Showing posts sorted by date for query FTT. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query FTT. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Sunday, January 5, 2020

5/1/20: EU's Latest Financial Transactions Tax Agreement

My article on the proposed EU-10 plan for the Financial Transaction Tax via The Currency:

Link: or

Key takeaways:

"Following years of EU-wide in-fighting over various FTT proposals, ten European Union member states are finally approaching a binding agreement on the subject... Ireland, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus – the five countries known for aggressively competing for higher value-added services employers and tax optimising multinationals – are not interested."

"The rate will be set at 0.2 per cent and apply to the sales of shares in companies with market capitalisation in excess of €1 billion. This will cover also equity sales in European banks." Pension funds, trading in bonds and derivatives, and new rights issuance will be exempt.

One major fall out is that FTT "can result in higher volumes of sales at the times of markets corrections, sharper flash crashes and deeper markets sell-offs. In other words, lower short-term volatility from reduced speculation can be traded for higher longer-term volatility, and especially pronounced volatility during the crises. ... FTT is also likely to push more equities trading off-exchange, into the ‘dark pools’ and proprietary venues set up offshore, thereby further reducing pricing transparency and efficiency in the public markets."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

8/3/2014: FTT - More Benign Estimates of Impact?

In recent years, I have written extensively about the problems relating to the introduction of a Tobin-styled FTT, including as proposed by the european authorities.

Last year, I cooperated with an academic survey of the extent literature on FTT across various asset markets and instruments. Using meta analysis that study concluded that on the net, FTT will likely result in:
1) revenues well below those expected by the policymakers, and
2) significant reduction in markets efficiency and price discovery, including potential for adverse changes in liquidity risk environment in the markets for major financial instruments.

This February, a new working paper, titled "A General Financial Transactions Tax: Motives, Effects and Implementation According to the Proposal of the European Commission" by Stephan Schulmeister (WP: 461/2014 Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, February 2014 Source: summed up "the main arguments in favour and against a FTT" and provided "empirical evidence about the movements of the most important asset prices."

The author shows that "long swings [in the asset prices] result from the accumulation of extremely short-term price runs over time. Therefore a (very) small FTT – between 0.1 and 0.01 percent – would mitigate price volatility not only over the short run but also over the long run."

In this, the paper conclusions are not novel.

It is generally accepted that efficiency-enhancing FTT will require extremely low rate of taxation in order to 'separate' HFT activities from long-only investment activities. The premise for this is well established in the literature: it is believed that higher order volatility in the markets is induced by HFTs and not by long-only or covered shorts positions.

Alas, I am not entirely convinced that we should be concerned with higher order volatility. Short-lived multiple-sigma events - capturing imagination of the media and the public - are not as disruptive as structural crises. And we all know that structural crises have nothing to do with either naked shorting, leveraged shorting or HFTs. These crises are not caused by the active trading. They are caused by active and sustained fraud or passive and sustained failure to enforce existent regulations, or both. On behavioural side, they are also caused by the 'exuberant expectations' - a situation where individuals mis-price directional risks. None of these causes is subject to FTT constraints if the tax is set at the levels where it is not impeding lucidity and price discovery.

So from the very top, the rationale presented in the paper to support FTT introduction (high frequency volatility) is distinct from the rationale presented by the EU leaders for introducing FTT (structural crises).

It is worth noting that Schulmeister puts heavy emphasis in the causality argument on the feed through from HFT to algos, relying on short shocks propagation mechanism via algos-induced changes in the trend.

The problem with this argument is that

  1. It ignores the existence of arbitrage opportunities (lack of contrarian algos is hardly consistent with Schulmeister's worldview)
  2. It also fails to account for reversion to the mean property of algos.

The paper "discusses the most important implementation issues if only a group of 11 EU member countries introduces this tax (without the UK). If London subsidiaries of banks established in one of the FTT countries are treated as part of their parent company, overall FTT revenues of the 11 FTT countries are estimated at € 65.8 billion, if London subsidiaries are treated as British financial institutions, tax revenues would amount to only € 28.3 billion."

The problem with the above that while the amounts are small, potential disruptions to the markets generated by, say, a 10bps tax can be significant. Take equities portfolio, returning 5% pa gross FTT will reduce the base by 0.1% or 0.2% on trade covered by a derivative contract. Thus, for full execute of a simple long-only strategy, involving simple one-direction hedge, the total tax exposure under the 0.1% FTT is 30 bps. Which is consistent with a 6 percent drop on gross return.

Thus, even if FTT were to deliver reduced short-term volatility, since long-only holders face a new tax, equivalent to roughly 1/5th of the CGT (if CGT is set at 30%). This is hardly immaterial.

Another issue arises in the context of the numerical estimates presented in the paper. The upper envelope estimate of EUR65.8 billion is based on the assumption of zero migration by institutions. EUR28.3 billion lower envelope estimate is based on the assumption that some migration is possible to the UK, with such migration triggering FTT application only to one side of trade (the side domiciled in FTT-imposing country). Alas, obviously, the exercise fully ignores the possibility to both sides of the trade migrating to non-FTT jurisdiction.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

26/9/2013: Sunday Times 15/9/2013: What About Irish Competitiveness?

This is an unedited version of my Sunday Times column from September 15.

Recent experiments in psychology have shown that people routinely distort their interpretation of objective evidence to fit their subjective political beliefs. More ominously, our propensity to ideologically colour evidence appears to be greater the better we are with data analysis.

This ability of humankind to see data through the tinted glasses of our biases is present all around us, including in the interpretation of economic data.
Take two examples.

Recently, the relatively ideology-free World Economic Forum published its annual report on global economic competitiveness rankings for 2013-2014. According to the report, Ireland now ranks 28th in the world in terms of competitiveness, down one place on a year ago. Back in 2005-2006 – at the height of the boom, and amidst rampant business costs inflation, we ranked 21st. Overall, Ireland's global competitiveness has deteriorated by 7 places over the last ten years, with this year's performance just one notch better than the absolute nadir reached in 2011. A more ideologically-informed Heritage Foundation / WSJ Index of Economic Freedom continues to rank Ireland highly in the 13th place in the world in 2013. However, tinted lasses aside, our overall competitiveness score in the latter index declined from around 82-83 in 2006-2009 to below 76 this year.

Meanwhile, Irish political and business elites continue to brag about the remarkable gains in the country competitiveness, brought about by the policies enacted since the beginning of the crisis or at the very least, by the reforms that took place since the last elections. Almost 6 months ago, seemingly unburdened by evidence, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has declared that the government is "making this the best small country in the world to do business in…" Never mind that Ireland ranks outside the top 10 countries in the world in every reasonably comprehensive and objective rankings produced so far. And never mind that our rankings have deteriorated, rather than improved, since the onset of the crisis. The government will still spin the evidence.

The truth, of course, is somewhere in between the two extremes of the opinion.

One core measure of competitiveness is the labour-related cost of the unit of output in the economy, the so-called unit labour costs (ULCs). Based on the ECB data, we  achieved substantial gains in this measure, with ULCs falling 18 percent peak-to-trough. However, since the trough was reached in Q2 2012, Ireland’s performance has deteriorated. In 2009-2010, Irish unit labour costs fell by over 7 percent compared to 2008. The rate of cost deflation declined to 2.4 percent over 2011-2012. So far, since the start of 2013, the ULCs are rising. This exposes the underlying causes of changes in the ULCs over the crisis period. Much of the recent gains in labour competitiveness were driven by a dramatic rate of jobs destruction back in 2009-2011. As the jobs market stabilised, competitiveness gains vanished.  Exactly the same story is being told by the broader harmonised competitiveness indicators published by the Central Bank of Ireland.

However, the data also shows that the key driver for the deterioration in our cost competitiveness in more recent months is government policy.

As the result of our non-meritocratic approach to labour markets, lack of reforms in core areas relating to business development and entrepreneurship, the use of tax policies to fund wasteful bank crisis resolution measures and public spending, Ireland finds itself in an absurd situation where we rank 12th in the world in capacity to attract talent and 40th in capacity to retain the talent we attract. As our openness to FDI is bringing scores of talented workers into the country, our internal markets policies are pushing talent out of the country. Having had their fill of "the best small country in the world to do business in", globally skilled workers tend to get out of Ireland.

As the result of our inability to keep key skills and talent in the country, labour costs are starting to creep up, even before we see serious uptick in new employment. In 2009-2010, according to the OECD,  labour costs accounted for 74 percent of the total inputs costs in production in Ireland. In 2011, the latest for which we have data, this rose above 77 percent. Labour productivity growth, having peaked with unemployment increases in 2009 has fallen back by almost two thirds by 2012.

The latest data from CSO shows that average hourly earnings are now up in eight out of thirteen sub-sectors year on year through H1 2013. Crucially, in the areas under direct Government control, earnings are now rising once again and at speeds exceeding those recorded for the overall economy. Public sector average weekly earnings were up 1.3 percent year on year in Q2 2013 and non-commercial semi-state earnings are up 2.7 percent.

With every new report, the IMF reiterates its advice to the Irish authorities to continue focusing on labour markets reforms. Despite this, the Government staunchly refuses to address the main factors holding back our labour competitiveness. These are flexibility of wage determination (with Ireland ranked 103rd globally), flexibility in hiring and firing (we rank 43rd here) and linking pay to productivity, especially in the public sector (our rank is 38th worldwide). According to the WEF, Ireland ranks 90th in the world in terms of the effect of taxation on incentives to work.

So labour competitiveness improvements of the past are neither a credit to the Government reforms, nor appear to be sustainable over time. Now, lets take a look at other policies-linked metrics.

World Economic Forum report lists the top 5 factors acting to depress our global competitiveness scores. In order of decreasing importance these are: access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure, insufficient capacity to innovate, and tax rates. The first two come under direct remit of public reforms aimed at dealing with the crisis. The fourth one, capacity to innovate, is linked a myriad of incentives and subsidies crafted by Irish governments in an attempt to shift the economy away from bricks and mortar toward innovation and exports. The third and the last factors arise from the Government policies since 2008 that saw higher tax burdens and shrinking public capital investment become the drivers of the state response to the fiscal crisis. Thus, by WEF metrics, Irish Government is responsible for dragging down Irish economy's competitiveness, rather than pushing it up.

These findings are broadly in line with the Heritage/WSJ index readings, which shows that we score poorly on Government policies, fiscal performance, and public spending efficiency.
Despite years of austerity and alleged reforms in public sector management since 2008, the WEF report ranks us 55th in the world in terms of wastefulness of government spending, and 29th in terms of burden of government regulation. When it comes to the transparency of Government policymaking, Ireland ranks below 24 other countries around the globe. The latter is a metric directly targeted by the Troika-led reforms and the one where the Irish Government has, allegedly, done most work to-date. We have revamped banks regulation and reporting, significantly altered macroeconomic risk monitoring, fiscal policies oversight, economic policy development mechanisms and more. Yet for all our successes in this arena, we are not even in top 20 worldwide when it comes to policies transparency.

Another obvious flash point of the crisis was the lack of robust audit and oversight over the operations of our banks and some companies. One would expect that 5 years into dealing with the crisis, Ireland would have delivered some serious improvements in these areas. Alas, we still rank 58th in the world in terms of the strength of our audit and reporting standards. In a business oversight metric, the World Bank Doing Business report ranks Ireland 63rd in the world in terms of the  enforcement of contracts, with average time to resolve a dispute of 650 days in Ireland, against 510 days for the OECD average.  As a legacy of the protected sectors inefficiencies, our legal system imposes average costs of 26.9 percent of the total volume of dispute-related claims on contracted parties, against the OECD average of 20.1 percent.

The current Government came into office with a clear promise to reform domestic sectors to breath in more competition into protected markets. This has not happened to-date. State-controlled sectors, such as professional services, health insurance and health services, energy, transport, education, and so on, remain shielded from real competition. As the result, Ireland ranks 42nd in the world in intensity of local competition, and 24th in effectiveness of anti-monopoly policies, even though much of this effectiveness comes via Brussels. Property regulations, planning and permissions systems are as atavistic as they were before the bust, meaning that the World Bank ranks Ireland 106th in the world when it comes to dealing with construction permits.

Ireland’s performance on the competitiveness side is worrying. In the long-run competitiveness metrics and rankings – imperfect as they may be – help global investors allocate capital investment and productive activities of their companies around the world. Even more significantly, these metrics expose structural problems in the economy and governance systems that are holding back Irish domestic entrepreneurship and innovation.

As economies and fiscal positions of governments around the world improve over time, the competition for FDI and new markets for goods and services exports will heat up, once again. Downward pressure on taxes – Ireland’s core competitive advantage to-date – will re-accelerate too. At the same time, capital investment will remain scarce and costly, while skills shortages worldwide will once again start driving up cost of doing business, including here. This means that global investment flows will tend to be concentrated on the markets with the greatest demand growth potential, and where the profit margins are the highest. The only way Ireland will be able to compete is by becoming a competitiveness haven for product innovation and development, advanced specialist manufacturing, distribution, marketing and sales. Being just a tax haven will not be enough.


A financial transaction tax (FTT) on derivatives trades came into power in Italy this week, as a follow on to March 2013 introduction of the FTT on equity transactions. Per new law, derivatives will be taxed at rates that vary with the volume and the type of the contracts traded. Equities transactions are taxed at 0.12% for shares traded on a regulated exchange or 0.22% for over the counter trades. Six months in, the FTT is having an effect. As a number of analysts, including myself have warned prior to the introduction of the tax, Italian trading volumes for equities are down significantly, compared to the rest of Europe. Since March, Italian equity market turnover dropped to EUR50 billion from EUR101 billion a year ago. French equity markets experienced exactly the same effect post FTT introduction. At the peak in 2011, French equity market accounted for 23 percent of the European equity markets turnover. Today, it is at around 13 percent. There is also some evidence that wealthier investors are moving their transactions out of FTT-impacted equity markets. Which means that more burden of the levy – popularly mislabeled as 'Robin Hood' tax – is falling onto the shoulders of smaller investors. Falling trading volumes are now expected to undercut significantly Italian and French estimates for the Government revenues that FTT was expected to raise. With projected funding already allocated in the budgets, any shortfall will have to be compensated for via other taxes or cuts elsewhere. Yet, undeterred by the evidence, the EU continues to press on for a cross-border FTT. John Maynard Keynes once said: "When my information changes, I alter my conclusions." Sadly, his otherwise enthusiastic students in Brussels have missed that lesson.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

21/8/2013: FinReg Appointment

The Central Bank announced the appointment of the new FinReg. Announcement is here:

My (sketchy) views on the appointment are here:
and here:

Critically, I do not know Mr Roux stand on key points of regulatory and strategic affairs relating to the financial services in Ireland and Europe, including:

  1. Role of competition in provision of services and securing systemic stability;
  2. Role of consumer protection in delivering the same;
  3. Role of implicit and explicit state subsidies to the incumbent institutions and the issue of TBTF institutions;
  4. Legacy debt, risks and business strategies and the regulatory approaches for dealing with these;
  5. Capture risk of regulatory and supervisory systems in the environment of social partnership and closely linked society, such as Ireland;
  6. Recent regulatory activism, e.g. shorting bans;
  7. Recent policy shifts toward centralised regulatory oversight and controls, unified banking supervision and regulation, FTT, etc.
There are other potentially important questions to be asked in days to come. 

I most certainly hope Mr Roux can continue with the competent and professional work that Mr Elderfield has started. 

To the credit of its top management team, the Central Bank today is a different institution, transformed from at the top, and still being transformed down the ranks (it takes long time to work through rank-and-file cadre pool). The transformations that took place to-date are for the better and serve as an example of what can be achieved in the rest of Irish public sector. This is not to say that the CBI is free of criticism, but to point out that there have been strongly positive changes in the institution that started with Mr. Elderfield and Prof. Honohan's appointments.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

20/6/2013: FTT: Extra-territoriality and Stamp Duty Comparative

An important piece of analysis of the European Financial Transactions Tax (FTT or 'Robin Hood' Tax) by Clifford Chance from January this year.

The importance here is in detailed note on application of the FTT as contrasted with existent stamp duties (see page 3) and the extra-territorial nature of the FTT (see page 2).


Link to the previous post on FTT:

Friday, June 14, 2013

14/6/2013: EU's FTT: One Tax, Multiple Problems

FTT - Financial Transactions Tax - has been the pet project of pure love for Eurocrats and Socialistas in the Member States, hungry for revenue. It has been labelled a 'Robin Hood Tax' because the politicians attempted to sell it as a tax on filthy-rich financial services to redistribute to starving unemployed, presumably, despite the simple fact that in the un-competitive and fragmented market for financial services that is Europe, such a tax - any tax - will be fully passed onto ordinary savers, investors, depositors and in general onto the users of financial services.

The EU Commission published volumes of commissioned - made-to-order - research that shows just how brilliant an idea the FTT really is: it will raise loads of revenues, harm no one and will not reduce financial markets efficiency. Stopping just short of declaring the FTT to be a panacea to common cold, the EU enthusiastically propagandized the idea despite the simple fact that vast majority of academic research on the topic of transactions taxes finds that they are either ineffective as means for revenue raising or costly in terms of economic efficiency.

I wrote about this (see link at the bottom of this post below) and will continue to write, not because I long for an easy life for the bankers or financial investors, but because I recognise the fact that investment markets are necessary to the functioning of the society and the economy, and because I also recognise that more open, less restricted, but well-regulated and strictly enforced financial services are better than anything that Brussels et al can conceive in their technocratic dreams.

So in line with the past record, here's another study ( that explores "...whether the FTT is likely to correct the market failures that have contributed to the financial crisis, how well the FTT is likely to succeed in raising revenues, and how the FTT compares to alternative taxes in terms of efficiency."

The study finds (emphasis is mine) "... little evidence that the FTT will be effective in correcting
market failures. Taxing of transactions is not well targeted at behaviour that leads to excessive risk and
systemic risk creation. The empirical evidence does not suggest that the introduction of an FTT reduces
volatility or asset price bubbles. Transaction taxes will likely reduce investment in trading activity and
information acquisition, but also raise the costs of insurance against currency and interest risks by
companies, insurers and pension funds. The welfare effect of that is unclear."

"The FTT will likely raise significant revenues, in spite of the fact that the tax base is highly elastic. In the short term, the incidence of the tax will be chiefly on the current holders of securities. Ultimately, the tax will be borne in part by end users, and we estimate the likely effects on economic growth."

"When compared to alternative forms of taxation of the financial sector, the FTT is likely less efficient given the amount of revenues. In particular, taxes that more directly address existing distortions (such as the current VAT exemption for banks, and the bias towards debt financing) provide more efficient alternatives."

And here's a report from the Open Europe think-tank on the FTT, assessing the EU Commission response to the concerns of the eleven - that right, eleven - member states: (

Quote: "The Commission's response ranges from weak to capricious to outright ridiculous. For example, when it says that "we're not aware of any credit crunch" in Europe."

What else is new?

Note: I wrote about the concerns around the issues of repos and hedging here:

Links to past articles on FTT:
You can search this blog for key words and sort the posts by relevance or date.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

30/5/2013: FTT: Up, Down, Down again: Climbing Political Hillocks in Europe

Looks like the EU is now climbing down another over-hyped policy hillock. After scrapping plans to ban / regulate olive oil in restaurants, the EU is now moving in the direction of drastically undercutting original plans for the Financial Transactions Tax (FTT).

I outlined on a number of occasions numerous reasons why FTT was a bad idea for the EU (see set of posts here: The latest changes in the EU seem to be related primarily to the rate of tax (see

However, also per article: "Rather than levying trade in stocks, bonds and some derivatives from 2014, it may now apply to shares only next year and to bonds up to two years later." Again, sadly, the new changes are way off, as argued here: .

The real problem is that there is no way to structure a reasonably efficient FTT. None at all. Any FTT proposal will strike either one or some of the outcomes below:

  1. Raise too much revenue, chocking off market efficiency and damaging liquidity
  2. Raise too little revenue, making no real differences in any direction
  3. Push high volume (liquidity-enhancing) and low margin (information-disclosing) transactions out of open markets platforms into dark pools and off-shore
  4. Incentivise even more debt over equity
At some point in time, we must realise that any defence of FTT is at this stage is nothing but political face-saving.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

26/5/2013: FTT v Sovereigns' Addiction to Debt reports ( that 

"The European Central Bank has offered to help the EU redesign its financial transactions tax to avoid any ‘negative impact’ on market stability, highlighting official fears about the implementation of the levy."

So far so good, as FTT indeed is likely to cut liquidity in the markets, reducing markets efficiency, and potentially increasing volatility, rather thane educing it.

Of course, the original idea the EU came up involved levying tax on trading in bonds, equities and derivatives. So one would expect the following prioritisation from the ECB concerned with markets impacts:
1) Not to distinguish between bonds and equities in tax application and rates, as the two instruments are de facto long-only instruments in either corporate (real) economy, banks (financial economy) and sovereigns (for bonds - which somewhat qualifies as a real economy as well).
2) Levy tax primarily on derivative instruments (although here, tax can be avoided much easier)
3) Recognise that in the restricted competition environment and with legacy subsidies from the crisis period still in place for incumbent financial institutions, any FTT will be at least in part passed onto retail investors and savers, and in more extreme cases - e.g. duopoly model of banking in Ireland - onto all retail users of banking services)
4) Real economy - incomes, investment, entrepreneurship, unemployment, etc - will be most impacted by the FTT levied on real assets - equities and some (not all) bonds and this effect will be stronger the stronger is the banking and investment banking sector concentration in the economy.

Alas, as is clear from the article, the ECB is not concerned with (3) and (4) whatsoever, and it is unconcerned with (1) either. It also seems to be aware of (2) pitfalls. Aside from that, ECB is concerned with the perennial task faced by all European Government - the obsession of raising as much tax revenue as possible while incentivising more debt pumped into sovereign bond markets.

Per "The ECB believes markets should efficiently “transmit” changes in interest rates to the real economy." You might think that this means transmitting higher (lower) ECB rates into higher (lower) (a) Government bond yields and (b) higher/lower cost of private credit. Err… you would be wrong.

Per there are rumours that "…the ECB would prefer to have a limited UK-style stamp duty on equities". What can possibly go wrong, then?

ECB concern is clearly to grease the wheels of sovereign bond markets. The fact that FTT will reduce markets liquidity in real instruments & will cost retail investors in the end - well, that is hardly ECB's concern at all. ECB like the EU Governments is only worried about own coffers & give no attention to the economy.  

Equity markets volatility (FTT original raison d'être is to reduce volatility) had NOTHING to do with the current crises. The ECB focus on 'UK-styled stamp duty on equities', if confirmed, thus exposes FTT as a pure scam to raise more tax revenues, not a measure to deal with 'markets instability'. 

As quotes one of the market participants: "bond markets were a “phenomenally attractive” way of channelling savings into investment." Alas, it is not - corporate bonds are debt. Shoving more debt while disincentivising equity investment is not a great idea for long term sustainable funding.

In Europe, lending money to Governments, including to fund dodgy unfunded pensions and white elephant projects, is tax-wise deemed to be more laudable than to invest in equity of real enterprises. By corollary, lending to companies is also deemed to be more preferential than funding them via equity. One of the outcomes of this decades-long preferential treatment of debt is the current crisis: over-bloated and under-funded public spending coupled with too much private debt (including banking debt) against too little equity (the latter imbalance drove the bailouts of banks in euro area periphery).

With this in mind, talking about 'Robin Hood' taxes on Financial Services in EU is equivalent to believing in Santa's Magic raindeer as a viable alternative for public transport.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

10/2/2013: EU Budget 'cut': neither reformist, nor significant enough

EU has agreed the next multi-annual framework for its budget. One of the best summaries I have read is here:

The framework covers 2014-2020 period.

The reduction of the EU Budget from from 1.12% of GNI to 1% of GNI, in my opinion, is in line with the overall fiscal tightening across the EU and is a good thing (note, obviously my analysis will be different from that of Bruegel - linked above). The reason why I perceive this to be a strength of the Budget is that I generally do not perceive EU expenditure as being more economically efficient or necessary than that by the Member States. The further you detach spending from the sources of revenues (and the EU Budget is as far detached as feasible to imagine), the more weakly is the expenditure anchored to the needs of the economy.

Net reduction - as measured by the payments, is from EUR988bn to EUR908.5bn - is a relatively marginal 8.05%, not exactly an earth-shattering level of fiscal crunching. Furthermore, much of planned payments allocated in the past have gone unspent, implying that the effective 'cut' is most likely going to turn out much shallower than 8.05% headline figure.

Crucially, I disagree with the implicit Brugel position (based on their criticism of the Budget's 'pro-growth' momentum) that the EU expenditure should be considered in the light of economic growth enhancement or economic contraction. The EU Budget allocations can and do set dangerous precedents of creating permanent interest groups reliant on EU funding for jobs and demand generation. One of the best examples are EU research and development subsidies. Since the EU budget is drawn out of the national resources, any 'stimulus' the EU Budget can create is at the very best a reallocation of similar stimuli from national economies. Synergies at the pan-European or cross-European investment levels (e.g. building common integrated infrastructure etc) enhance the EU Budget growth-support capacity, but bureaucratic duplication, and interest groups politics reduce it in return. With much of EU Budget going to 'soft' programmes, where (1) substitution effects relative to nationally-administered programmes are unclear, and (2) transfers are subject to EU-level political and bureaucratic objectives and constraints, it is hard to imagine the EU expenditure to be more 'stimulative' than a national expenditure.

Furthermore, in the environment of continued debt consolidation and budgetary tightening policies at the national levels, it is hard to imagine that the EU spending priorities would see more efficient allocation of funds than tighter national priorities. In other words, one has to ask a simple question of whether funding another cross-border EU 'cohesion' project is the better use of increasingly scarce resources in the environment where both countries involved are cutting back hospitals and schools.

As Bruegel correctly points out, there are no reforms undertaken in the Budget. My concern here, however, is more on the expenditure side, while Bruegel concern is focused on revenue side. I simply do not see the EU Commission to currently have either democratic or fiscal capacity to begin collecting direct taxes of any variety. Proposed move of the Commission into indirect taxation (e.g. FTT etc) is likely to cement further the democratic deficit in the EU by providing EU Commission with all the trappings of sovereign power and requiring no direct accountability usually associated with direct taxation.

Friday, November 16, 2012

16/11/2012: FTT - two bits of new evidence

Financial Transactions Tax news:

First we have new research from the Bank of Canada (link here) stating:
"Little evidence is found to suggest that an FTT would reduce speculative trading or volatility. In fact, several studies conclude that an FTT increases volatility and bid-ask spreads and decreases trading volume. Furthermore, a number of challenges associated with the design and effectiveness of an FTT could limit the revenues that FTTs are intended to raise. For these reasons, countries considering the
imposition of FTTs should be aware of their negative consequences and the challenges involved in implementation."

And next we have early stage evidence from just a few months of FTT operations in France: here.

I wrote on the topic of FTT for a number of years now. Here's an article from 2010. Here's more from 2010. And more on the blog. I am also working with two co-authors on a comprehensive literature review of the FTT, which so far is not going well for supporting the idea of FTT.

Stay tuned.

Updated: and here's a SoberLook take on the French experience with FTT. Paragraph below the quote explains the little French problem... oh, well, it's a War on Speculators, then.

Friday, June 29, 2012

29/6/2012: The 'deal' - preliminary reaction

Overnight statement from the EA [emphasis mine]:

"We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. The Commission will present Proposals on the basis of Article 127(6) for a single supervisory mechanism shortly. We ask the Council to consider these Proposals as a matter of urgency by the end of 2012. When an effective single supervisory mechanism is established, involving the ECB, for banks in the euro area the ESM could, following a regular decision, have the possibility to recapitalize banks directly. This would rely on appropriate conditionality, including compliance with state aid rules, which should be institution- specific, sector-specific or economy-wide and would be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding. 

The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme. Similar cases will be treated equally.

We urge the rapid conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding attached to the financial support to Spain for recapitalisation of its banking sector. We reaffirm that the financial assistance will be provided by the EFSF until the ESM becomes available, and that it will then be transferred to the ESM, without gaining seniority status.

We affirm our strong commitment to do what is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area, in particular by using the existing EFSF/ESM instruments in a flexible and efficient manner in order to stabilise markets for Member States respecting their Country Specific Recommendations and their other commitments including their respective timelines, under the European Semester, the Stability and Growth Pact and the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure. These conditions should be reflected in a Memorandum of Understanding. We welcome that the ECB has agreed to serve as an agent to EFSF/ESM in conducting market operations in an effective and efficient manner.
We task the Eurogroup to implement these decisions by 9 July 2012."

I note that there is NO retrospection in the above - a negative for Ireland. So far we have a statement from some Irish Government members not present at the summit who claim there is retrospective applicability, but as far as I am aware, this is NOT confirmed in any documentary evidence.

I also note that transfers to ESM from EFSF will be carried out "without gaining seniority status" de jure, although it will most likely still be de facto super-senior debt - a positive for Ireland.

It is worth noting furthermore that countries entering ESM without first obtaining funding via EFSF might be able to avoid facing a Troika-imposed set of conditionalities, but will be required to comply only with the internal EU rules (see here). This, however, does not seem to apply to countries like Ireland who will enter ESM from EFSF and, potentially (based on reading of the official statement) to countries that have obtained funding not solely for the purpose of recapitalizing their banks 9again, precluding Ireland from softening of conditionalities).

Per Enda Kenny (via RTE):

  • Ireland's government debt (not only banks-related) will be 're-engineered' in other words - it will be restructured (effectively a soft default). "Mr Kenny said the new deal means Ireland's overall debt burden, including the bank debt, can be re-engineered in a way which will give Ireland equal treatment to Spain and any other countries which avail of the new system."
  • "where funding is made available through the EFSF it will later be transferred to the ESM" so it is now the Government position that we will have a second bailout. 

So the Irish Government is de facto 'defaulting' and welcomes this. And it is going into the second bailout despite repeated claims that it will be funding itself via markets post 2013. And it welcomes this too. Reverse gear has not been used as much for some time on Merrion St.

I have consistently called both events as inevitable for Ireland. Hence, in my view, the 'deal' is a net positive. However, we cannot tell how positive it is yet.

One area of concern will be the treatment of the banks debt under ESM - with respect to seniority and any attached Government guarantees. In particular, in my view, if ESM were to assume directly unsecured banks debt, even with an attached explicit sovereign guarantee, such debt will have to adversely impact ESM cost of funding.

The biggest issue with the above statement is that it will NOT reduce overall economic debt carried by the EU states, including Ireland. The potential reduction in the cost of financing this debt is good news. The fact that this economy (not banks or some rich uncle in America) - aka us - are still on the hook for debts of insolvent banks remains.

Ditto for Euro area as a whole. You might call it 'Government Debt related to the banks', you might call it 'quasi-Government Debt related to the banks' or 'Non-Government Debt guaranteed by the Government to the super-senior lender related to the banks' or indeed a 'Pink Teddy Bear that stinks up the room' - the debt is... err... still there and there will be more of it post this 'deal'.

Update 1: some interesting thoughts - it appears from the EU statement that any euro area member state in compliance with fiscal constraints can apply for ESM funding of the banking sector measures. Now, if - as the Irish Government are claiming - such funding can be applicable to restructuring past sovereign exposures to banking sector, then:

  • As Belgium is already starting to signal, it can be applied  to €4 billion spent on Dexia Banque Belgique plus €54 in guarantees extended to the bank (link covering more current exposures potential), plus €6 billion in Franco-Belgian assistance the bank received back in 2008 (link).
  • Germany's €150 billion 'rescues' of Hypo and other banks via FMS (link here)
  • Austria - same Hypo (link here) but peanuts so far
  • Dutch Government pumped some €32 billion into its banks (link)
  • and so on...
Now, give it a thought - ESM is supposed to run at €500 billion absorbing existent EFSF up to €700 billion. So even if Spain just caps EFSF and it transfers to ESM, we have - before Italy comes waltzing in - ESM full capacity potential left after the banks bailouts are retrospected into it - of what? Some €200 billion max?.. or absent EFSF - at the announced running volume - nil.

This sort of suggests there is serious problem with an idea of allowing retrospective roll-backs of banks-related debt and measures to ESM...

Update 2: It appears that Enda Kenny's alleged contribution to the summit ('winning the deal for Ireland') is not a part of the record of the summit, at least as far as I can see (one example - here).

Update 3: H/T to Brian Lucey: this is just in - Germany apparently/allegedly wants ESM bank aid to be tied to acceptance of the Financial Transactions Tax. I suppose compliance with a harmonized corporate tax will be the condition too. In the end, the 'Enda deal' might just become a seismic event... So the logic of FTT link is therefore, in Irish context will be:
Step 1: EA leaders use Irish taxpayers to rescue own speculators and banks from Anglo/INBS etc default on bonds.
Step 2: EA leaders use FTT to demolish jobs in Dublin IFSC, so they can finance their 'growth package'?
The sort of the 'deal' we've been waiting for from our 'European partners'?

Update 4:  Citing Spiegel source, Global Macro Monitor blog states [emphasis is mine]: "What happens to the countries that have already received money from the temporary rescue fund, the EFSF? Officials in Brussels said that the new decision did not change anything about the programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland. All the agreed goals will continue to apply and be monitored by the troika. But those countries might also start clamoring for the terms of their deals to be relaxed. The summit’s decision gives the Greek government in particular more ammunition for renegotiating the terms of its bailout, a step that new Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has already said he wants to take."