is up USD 37.35 trillion or 62.7 percent.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

22/8/19: Irish Economy is Now Fully Captured by the Multinationals

Just as in the years prior, 2018 was another year of massive dominance of the foreign-owned multinational corporations in Irish official economic growth statistics. Per latest data from CSO (see the link below), in 2018, MNEs-dominated sectors of the Irish economy have contributed 5.6 percentage points to the overall growth in Gross Value Added in Ireland, against domestic sectors contribution of 2.3 percentage points. This marks an increase on 2017 growth contribution by MNEs (4 percentage points against domestic 2.9 percentage points), and 2016 figures (2.4 percentage points growth for MNEs against 2.3 percentage points for domestic).

Over the last 5 years, overall share of real Gross Value Added in the Irish economy accruing to the multinationals-dominated sectors has risen from 25.4 percent to 42.4 percent, as the Irish economic activity metrics have become increasingly removed from the reality of actual production and supply of goods and services.

Billions in taxpayers' spending on promoting Irish indigenous enterprises and entrepreneurship over the years have seen multinationals' share of the Irish economy growing threefold between 1995 and 2018.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

20/8/19: Public Spending in the Euro Area: Post-Crisis Austerity?

Given the never-ending repetition of the 'austerity narrative' in European economic analysis, it is virtually impossible to conclusively address the issue of changes in public spending during the crisis and the post-crisis periods and the relationship between fiscal policies and economic growth. Thew reason for this is the lack of singular set metrics that can capture these dimensions of the debate.

However, this lack should not be a reason for not trying.

Here is an interesting chart (based on the IMF WEO data and 2019 forecasts), plotting average Government expenditure as a share of GDP for two periods for euro area economies. The two periods under consideration are: 2000-2007 and 2013-2019. I am also showing two metrics for Ireland: the GDP (a measure of economic activity that vastly overstates the true extent of national economic activity) and GNI* (an official Irish Government metric of national economic activity). Note: using 2014-2019 average paint effectively the same picture.

The picture is worrying. Thirteen out of nineteen euro area economies have witnessed a rise in Government spending as a share of GDP in post-crisis period compared to pre-crisis period, two experienced virtually no change, and four experienced declines. In other words, based on the ratio of Government spending to economic activity, only four states exhibit a clear case of 'austerity'.

Ireland is an interesting outlier to the picture (hence, reporting of GNI* metric): based on GDP measure, Ireland's Government spending as a share of GDP averaged 32.85 percent per annum in 2000-2007, and this fell to 30.32 percent in 2013-2019 - an austerity gap of 2.53 percentage points per annum. But based on GNI* measure, Ireland's Government spending rose from 38.69 percent in pre-crisis years to 45.51 percent in post-crisis period - an expansion gap of 6.82 percentage points.

Overall, using the above metric, top austerity countries in the euro area are:

  • Malta (gap of -4.86 percent)
  • Ireland (GDP gap of -2.53 percent)
  • Germany (gap of -2.227 percent)
  • Austria (gap of -1.311 percent)
Top fiscal expansion countries are:
  • Finland (7.514 percent)
  • Ireland (GNI* gap of 6.822 percent)
  • Spain (4.3 percent)
  • Estonia (4.26 percent)

Monday, August 19, 2019

19/8/19: Import Zamescheniye: Replacing Imports with Imports in the Age of Trade Wars

Trump trade wars have led to increasing evidence of substitution by Chinese exporters to the U.S. with exports via third countries and supply chain outsourcing from China to other destinations. While direct evidence of these trends is yet to be provided (data lags are substantial for detailed flows of goods across borders) and is never to be treated as fully conclusive (due to differences in trade goods designations), here is some macro-level snapshot of latest data on U.S. imports shares for selective countries:

The chart above shows that based on trends, U.S. imports arrivals from China are down in 2017-2019, and they are up, significantly for Vietnam and Taiwan, with less pronounced evidence of imports substitution from other Asia-Pacific countries.

Given several caveats (listed below), the above chart is a 'messy' one:

  1. Supply chain substitution takes time and may not be fully reflected in the 2018 data, or to a lesser extent, in 2019 data to-date; and
  2. The above chart is based on monthly frequency data, which is volatilion (e to begin with.
With these caveats in mind, here is a chart based on annualized data:

Now, it is easier to spot the trends:
  • China exports to the U.S. are down, sharply, especially considering pre-Trade Wars averages against Trade Wars period 2019 averages;
  • Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico are major channels for trade/import substitution (using Kremlin's term "import zamescheniye").
  • Japan and Thailand are smaller-scale winners.
  • Malaysia and Indonesia are basically static.
Now, historically, China has been beefing up its corporates' use of Vietnam, Thailand, and Mexico as platforms for supply chain diversification, which is consistent with the data responses to the Trade Wars. Indonesia and Malaysia are two surprises in this, although both experienced uptick in FDI from China in late 2018, so the data might not be showing these investments, yet.