Latest Assessment Report from IFAC

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has published its latest Fiscal Assessment Report.  The report and some additional resources are available here.

Accompanying the report is a working paper that looks at how a counter-cyclical “rainy day fund” could be incorporated in the framework of the Stability and Growth Pack.  Last week, IFAC published its assessment of compliance with the Domestic Budgetary Rule in 2017 as well as an update of its Standstill Scenario which estimates of the cost of maintaining today’s level of public services and benefits in real terms over the medium term.

A bullet-point summary of the latest FAR:

  • A rapid cyclical recovery has taken place since at least 2014 and this is continuing at a strong pace.
  • Ireland’s debt burden is still among the highest in the OECD.
  • Negative shocks will inevitably occur in future years and there are clear downside risks over the medium term, namely those associated with Brexit, US trade policy and the international tax environment.
  • Improvements on the budgetary front have stalled since 2015 despite the strong cyclical recovery taking place – one that is reinforced by a number of favourable tailwinds.
  • Any unexpected increases in tax revenues or lower interest costs should not be used to fund budgetary measures.
  • The Council welcomes the Department’s publication of alternative estimates of the output gap.
  • The Medium Term Objective (MTO) of a structural deficit of no less than 0.5 per cent of GDP was reached in 2017.
  • The Council sees the fiscal rules as a minimum standard for sustainability and continues to recommend that the Government commit to adhering to the Expenditure Benchmark even after the MTO is achieved.

And on Budget 2019 in particular:

  • The Government should at least stick to existing budget plans for 2019 as there is no case for additional fiscal stimulus beyond existing plans as set out in the 2018 Stability Programme Update.
  • Estimates of the medium-term potential growth rate of the economy and expectations of economy-wide inflation for next year imply an upper limit for increasing the adjusted measure of government expenditure of 4.5%.
  • In nominal terms this translates into spending increases or tax cuts of up to €3½ billion (“gross fiscal space”) as the starting point for Budget 2019.
  • Previously announced measures – including sharp increases in public investment – mean that the Government’s scope for new initiatives in Budget 2019 will be limited.
  • If additional priorities are to be addressed, these should be funded by additional tax increases or through re-allocations of existing spending.
  • Improving the budget balance by more than planned would be desirable, especially given current favourable times, possible overheating in the near-term and visible downside risks over the medium term.

A gap in current policies for Irish financial stability

In a recent speech, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery, floated the prospect that the CBI might impose Counter Cyclical Capital Buffers (CCyB) on Irish banks, in order to guard against an unstable credit build-up in the currently strong economic environment. She also used the speech to discuss current conditions in the Irish financial system and review the macroprudential regulation policies of the CBI.

In many ways, Irish macroprudential regulation has been exemplary, but there is a glaring defect. Stanga et alia (2017 and 2018) compare 26 countries regarding mortgage arrears, financial stability and macroprudential policies, and Ireland’s profile is remarkably poor. As Stanga et al. note, controlling mortgage arrears is a key objective of macroprudential policies, and Ireland has very poor performance by this metric.

Ireland’s intractable mortgage arrears problem stems in large part from its defective legal system regarding loan security, with extremely limited lenders’ rights to collateral repossession. This defect in turn limits the reliability of Ireland’s quite restrictive macroprudential policies. As Stanga et al. state in their international overview:

“Better institutions – which improve judicial efficiency and make it easier for banks to enforce their rights – reduce the level of mortgage defaults. We consider several proxies for institutional arrangements and compile an index of institutional quality (IQ). We find a significant and negative relationship between IQ and mortgage arrears, both before and after the onset of the financial crisis – the higher the average quality of institutions, the lower the average mortgage default ratio (Figure 3). Moreover, the effects of macroprudential policies and institutional quality on mortgage defaults are mutually reinforcing. As illustrated in Figure 4, the effect of the MPI [Macro Prudential Index] on defaults becomes stronger in countries with better institutions. This result suggests that the effect of tougher macroprudential policies (that reduce household leverage and ultimately deter defaults) is amplified in an institutional environment conducive to an efficient judicial system with better protection for lenders’ rights and better enforcement capabilities.”

In addition to making banks more cautious, the limited-repossession system in Ireland makes the CBI more stringent in its macroprudential squeeze on credit flows. The prospect of a future spike in mortgage defaults is a key concern for the CBI, along with the high average loss-give-default in such a scenario. Because of this, the CBI is correct to stamp down hard on any signs of substantial credit flow into the domestic housing market.

When it comes to tackling the underlying defect in the Irish system (the too-limited repossession rights of lenders) the CBI has taken the line that this is somebody else’s problem. The CBI harangues the government endlessly on tax and spend policies (which are also not strictly the CBI’s problems) but when it comes to addressing the big defect in the Irish system regarding repossession, the CBI is as quiet as a mouse.

Who is paying for this unusual Irish system of extremely-limited repossession rights? Nondelinquent mortgage borrowers pay for the limited-repossession system since their mortgage interest rate includes the expected cost of default, capturing both a high probability of default and a high loss given default. Households looking for mortgages suffer in two ways: one, the Irish limited-repossession system makes mortgages more difficult to obtain; two, the system has a knock-on effect on housing construction: property development is a high-risk business and with no guarantee of mortgage-ready buyers, developers are extra-cautious.

The net effect of the Irish limited-repossession system on housing prices is indeterminate since there are opposite effects on the demand and supply sides. Cash buyers might benefit or lose on a net basis: they lose from the decrease in house construction (hence higher prices) but benefit from reduced bidding competition against mortgage-based buyers. Existing mortgage holders (other than defaulters) lose, and prospective mortgage holders lose twice over.

At the conclusion of her speech Donnery states:

“While there are uncertainties placing a precise value on the short-term benefits and costs, in the longer-term, increasing the margins of safety in an uncertain world is of benefit to all.”

Consider a young Irish household wishing to buy a family home using mortgage finance. In exchange for a mortgage loan, they might be willing to take a chance that they lose the house in some future scenarios if things turned out badly and they could not pay the loan back. They want a house now and are willing to take a chance on the future. Such a mortgage contract is not legally available to them in Ireland nowadays, since repossession can only be enforced in ridiculously limited circumstances and, due to this legal reality, banks are not allowed to issue mortgage loans unless they are virtually default-risk-free. The young household will have to rent or live with parents, for many years into their future.

The Irish financial system, where there is virtually no chance of receiving a default-risky mortgage and even less chance that such a loan could end with repossession, is not of benefit to all. For many people in many circumstances, risk is good.

Sharon Donnery (Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Ireland) speech on macroprudential policy

The Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University welcomes Sharon Donnery, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, who will deliver a talk on “Building resilience in the face of uncertainty – what role for policy?”, followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Bridget McNally (Maynooth University) with panelists Robert Kelly (Central Bank, Head of Macro-Finance Division), Dermot O’Leary (Chief Economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers), and Gregory Connor (Maynooth University), on Thursday 31st May 2018,  at 11am – 12:15 pm, Renehan Hall, Maynooth University. R.S.V.P. EconFinAcc@mu.ie. For further information tel: 01-7083728 / 7083681

The Meeting of the Waters

The editor of Critical Quarterly bought me a drink last December and told me that he was planning a special issue on, of all things, Thomas Moore’s The Meeting of the Waters. Would I care to write an economics column on the theme?

Well, it’s one thing to write a quarterly column on whatever is interesting me at the time, another entirely to write them to order. But since we were coming up to Christmas, and since my father’s family is from Wicklow, I said yes.

You can read the result here, and while I’m not sure how much economics there is in it, I did manage to work in a reference to Sargent and Velde!

New publication from the CSO on productivity in Ireland

The CSO have a new publication, which it is intended to update annually, on productivity in Ireland.  It is available here.

The analysis assesses the contribution of labour and capital to growth in Ireland and splits the economy into an MNE-dominated sector and a domestic and other sector.  A breakdown using the standard NACE classifications is also provided.  The first publication covers the period from 2000 to 2016 but the analysis is undertaken for a number of sub-periods, most notably 2000 to 2014, which exclude the dramatic shifts we have seen since 2015.

Here is the summary but the entire publication is well worth a look:

This publication has presented new CSO results for productivity in the Irish economy since 2000. Some key aspects of this publication are set out below.

Irish labour productivity growth averaged 4.5 percent in the period to 2016, significantly for the period ending 2014 the equivalent growth rate is 3.4 percent. This compares with an EU average of 1.8 percent for the entire period to 2016. The contribution of the Foreign sector to labour productivity growth averaged 10.9 percent over the period to 2016 and averaged 6.2 percent to 2014. For the Domestic and Other sectors, the result to 2016 was 2.5 percent to 2016 and 2.4 percent to 2014. This clearly illustrates that the impact from the globalisation events of 2015 are concentrated in the Foreign sector as there is little change in the results for the Domestic and Other sector for the two periods.

Multi-factor productivity (MFP) has played a small part in explaining Ireland’s economic growth over the entire period 2000-2016. However, when the period 2000 -2014 is examined, i.e. excluding the effects of 2015, the picture for multi-factor productivity in the Irish economy improves and this is clearly illustrated in Figure 5.6 and 5.7. Growth in MFP was higher for the Foreign sector than the Domestic and Other sector up to 2014. However, the negative result for MFP in the Foreign sector in 2015 and in the overall economy over the full period is due to the impact of the globalisation events of 2015 on capital services where no corresponding change in labour input occurred. A major aspect of Ireland’s growth, and therefore its productivity story over the period, is the growth in capital.

Ireland’s capital stock per worker has increased from €150,000 to €378,000 per worker between 2000 and 2016, an increase of 152 percent. Capital stock per worker for the Foreign sector increased by an average annual growth rate of 6.9 percent to 2014. When the period is extended to 2016, the growth rate increases substantially to almost 32 percent. For the Domestic and Other sector, the growth in capital stock per worker is around 3.5 percent for both the periods to 2014 and for the entire period to 2016. The EU average annual growth in capital stocks per worker from 2000 to 2016 was 0.6 percent. The rate of increase in capital stocks in Ireland for both the Foreign sector and the Domestic and Other sector was higher than for any country in the EU for which data are available.

As this is the first productivity publication by CSO the results are considered experimental. There is considerable scope for extending the analysis presented in this publication to more detailed presentation by economic sector or to more detailed analysis of labour quality, i.e. gender, education, employment etc and their impacts on productivity. We look forward to a full engagement with our stakeholders to assist in setting priorities for future work in this area.

 

Conniffe and Norvartis Prizes

The annual conference of the Irish Economic Association was held on the 10th and 11th of May at the Central Bank. More than 160 people attended the conference.

Alejandra Ramos (TCD) was awarded the Conniffe Prize for best paper by a young economist at the conference. Alejandra received the prize for her paper titled “Household Decision Making with Violence: Implications for Transfer Programs”.

Benjamin Elsner (UCD) and Florin Wozny (IZA) won the Novartis prize for the best paper in Health Economics at the conference. The winning paper was titled ” The human capital cost of radiation: Long run evidence from exposure outside the womb”

Prof Wendy Carlin (UCL) and CORE gave the ESR lecture “The Econ 101 paradigm is broken – what is the alternative?” Her slides from the talk

IEA Dublin ESR Guest Lecture 2018

Prof Olivier Blanchard (Peterson Institute) gave the Edgeworth lecture “Should we reject the natural rate hypothesis” His slides from the talk

Edgeworth Lecture IEA 2018

On the IEA website there are plenty of pictures from the conference

http://www.iea.ie/category/latest-news/

Gerard O’Reilly

Central Bank of Ireland: Financial Stability Notes

The Central Bank of Ireland has today published its first Financial Stability Note. This new series will cover financial stability related topics including those relating to risks and vulnerabilities facing the Irish and European financial system.

 

The Note, ‘Macroprudential Measures and Irish Mortgage Lending: An Overview of 2017’, by Christina Kinghan, Paul Lyons and Elena Mazza, provides an overview of new residential mortgage lending in Ireland in 2017. It describes key loan and borrower characteristics of loans subject to the Central Bank’s Mortgage Measures along with a comparison to lending in 2016. The Note also provides details on loans with an allowance to exceed the loan-to-value (LTV) and loan-to-income (LTI) limits, as permitted under the Measures. 35, 472 new loans are examined, with a value of €7.4 billion.

 

The key findings of today’s Financial Stability Note are:

 

  • First-time-buyers (FTBs) in 2017 had an average LTV of 79.8% and an average LTI of 3 times gross income. This represents a marginal increase on the average LTV and LTI ratios reported in 2016. FTBs also had a larger loan size, property value and income compared to FTBs one year earlier (see Table 4).
  • The average loan size and property value of second and subsequent buyers (SSBs) also increased compared to 2016. The average LTV for SSBs in 2017 was 67.6% and the average LTI was 2.6 times gross income (see Table 5).
  • A higher proportion of loans for both FTBs and SSBs were originated on a fixed interest rate compared with one year earlier.
  • 17% of the aggregate value of SSB lending exceeded the SSB LTV limit.
  • 18% of new primary dwelling home (PDH) lending exceeded the 3.5 LTI cap. This corresponds to 25% of the value of FTB lending and 10% of the value of SSB lending. A larger share of LTI allowances was accounted for by FTBs (74%) relative to SSBs (26%).
  • Allowances to exceed the LTI and LTV caps were allocated to borrowers in all four quarters of 2017 (see Table 7).