The CSO have published the Q4 2013 update of the IIP data.
These are important data but, as with many macro aggregates on the Irish economy, establishing meaningful trends can be difficult. In the data the totals look enormous but the IFSC sector has foreign assets of €2,390 billion and foreign liabilities of €2,394 billion for a net external liability of just €4 billion. It is possible to generate some ridiculously large external debt figures for Ireland by including the liabilities of the IFSC but they are wholly matched by foreign assets.
The net international investment position of the non-IFSC sector improved significantly in the final quarter of 2013, moving from –€172 billion to –€150 billion. This measure troughed in Q4 2011 at -€196 billion. The bulk of the –€150 billion arises from the –€116 billion net IIP of the government sector.
The net IIP of the non-IFSC sector began to improve in 2012 though obviously the position of the government sector continued to deteriorate. However, this was more than offset by the improvement in the net IIP of the Central Bank which fell from –€101 billion at the end of 2011 to –€37 billion now (these are the liabilities to the ESCB including TARGET2 balances). Most of this improvement occurred in 2012.
In the most recent quarter there was a €6 billion improvement in the net IIP of the non-financial corporate sector, from –€87 billion to –€81 billion. However, on this the release notes the following:
With the relocation of a number of group headquarters to Ireland, foreign assets of Non-Financial Companies increased by €47.5bn and foreign liabilities increased by €41.4bn resulting in a decrease of €6.1bn in the net liability to €81.2bn
Thus, all of the quarterly improvement for the sector (and half of the total quarterly improvement for the non-IFSC sector) is as a result of company re-domiciling. To the extent that these companies have retained earnings on their balance sheets this is also likely to have impacted GNP figures for the same quarter.
Ireland’s Gross External Debt was largely unchanged at €1,604 billion, with 70 per cent of this arising from the foreign debt-instrument liabilities of the IFSC sector. The Net External Debt after subtracting foreign assets in debt instruments was –€696 billion (i.e. an asset position).
Removing the impact of the IFSC, the Net External Debt of the non-IFSC sector at the end of 2013 was a liability position of €92 billion. This was €146 billion at the end of 2012 and €182 billion at the end of 2011. Again, the improvement in 2012 was due to improvements in the Central Bank position but this did not continue into 2013. The 2013 improvement in Net External Debt can mainly be attributed a jump in debt instrument assets under the heading “debt liabilities to affiliated enterprises”. These debt instrument assets show an increase of €30 billion over the year, all of which happened in Q4. Again this can be attributed to the re-domiciling of firms.
As a result of the impact of the IFSC sector looking at the overall totals for Ireland is largely meaningless. There has been some improvement in the stripped-out results for the non-IFSC sector but, recently at least, much of that can be attributed to boardroom decisions.