Stark Prognosis

Juergen Stark of the ECB spoke at the IIEA today and they have posted a video on their website:

The summary of the proceedings, from the IIEA website, is:


‘Dr Stark delivered a keynote address to a packed house in the Institute on the theme of Economic Adjustment in a Monetary Union. Commending Ireland as a “role model” for other countries embarking on programmes of austerity, he nonetheless acknowledged that “strong headwinds” in the global economy threaten to blow its recovery off course. “The sovereign debt crisis has re-intensified and is now spreading over to other countries including so-called core countries.”

Dr Stark delivered a keynote address to a packed house in the Institute on the theme of Economic Adjustment in a Monetary Union. Commending Ireland as a “role model” for other countries embarking on programmes of austerity, he nonetheless acknowledged that “strong headwinds” in the global economy threaten to blow its recovery off course. “The sovereign debt crisis has re-intensified and is now spreading over to other countries including so-called core countries.”

He went on to argue that the crisis was not confined to Europe and that it was in large part a crisis of confidence. It is important that advanced economies do not talk themselves into a second recession. That said, many of these economies urgently need to pursue fiscal consolidation or else their debts will sooner or later become unsustainable. Dangerous fiscal positions are often compounded by structural weaknesses and these too must be addressed. The fiscal outlook for many states threatens the broader economic situation, as do persistent macro imbalances.

Dr Stark recalled that there has historically been little urgency attached to the problem of heterogeniety across Eurozone economies by European leaders. Rates of inflation for example varied widely across Europe in the years leading up to the financial crisis. Risk was inappropriately priced up to 2007 and there are governments that have never properly adjusted to the demands of monetary union, which were well understood by its architects. As far back as 1998, finance ministers and heads of state and government agreed that economic and monetary union should never be used as a justification for financial transfers.

Speaking to journalists after the event, Dr Stark said that “Eurobonds, even if they’re called ‘stability bonds’, won’t solve the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, because they don’t tackle the structural problems some countries are facing.” They “seem to be feasible at a later stage, but only after the transfer of sovereignty.”’


Take a look. I promise to let you know what I thought of his presentation when France hits AA+. If this is avoided without a reverse tap  (in Italy or somewhere!) from the ECB, I will devote the rest of my life to writing, on bended knees, the definitive history of the Bundesbank.  

Scally and Münchau on the euro zone crisis

Wolfgang Münchau and Derek Scally each have thoughtful (and complementary) pieces on what it will take to solve the euro zone crisis.  (Apologies for linking to these so late in the day.)

Not mincing his words, Wolfgang Münchau makes it clear what won’t work:

The consensus view in Brussels and Berlin is that the crisis can be solved by technocratic governments imposing structural reform and austerity. That proposition is, in my view, insane. In any case, it will be tested shortly. Mario Monti, Italy’s new prime minister, is about to introduce a programme of reform and austerity. I wish him luck, but I doubt the bond markets will change their view on the sustainability of Italy’s debt in the absence of outside intervention. We have gone way beyond the point at which this crisis is solvable by standard instruments of economic policy. The survival of the euro will now depend on whether Ms Merkel or Mr Draghi, or both, will blink.

Derek Scally provides a useful window on German thinking.   I would be especially interested in thoughts on his closing paragraphs.

For Dr Merkel, limited treaty change to allow EU budgetary supervision is the sugar-coating she needs to sell to her voters the bitter pill of greater ECB market intervention or even eurobonds.

Far from holding the euro zone hostage to its hyperinflation history, some German analysts see Merkel readying herself for a euro zone deal, aided by her two new pragmatic allies in Frankfurt.

“Pushing for a new euro zone regime of rules is exactly what was to be expected from Berlin,” said political analyst Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels.

“What people don’t understand is that this package of rules is the political price Merkel needs for German concessions on the ECB.”

Central Bank Paper on Mortgage Arrears and Negative Equity

The Central Bank have been publishing data on mortgage arrears for some time now.  On Friday, the Bank released some very useful additional analysis in the form of a paper by Anne McGuinness (press release here.) The paper provides new information on the extent of negative equity and also on buy-to-let mortgages, which are not covered in the Bank’s usual quarterly arrears figures.

Mortgage Arrears Data

The latest set of mortgage arrears data has been released by the Financial Regulator.  There are now 8.1% of mortgages in arrears of 90 days or more. 

There have been some suggestions that there is an increased number of “won’t pay” as opposed to “can’t pay” borrowers in the recent increase because of the debate about debt forgiveness and bankruptcy last August and September.  If someone decided not to pay at this time it is unlikely that they would have been 90 days in arrears when the data were collected. 

Most of the current quarterly increase is still likely to be as a result of those in the “can’t pay” category.  This may be different in subsequent updates.  Any change in bankruptcy law is not going to make provision for someone to be declared bankrupt because they won’t pay their debts.

ERU Seminar: The Collective Bargaining Wage Premium in Ireland and 14 other EU countries

ERU Seminar: The Collective Bargaining Wage Premium in Ireland and 14 other EU countries

Date: Wednesday November 23rd 2011
Topic: The Collective Bargaining Wage Premium in Ireland and 14 other EU countries
Speaker: Dr Rory O’Farrell, ERU
Venue: INTO Training Centre, 38 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Time: 4-5:15pm (Tea and coffee from 3:50pm)

This paper measures the collective bargaining pay premium for Ireland and 14 other European countries using data from the 2006 European Structure of Earnings Survey (SES). The European SES is a survey of matched worker-firm data that is gathered in a comparable fashion across the EU and gives an opportunity to measure the collective bargaining pay premium in a consistent cross-country manner.
The paper shows that a significant firm level collective bargaining pay premium is found across Europe, but its size varies widely with regard to country and form of collective bargaining. There is also evidence that firm level bargaining leads to a more compressed wage structure.

JEL: J31, J51, J52
Keywords: Trade unions, Collective Bargaining

VAT to rise by 2%?

It is widely reported that the German parliament is debating the news that Ireland is planning to raise the top VAT rate by 2%.   Of course, all else equal, an increase in any tax rate has a negative impact.  However, it is important to appreciate that an increase in VAT that avoids an increase in labour taxes is, in relative terms, an employment-friendly policy and is also part of the mix that can engineer a “fiscal devaluation” that can partially replicate the impact of a “currency devaluation” .

A VAT increase is especially effective if it is understood to be permanent (no point in delaying consumption until the tax increase is reversed).  Even better, a widening of the VAT base can further assist in raising revenue, alleviating pressure on other parts of the tax base.

In terms of income distribution, the regressive impact of a VAT increase has to be calculated in the context of the overall package of taxes and transfers, since it is important to work out the net impact of all policy changes taken together, rather than on a “one at a time” basis.

Brian Lucey on Ireland and the Euro

Brian Lucey’s Irishdebate session from today is available at this link Brian ran it pretty much like an office hour fielding questions and it was a lively session with good questions. The questions asked to Brian are not visible on the screen as in the live version so some of the youtube video might be unclear but it is mostly easy to figure out what the questions were.


Professor in Finance Brian M Lucey will be discussing “Planning for a post Euro Economy” With every week that passes it is becoming unfortunately clear that under present arrangements the euro cannot continue. We have seen political dithering of the worst kind, persistently, with the resulting vacuum in terms of policy being taken up by the European Central bank. Although one can criticize the ECB for many of its activities (not least the bewildering refusal to contemplate the other side of the fence in relation to Anglo) is to its credit that has at least stepped into the breach. However of all of the European institutions it is probably the least democratic, as independent central banks have to be. Every ECB action, no matter how well-meaning, in the absence of political and therefore democratic-based approaches further undermines the democratic legitimacy of the euro. Trust in the ECB has and will continue to dwindle. In any case ECB intervention in bond markets has at best only a temporary effect, and it is ultimately up to governments at national and European level to implement policies that restore fiscal discipline. The academic research on bond yields is thus while in the short term like any asset they can be moved by speculative positions in the medium and long-term contract very well against economic fundamentals.

Promissory notes as the price of ‘yes’ to Treaty change?

Morning Ireland this morning carried an interesting exchange with Minister Rabbitte and his interviewer Cathal Mac Coille. At about 8 minutes in, talking about the EU-wide debt situation and Enda Kenny’s meeting with Dr Merkel, the Minister says the following:

Rabbitte: …. The Minister for Finance has hinted at areas where we are trying to alleviate the burden of debt that is on Ireland as a result of the legacy and the circumstances we’ve inherited from the last government and within the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding. I think he has set that out for example in maybe not explicit terms but significantly explicit terms in respect of the promissory notes arrangement entered into by the previous government where in excess of 30 billion debt—private debt—is expectedto be born by the government here. In the general arrangement, you know, it is a circumstance that this burden was placed on Ireland in order not to infect the banking system of the Eurozone. Now that is a very unfair burden and given the way we have complied with the strictures on us we are looking for alleviation on that.

The interview continues:

Cathal MacCoille: What about Treaty change? What is our position? It seems to be getting closer and closer, and the Germans are talking harder and harder about it.

Rabbitte: …no Irish political party wants a referendum, but I don’t think we shouldn’t dismiss sight unseen. I’ve great confidence in the common sense of a majority the Irish people. If there was a pathway out the morass we find ourselves in now, and if there was a significant alleviation in terms of the debt burden promised as a result of whatever Treaty changes might be contemplated then we would have to look at that situation very seriously. We’re not looking for a referendum we don’t want a referendum  but I’m not prepared to dismiss the idea of a referendum out of hand without knowing the context and without knowing what it would offer the Irish people.

Cathal MacCoille: It sounds like the money terms would need to be right.

Rabbitte: Debt sustainability is still an issue, but yes.

Is this the new talking point? Is it that case that Ireland’s promissory notes are the price of a ‘yes’ from the government to a possible Treaty change? If so: what should the ‘discount’ be? Karl (and indeed Lorcan) have been spending quite a bit of time on the promissory note story, and given the sums of money involved, it’s something we should keep an eye on.

Global Liquidity

The CGFS has put out a new report on this topic.


Global liquidity has become a key focus of international policy debates over recent years. This reflects the view that global liquidity and its drivers are of major importance for international financial stability. The concept of global liquidity, however continues to be used in a variety of ways and this ambiguity can lead to unfounded and potentially destabilising policy initiatives.

This report analyses global liquidity from a financial stability perspective, using two distinct liquidity concepts. One is official liquidity, which can be used to settle claims through monetary authorities and is ultimately provided by central banks. The other concept is private (or private sector) liquidity, which is created to a large degree through cross-border operations of banks and other financial institutions.

Understanding the determinants of private liquidity is of particular importance. As many financial institutions provide liquidity both domestically and in other countries, globally, private liquidity is linked to the dynamics of gross international capital flows, including cross-border banking or portfolio movements. This international component of liquidity can be a potential source of instability because of its own dynamics or because it amplifies cyclical movements in domestic financial conditions and intensifies domestic imbalances.

Policy responses to global liquidity call for a consistent framework that considers all phases of global liquidity cycles, countering both surges and shortages. Measures to prevent unsustainable booms in private liquidity are linked with micro- and macroprudential policies as well as the financial reform agenda. Country-specific or regional liquidity shocks, in turn, may effectively be addressed through self-insurance in the form of precautionary foreign exchange reserves holdings and existing arrangements which essentially redistribute liquidity. However, truly global liquidity shocks necessitate direct interventions in amounts large enough to break downward liquidity spirals. Only central banks have this ability.

McCarthy: The Eurozone can be saved

Hoisted from the comments (ht Michael Hennigan), here’s Colm McCarthy in today’s Sunday Independent writing on the Eurozone crisis. It’s worthy of reproduction in its entirety on the site but I’m not sure the Indo editors would be happy about it. So head over and read it there, and head back to comment. This piece usefully advances the debate we’ve been having in another thread, so I’ll close that one and hope commenters will move up to this one. From the piece:

If the eurozone is to become a credible currency union for the long haul, assuming it survives the efforts of its rescuers, there will have to be treaty changes. It is foolish to dismiss the possibility that sensible treaty changes, worthy of support even from countries damaged by the bungling response to the crisis, cannot be envisaged.

These treaty changes could involve a loss of fiscal sovereignty for Ireland. But Ireland has lost its fiscal sovereignty already.

There is, in any event, no cost in accepting a regime of fiscal discipline to which any sensible country would willingly subscribe.

The real issue is whether Europe can create a proper central bank and accountable decision-making authority to go with its premature currency union. If this can be achieved, the euro is worthy of rescue.

Klau: transfer of sovereignty to Europe only way to save Eurozone

Thomas Klau has written an LBS-level piece in today’s Irish Times. The substance of his argument is that Ireland and other nations must accept a further transfer of sovereignty to Europe to save the Eurozone. From the piece:

Ireland’s citizens have made a name for themselves in Europe for their particular reluctance to hand more powers to Brussels. But the disintegration of the euro zone is inevitable unless more powers are given to its joint political authorities – and Ireland should have a strong interest in such powers being exercised through means other than a Franco-German directoire.

It is now apparent that the notorious

Irish insistence on each member state retaining its own right to a European commissioner has backfired very badly: the ensuing expansion of the number of commissioners has been a main factor behind the political decline of the institution, now marginalised by a European Council largely run by Germany and France.

Here is a lesson to be learned: Irish obstreperousness gave Ireland a splendid feeling of leverage for a few months – and has lethally weakened its best ally in Brussels.

There are quite a few problems with Mr Klau’s argument, but I’ll leave our commenters to point them out.

Gavyn Davies: Does the ECB really have a silver bullet?

Gavyn Davies has a useful piece in today’s FT highlighting the potential inter-country distributional consequences of ECB actions in support of particular countries (see here).   These consequences are critical to understanding the economics and politics of ECB interventions.   A few key paragraphs:

The implication of this analysis is that the ECB has more than enough “capital” to underwrite the peripheral bond markets, without this being inflationary in the long run. In a single nation state, it would probably prove irresistible to bring forward some of this capital from the future into the present, and then use it to purchase government bonds to resolve the crisis. In countries like the US and the UK, the national treasury could, in extremis, simply command the central bank to do this, which is why independent nation states typically cannot be forced to default on their domestic currency debt (although they might choose to do so by inflation).

The situation of the ECB is different for the now-familiar reason that the institution is the central bank of many nation states, which care very much about the distribution of income and wealth between themselves. The use of the central bank’s non-inflationary capital does not get round this fundamental issue. Since the ECB is owned by all of its members in proportion to their share of eurozone GDP, the future seigniorage of the ECB is similarly owned by all of its members.

If the ECB board chooses to use its notional capital today by buying Italian bonds at subsidised rates, it is in effect triggering a transfer of resources to Italy, away from other members, most notably Germany. This could emerge in the form of ECB losses which might need to be to be recapitalised by member states after an Italian default. Or it might emerge as a reduced flow of future profits from the ECB to nations like Germany. In any event, there would be an implied transfer of resources from Germany to Italy, which is precisely what the German government has opposed implacably.

Public Capital Programme

Here is a link to the new infrastructure and capital investment programme. There is a lot in there so it will take a little time to digest it.

Some quick points:

– There is a commitment to the National Children’s Hospital;

– There is funding for new schools;

– Luas BXD to go ahead (Metro North and DART Interconnector shelved, Metro West was shelved some time ago);

– the A5 project in Northern Ireland (80 km from the border to Derry) has now also been shelved (in addition to the shelving of 45 other national roads projects announced some time ago);

Boone, Dooley, O’Hagan and Pisani-Ferry on European Sovereign Debt Crisis

The audio and video recordings from the October 25 event are now available

Also available on iTunes (search for Henry Grattan)

New research on efficacy of active labour market programmes

The weeks to come will naturally be dominated by the usual leaks on the budget and the Euro crisis. In both cases it seems the public is to be boiled like frogs in bad news turning ever so slowly worse, day by day. Meanwhile, Ireland’s unemployment problems persist. The latest live register, rather than unemployment, figures are here, analysis here, and Constantin also has a decent analysis of recent job destruction here.

Today also sees the publication of some research on active labour market programmes in Ireland by the ESRI. The research looks in particular at job search assistance programmes, training programmes, and employment subsidies like the JobBridge scheme. The study naturally argues for more research and evaluation as well as institutional reform. It is a really useful document for those interested in active labour market initiatives, and, let’s face it, with a 14.4% standardized unemployment rate, that is more or less everyone.

The provision of water services

The Irish Times ran a series on water services in Ireland.

The first article is perhaps the most interesting. It leaks the yet-to-be-published report on the water sector by PWC. PWC will apparently be fairly critical of the current system, which nicely fits with the plans by the Minister for a radical overhaul. There will be more investment in water infrastructure. There will be a water regulator. Word on the street has that the Commission for Energy Regulation will have its mandate extended to water (but not to transport). There will be national water utility. Bord Gais, Bord na Mona and the National Roads Authority are bidding to run Irish Water. Only Bord Gais has experience in mass retail.

The piece discusses the transfer of Shannon water to Dublin, but the Minister disappears from the story at that point. I would think that we first want to promote water conservation and fix the leaks.

The piece is silent on the future role of the county councils in water. If Irish Water runs the show, what will happen to the water infrastructure owned by the county councils? What will happen to the civil servants who run this?

Another article wonders what will happen to the private water schemes. Will they be nationalized? Will households with a private well and a septic tank have to pay the water charges? That would be grossly unfair.

The inspection fees for septic tanks are unfair too. Us city folk poo for free — or rather, waste water services are covered from general tax revenues. That is, septic tank owners pay for urban waste water, but city dwellers do not pay for rural waste water.

The second main piece is on drinking water quality, the problems with which are typically overlooked even though they are serious.

The third main article is on water meters. It is summarized in an editorial, and repeats a number of points I made in August. My main concern is the plan for the centralized roll out of water meters. I think that it makes more sense to have people install their own meters and let these meters use the same communication network as the smart electricity and gas meters. See the discussion here.

Conor Pope cites 1000 euro per household per year. I said that. If we maintain the current spending on water (incl. investment), if we keep the business rates for water as they are, and if we exempt those on private schemes from the water charges, then full cost recovery (as required by EU legislation) implies an annual charge of 500 euro per household per year.

Regulating the Legal Profession Conference

As has already been noted the Government is in the process of implementing a commitment in the EU/IMF aid package to re-regulate aspects of the legal profession in Ireland with a view to enhancing competitiveness in the sector. The Legal Services Regulation Bill has been controversial in some of its aspects and UCD School of Law is hosting a conference, drawing in a variety of overseas and local experts, with a view to locating debates within a wider international context.The keynote speaker will be Lynn Mather, Professor of Law & Political Science, Buffalo University. Other speakers include Isolde Goggin, Chair of the Competition Authority, Julian Webb, Professor of Legal Education, University of Warwick and Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. A full programme and online booking facilities are available at

Non-Intersecting Sets?

Searching for politically acceptable policies is fine if the set considered intersects with market-acceptable solutions. Can the Italian bond market be stabilised without mobilising the ECB balance sheet?

The alternative instruments available are essentially a combination of support from reluctant secondary market interventions by the ECB and potentially the EFSF (including its new SPIV) and a credible Italian commitment to cutting the (small) budget deficit. The trouble is that the ECB will not commit to open-ended secondary market support, and is in any event intervening at interest rates which are too high. The EFSF is severely constrained in the short-run and the new arrangements to extend its balance sheet are stuck on the runway. Italy appears to have rejected an IMF standby (or not), and it could hardly have been big enough to matter anyway.

Early fundraising for the EFSF went reasonably well but Monday’s issue was a disaster. The spread over bunds is now outside France, Belgium next stop, has risen over 100 bps since the market debut and lenders have been unnerved by the continuing re-definitions of the status and mission of this supranational borrower. Klaus Regling’s pilgrimage to Beijing the previous week failed to secure any commitment to the new borrowing vehicle and the old one could be on negative watch before France. In any event a balance-sheet-constrained vehicle will always be tested. A bail-out fund paying large spreads with continuing uncertainty about its structure and mission, and which competes with sovereigns in the market, is in danger of itself contributing to instability.

The €350 billion required by Italy over the next year to fund roll-overs and the prospective deficit may not be forthcoming even with a credible new fiscal adjustment programme. Worthy long-term measures to raise the potential growth rate in Italy will not inspire bids at bond auctions. There may be no equilibrium rate above 6% or so.

European policy could be characterised as seeking sequentially the set of previously unthinkable measures needed to stop the rot and continually falling short. Working backwards, the bond and interbank markets could be stabilised by the following shock-and-awe package, with lots of moral hazard: 

– Hard default for Greece and for any other countries (not including Italy or Spain) which need them, calculated to make them unambiguously solvent on exit from their programmes.

– Compulsory re-capitalisation for the banks

– An ECB reverse tap in the Italian bond market

If this set of actions is politically infeasible, and if no lesser package will work at this stage, the inference is inescapable and will be drawn soon.

Daniel Gros on Italian Growth

If Italy is to be the Euro’s last stand, then a huge amount appears to be riding on hopes that “structural reforms” can get Italian growth going.  This paper from Daniel Gros provides reasons to be sceptical.

I think Daniel’s focus on the link between governance failures and growth is a bit speculative. Still, his conclusion that “it will be difficult to organise a sustained effort to combat corruption, foster adherence to the rule of law and improve the efficiency of the administration in general” might be too negative.

If the worsening of governance and control of corruption is associated with the rule of Berlusconi, then Daniel’s arguments would imply that his departure may have greater economic benefits than currently anticipated. Alternatively, a return to short-lived and unstable coalitions may just make things worse.

Anyway, it’s worth reminding our readers that economists don’t have a good track record at explaining differences across countries in long-run growth rates. Those claiming to have the recipe to produce a spurt in Italian growth while simultaneously imposing fiscal austerity are largely relying on guesswork.