John McHale has kindly posted an article I wrote for today’s Sunday Independent below. I would like to expand here on what secondary market Irish bond prices are actually saying.
The benign outcome expected, publicly at least, by our European partners is that, if Ireland ‘sticks to the programme’, things will work out OK. Working out OK needs to be defined. Here’s a working definition.
1. Ireland is able to return to the sovereign market in about eighteeen months.
2. This means the bond market, not just bills or CP.
3. It must be able to sell bonds, in large quantities, at medium duration. That means five-year at minimum, ideally ten-year and longer.
4. Yields don’t have to be as comfortable as Germany or even France, but can be no worse than say Spain.
5. Ten-year bonds at 5% would be, to coin a phrase, manageable, with five-year at say 4.5%.
If you believe that sticking to the programme, plus an average run of luck, will do the trick, without any compromise with bank creditors or sovereign default, you must also believe that bond market re-entry, on something like the above basis, is on the cards before the end of 2012.
The bond market does not believe that this outcome is likely at all. Both five- and ten-year bonds were yielding over 10% on Friday. Conveniently, the coupon on the five-year is 4.60. If the price is to exceed 100 in eighteen months time, the total return offered for the period is a capital gain of at least 23 plus about 8 in accrued coupons, total at least 31 versus Friday’s price of 77. The five-year will be a 3.5-year by then, target yield even lower on a normal curve, and the required return even higher. If you sincerely believe that this outcome is likely, buy while stocks last.
Note that a return to the bond market which takes this jaundiced view is a part of the programme, as Karl Whelan repeatedly points out. When sovereign debt gets junked by the market, it does not recover over short horizons like eighteen months. You go down in the elevator and come back up the stairs.
None of this suggests that we should not stick to the programme. The fiscal adjustment makes sense in any scenario and there is a case for doing it faster. What it suggests is that preparations need to be made for a long-haul, including sovereign re-structuring or re-scheduling, just in case the markets might have it right this time.