Today the NTMA announced Ireland will resume treasury bill auctions, the first since September 2010. This is a really good thing.
But this does not mean Ireland is “back in the bond market”, with all the baggage that phrase has for Irish people these days. We’re back in the Bill market. Journalists in particular should understand the difference between bonds and bills.
While both bonds and bills are debt obligations, in other words when you buy either a bond or a bill you are lending your money to the Irish government, and both are auctioned, bills are used as short term liquidity instruments, typically repaying the bill buyer in 3 months or 6 months or something like that, while bonds carry much longer maturities, usually 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, even 30 years, and are typically used to pay down other maturing bonds or to finance state expenditure. See these lecture notes, slide 218 in particular, for more details. Update: these ones are way better.
Thus Bills differ in their form and their usage, it doesn’t make sense to confuse them. While today’s announcement is a good sign, we shouldn’t get too excited over their issuance. Portugal has been issuing T-Bills throughout its time as a programme country, and even Greece got some away in May.
For these reasons we shouldn’t read too much into the yield and bid to cover ratios of these bills. It’s still a positive first step, but it’s not Ireland dipping its toes in the water of the markets, more like us taking off our socks near the pool.