Archive for the ‘Bailout’ Category

Letters of November 2010

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Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Jean Claude Trichet’s 19th November 2010 letter to “Tánaiste” Brian Lenihan is here.  Brian Lenihan’s reply.  It should be remembered that Gavin Sheridan has been to the fore in the efforts to get the Trichet letter published.

UPDATE: ECB page on this is here with lots of related information and material.

The Irish Case for LTV and LTI Caps on New Mortgage Lending

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Friday, October 3rd, 2014

The Irish Central Bank discussion paper on macro-prudential policy tools published yesterday seems to be a trial balloon for possible caps on Loan-to-Income (LTI) and Loan-to-Value (LTV) ratios for new residential property mortgages in Ireland. The general theory behind imposing these limits is laid out clearly in that document; there is no reason to repeat it here. I want to discuss some notable features of the Irish environment which strengthen the case for these caps (but do not make the decision easy).

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Guest post by Gary O’Callaghan. Ireland and the IMF: financing capital flight

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Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Here.

EC: Summer 2013 Programme Review

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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

The Staff Report on the Commission’s latest review of Ireland’s EU/IMF programme is now available.  It does not contain much that is new.  There is this on page 20.

Ireland’s fiscal stance has not been overtly pro-cyclical since the beginning of the crisis. Using conventional metrics, discretionary fiscal policy has been clearly leaning against the wind in 2008 and 2009, and did not move openly or blatantly into the wind in 2010 and after, in spite of the significant budgetary adjustment efforts put in place by the Irish government (Graph 2.1) (14). Fiscal policy remained, and is expected to remain broadly in line with the stabilisation function of discretionary fiscal policy, or at least not to run counter that function. In the early years (2008-2009) when fiscal policy was incontrovertibly counter-cyclical, the fiscal policy strategy mainly consisted of correcting previous policy commitments built on optimistic growth projections accompanied by the fact that in a deflationary environment, nominal expenditure freezes implied increases in real terms. Since 2011, the improvement of the structural deficit has taken place in an environment of slightly improving economic conditions.

This is Graph 2.1. Click here to enlarge.

Maybe footnote 14 is important:

(14) The structural changes of the economy during the economic crisis are beyond normal business cycle fluctuations. Therefore, potential growth and structural government balance estimates need to be treated with caution.

Financieel Dagblad on Ireland

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Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Yesterday, Het Financieel Dagblad published an interview with Michael O’Leary and me on the future of the Irish economy. I said much else besides, and some colorful language was cut out. For those who cannot read Dutch, here’s what Google Translate made of it:

Ireland has not really learned from the crisis

Reforms in Ireland have not been substantial enough to lift the economy on a higher level and to make more resilient to shocks. Through weak political leadership and an indulgent attitude of the troika of IMF, ECB and European Commission, opportunities have been missed, leaving the country in the long term to continue to perform below par. A repeat of the scenario of a severe economic downturn that Dublin cannot get to the top of on its own, cannot be excluded.

This say two connoisseurs of Irish society, Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, and Richard Tol, originally a Dutch professor who because of the crisis moved from Dublin to Brighton.

“A crisis is an opportunity for reform, but in Ireland there is only cuts,” says Tol. “Even this very big crisis was no need for structural reforms, where there should have been.” O’Leary agrees with him.

“We had the opportunity to exploit the crisis to reform the labor market and to remove job-growth barriers. “Never waste a good crisis.” But we have missed every opportunity. In Ireland there is not much appetite for real, structural reforms. ”

Rebound effect

Because nothing has changed, Ireland remains a “very inefficient, third-rate economy with a high cost structure,” thinks the CEO of the price fighter in aviation. Professor Tol takes into account an economic acceleration by the rebound effect, but then foresees a new crisis. “If confidence returns, for example in 2015, another period of rapid growth follows.

We might get another ten years growth rates of 5%. But because the structural problems are not addressed, this can produce a similar crisis in 2025 or 2030. Which can be much worse than the current one if the Irish by that time have not sufficiently reduced their debts. ”

Dublin has a long way to go, even if the country is by year-end released from the troika, as is widely expected. Some key figures illustrate this. The government expenditure fell, but are still well above the level of 2005. The debt has grown so much that the IMF warns that it can be unsustainable if there is no a real economic recovery soon. A major problem is the steady increase in the number of homeowners who can no longer bear their mortgage.

Insane

O’Leary does not understanding that Ireland has not faced up to reality the beginning of the crisis. “The government gets  €35 billion in taxes, but spend €45 billion.

This is the first thing that should be reformed. Why are we still wasting perhaps €2 billion by giving everyone in this country child support. I’m a multi-millionaire, but my wife gets four checks each month to support our four children This is insane. ‘

The entrepreneur, who elevated efficiency in his business to a religion, is annoyed by the combination of high wages and strict labor laws that take the dynamic out of the economy, according to him.

“Why should an Irish doctor earn two or three times as much money as a German doctor? That would not be bad if productivity is proportionally higher. But you cannot be treated between 5 pm and 7 am.”

Shut tight

Tol regrets that important sectors of the economy such as legal services, energy and transport in practice are as closed as before the crisis. Furthermore, the 42-year-old professor knows from personal experience how high wages in Ireland are still.

“My net wages dropped by 30% between 2010 to 2012. When I started working in Brighton my salary was matched. I am now the highest paid professor in Brighton.”

That Dublin fails to get itself together, even if a crisis manifests itself as the ‘excuse, O’Leary as well as Tol explain by a chronic lack of expertise and leadership in Irish politics. The electoral system promotes that the government and parliament consist of populists.

Who please their electorate, shrink from painful measures and generally lack the knowledge and experience necessary to steer the country by a crisis. Tol: “The Dáil is full of people who can talk very well. Many have been lawyers or teachers. Expert backbenchers are not there.

No strong opposition

The professor points out that there is no separation of powers. Ministers retain their seats in the Dáil, and are the spokesmen of their own party. Moreover, there is no strong opposition, because the two major parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are like two drops of water. What separates them historically is not idealogy, but their position during the Irish Civil War.

The troika also do not mind anymore. “The problem of the Troika,” O’Leary says, “that when the worst of the crisis had passed and the idea was established that the country was saved, focus on reforms disappeared.” According Tol especially the IMF was full good intentions, but the ECB has taken over the control. “They just want their money returned.”

More on Bogtec

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Friday, March 1st, 2013

Pat Swords has a post on Bishop Hill on Bogtec. Pat reveals (1) that the European Commission intends to pay for part of the infrastructure and (2) that the European Commission does not have or does not want to share the impact assessment that shows that such an investment is indeed a wise investment.

See also Bogtec and Bogtec (ctd)

Bogtec (continued)

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

The recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between Ireland and the UK on wind power has led to excited talk of tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in tax revenue and expert earnings. How realistic is that?

The Memorandum itself is silent on the implications of the deal. Pat Rabbitte and Ed Davey agreed to negotiate a treaty under the Renewables Directive. There are targets for renewables for all Member States of the European Union. Some countries will easily meet these targets, but most won’t. Under the Renewables Directive, Member States with a renewables surplus can sell this to the highest bidder or to an exclusive buyer.

Ireland may have more wind power than it needs. Ministers Rabbitte and Davey intend to enter into an exclusive agreement. This is obviously attractive to the UK. It is not obvious why Ireland would want this, rather than let the Brits compete against the French and the Poles. The first contours of the plan emerged shortly after the UK offered soft loans to bail-out Ireland’s public debt.

The UK cannot meet its renewables obligations. It cannot ignore these targets because the coalition is fragile enough and relations with Brussels already tense. Great Britain has plenty of wind, but people have effectively used the planning system to stop the erection of new wind turbines. So, the plan is to build turbines across the Irish Sea and transmit the power via a dedicated grid to England and Wales.

The Midlands are the leading candidate to build these new turbines. The plan is therefore known as Bogtec, after a similar plan involved the Sahara called Desertec. New wind capacity may amount to 5,000 MW. The current installed capacity is 1,700 MW.

Long distance power transmission is expensive. The East-West Interconnector cost 600 million euro. It has a capacity of 500 MW. Similar interconnectors elsewhere cost 200-300 million euro. Assuming that the Brits will not pay for gold-plating, the bill for the undersea cables alone would be 2-3 billion euro.

The delayed new North-South Interconnector will have a capacity of 400 MW. People are already up in arms against the planned pylons. Transmission from the Midlands to the sea will need 12 times as many pylons.

The potential benefits of Bogtec for Ireland are unclear. The more optimistic estimates aim to impress voters and politicians. Wind power does not generate a lot of employment. Estimates often ignore the jobs lost in thermal power generation, and the jobs destroyed by dearer electricity and higher taxes. There certainly are jobs in “sandwiches and concrete” as Pat Rabbitte put it. The more attractive jobs, however, are in manufacturing and in designing new turbines. There is overcapacity in wind turbine manufacturing, so companies would hesitate to build a new plant in Dublin Port – even if Ireland would suddenly discover its talent for mechanical engineering.

Export earnings depend on the selling price. The REFIT tariff in England and Wales is 25 c/KWh for small suppliers. The retail price of electricity is only 18 c/KWh, the wholesale price 6 c/KWh. If Irish wind farmers are paid the wholesale price minus the cost of transmission (2 c/KWh), revenue will be around €0.5 billion per year. Higher revenues will be at the mercy of the generosity of British subsidies.

If manufacturing jobs are in Denmark and revenues low, the government will not see much tax revenue. No royalties are paid on wind. Bogtec does not appear to be a great deal for Ireland.

Wind farms have real costs. They can spoil the landscape, affect wildlife, and disturb people living nearby. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

There is not much information on Bogtec. The government has yet to publish an impact assessment, but it protests only meekly against the fantastical claims put forward by companies hoping for subsidies. Evidence is not the strongest point in Ireland’s energy policy. Paul Hunt has shown that energy policy in Ireland is run for the benefit of the state-owned energy companies and their workers, Minister Rabbitte disagreed. Mr Hunt’s analysis is based on data. Mr Rabbitte promised data, but has yet to deliver.

People that could be affected by the new turbines fear that planning regulations will not protect them. Indeed, Bogtec exploits the difference in planning between England and Ireland. The UN has ruled that Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan violates international planning standards. The High Court has agreed to hear this case in March.

Bogtec is a good deal for Britain.* Is it a good deal for Ireland too? We need to know before we proceed. Why is an exclusive deal with the UK better than selling to the highest bidder?  Is Bogtec related to the bail-out? Will the Irish government or state-owned companies invest money in Bogtec? What is the expected rate of return? What if UK subsidies are less generous? Will planning properly protect households? In the past, the Irish government repeated sleepwalked into a bad deal. It is time to kick that habit.

* Well, it is a good deal for Britain given the corner it has painted itself into. Without political constraints, the best solution would be to ditch the Large Combustion Directive and replace coal with gas over a 15 year period or so.

Coase versus Pigou and Eurozone Bank Resolution Policy

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Friday, December 7th, 2012

Brian O’Kelly and I have a new policy paper on Eurozone bank resolution; it is in the Special Papers series produced by the Financial Markets Group at LSE.

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Krugman and Layard on a manifesto for economic sense

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Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Paul Krugman and Richard Layard put forward a case for a coherent and evidence based approach to the crisis. Essentially they argue that a strategy of focusing on the reduction of public debt levels exclusively in order to regain market confidence makes no sense, and has been falsified empirically. They also argue that structural imbalances shouldn’t prevent the use of discretionary fiscal policy for stabilization purposes when it is available.

This chart of the drop in domestic demand from the recent Nevin Institute quarterly report (page 4) is particularly striking as a motivating factor in discussing Krugman and Layard’s piece.

Final Domestic Demand

Krugman and Layard have a manifesto you can sign up to (I did).

There are lots of things in this piece I agree with, but two big ones are:

1. Placing the blame for the crisis at governments’ feet makes no sense. The crisis didn’t start in the public finances, it began in the private sector(s).
2. The confidence argument and its attendant strategy is completely wrong headed at this juncture, Ireland in particular shouldn’t be held up by anyone as the role model for austerity, either in the 1980s or today.

There are also aspects I don’t see as pertinent to the Irish case.

Krugman and Layard write:

A second argument against expanding demand is that output is in fact constrained on the supply side – by structural imbalances. If this theory were right, however, at least some parts of our economies ought to be at full stretch, and so should some occupations.

But in Ireland, in the IT sector for example, and especially in really high end tech jobs like online video gaming and such, they can’t get people. (Obviously in other sectors like services and construction their argument holds.) There are other examples but I think in a small open economy like Ireland this argument isn’t that important.

The key question from an Irish point of view is: to what extent is the Krugman-Layard prescription possible in a country with so little fiscal room for maneuver? Translating the argument down a bit, if Ireland is somewhere between Greece and Spain in terms of it’s problems, even if Enda Kenny et al bought the Krugman/Layard prescription lock stock and two smoking barrels, given where we are right now, are our options severely limited in any event? I’d welcome your thoughts on this.

Call for papers – conference on bank resolution mechanisms, Spring 2013

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Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Call for Papers

Bank Resolution Mechanisms

A joint academic-practitioner conference with the theme Bank Resolution Mechanisms wil be held in Dublin, Ireland on Thursday May 23rd, 2013, organized by the Financial Mathematics and Computation Cluster (FMCC) at University College, Dublin and the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at National University of Ireland Maynooth. (more…)

Austerity games

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Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Kevin and Philip have been keeping readers of this site up-to-date with economic analysis of Grexit, problems with EMU and other big picture items over the last few days.

If I may, I’d like to bring things back down to the level of Ireland and the upcoming referendum on the Fiscal Compact. To my mind, a few important concepts have gone out the window as the debate in Ireland about the referendum on the Fiscal Compact has descended into political games. Perhaps the first victim was cause-and-effect, with the mere correlation of banking debts and government deficits being translated by many into iron-cast causation.

A close second in the casualty list was the concept of opportunity cost: in other words, there’s not really much point focusing on how bad or economically illiterate the Fiscal Compact is in and of itself. We need to ask how attractive it is relative to the other options. As of now, the most important attribute of the Fiscal Compact is its ability to get Ireland the funding that it otherwise would not be able to get, to allow the country to gradually close the deficit. By 2020, that may be completely unimportant and we may want to ditch the Compact. But we are voting in 2012, not 2020.

With that in mind, I’ve developed “Austerity Games”, as a basic guide to voters on deficits, debt, fiscal policy and the EU’s Fiscal Compact (below, click to enlarge). Hopefully it’s useful to some readers.

choices for Irish voters

Austerity Games: choices for Irish voters

For a fuller exposition on why the IMF will not be a panacea, Karl Whelan has an excellent blog post here.

Access to EU Funding

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Monday, April 30th, 2012

At the EU summit of the 21st of July last the leaders’ statement said that:

“We are determined to continue to provide support to countries under programmes until they have regained market access, provided they successfully implement those programmes. We welcome Ireland and Portugal’s resolve to strictly implement their programmes and reiterate our strong commitment to the success of these programmes.”

This was reiterated as recently as the EU summit of the 30th of January when the statement of the EU leaders said that:

“We welcome the latest positive reviews of the Irish and Portuguese programmes which concluded that quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks have been met. We will continue to provide support to countries under a programme until they have regained market access, provided they successfully implement their programmes.”

These both seem pretty unequivocal to me and have not been contradicted in any subsequent EU statements I have seen.

In the event of a NO vote

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Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Michael Moore of QUB raised an interesting point with me last week.  A NO vote would not affect our membership of the IMF.  Presumably, Michael asked, we could still turn to it if/when we need a second bail-out?  And recall that the troika – the coalition of the willing – was just put together because it was considered demeaning for the EU that a member state should seek a bail-out from entirely external sources.  Given all the indications of how much the IMF has changed in the wake of the Stiglitz critique, they might even have a better deal to offer than our EU partners.

Michael, of course, likes to lace his stews with chili.  But still… 

Then, though, it would be up to our American partners.  A senior IMF official confirmed to me over the summer the veracity of Morgan’s account of the Geithner veto.  Soundings to be taken over St Patrick’s Day at the White House?

IMF Fifth Review

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Friday, March 2nd, 2012

The fifth review of the Extended Arrangement with Ireland can be read here.  The debt sustainability analysis on pages 35-40 shows little changes from that provided in the Fourth Review.

The Baseline Scenario is identical and extends to a projected gross debt ratio of 109% of GDP in 2017 (net debt 101% of GDP).  The growth shock shows that if annual growth is close to zero (0.1% per annum) the debt would be 138% of GDP in 2016 and still rising.

The performance criterion for the end-June 2012 Exchequer Primary Balance remains €9.0 billion.  The outturn to the end-June 2011 was €8.4 billion.

Page 9 shows that we had a €4.3 billion budget last December once the full effect of tax carryover effects are included.

The budget implies a consolidation effort of €4.3 billion (2¾ percent of GDP) in 2012—including the full €1.1 billion carryover from 2011 tax measures—which significantly exceeds the €3.6 billion effort originally programmed.

Box 3 (page 20) on Social Welfare: Scope for Reform is also noteworthy.  The four paragraphs in the section begin:

The Irish state provides significant support to low-income groups.

This protection has come, however, at a high fiscal cost.

Importantly, the current system generates poverty traps for some groups, while providing less targeted support to others.

Potential reform options include moving toward more a means-tested and integrated approach to social welfare payments.

UPDATE: The transcript of the conference call with Craig Beaumont, IMF Mission Chief for Ireland can be read here.  There is also a separate short interview from the IMF Survey Magazine here.

Pillar of Salt? Two reactions to the BOI Report

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Monday, February 27th, 2012

David McWilliams is out of the blocks describing the latest report from Bank of Ireland in less than stellar terms:

The report shows that only 14 per cent of Bank of Ireland’s total owner-occupier mortgage book is in such a healthy situation. When we examine its buy-to-let portfolio, we see that only 6 per cent of these mortgages are in such a healthy situation. In total, 12 per cent of mortgage holders have a ratio of less than 50 per cent.

Seamus Coffey has a longer study of the report. From his piece:

In total, the loan-to-value of BOI’s owner-occupied loan book is estimated to be a rather convenient looking 100%.  The negative equity of the €10,567 million of loans with LTVs of greater than 100% is estimated to be €2,474 million.  The aggregate loan-to-value of the loans in negative equity is 131%.  On the other hand the aggregate loan-to-value of loans not in negative equity is 81%.  Finally, here is the spread of arrears and impairment across the different LTVs.

Unsurprisingly, arrears and impairment are more likely amongst those loans that are in negative equity though almost one-third of those in arrears are not in negative equity.  The portion of the loan book that has a loan-to-value of more than 181% has arrears of 15.5% by loan balance compared to just 4.8% for all loans which are not in negative equity.

Overall, not great news. However, Seamus continues:

If the €2,474 million of negative equity on mortgages in BOI’s owner-occupied Irish mortgage book then, being 18.4% of the total market, this would imply that the level of negative equity in the residential mortgage market is around €13,500 million.  As BOI’s loan book is better performing better than the rest of the market, and also has loans from before 2002 that newer entrants to the market do not have, this is likely to be an estimate from the lower range.

Worth discussing on this site: if Bank of Ireland is the least worst bank we have, and the bank’s own estimates don’t look that credible, what does this mean for the banking system as a whole?

Cost-effective Eurozone firewalls and the buyback boondoggle

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Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

John McHale has a recent thread on the probability of a Greek default.  In this thread I want to consider a different but related question.  Only some of the promised Greek bailout funds are intended for funding Greek government expenditures; the rest of the funds are intended to pay back outstanding Greek sovereign bonds. Conditional upon a Greek default, how should the bond-payback-earmarked Greek bailout funds be spent by the Eurozone?  Let X denote the total sum of Eurozone bailout funds intended for Greece, Y the amount earmarked for Greek government expenditures, and Z the funds available to pay back Greek bondholders.  Define a disorderly Greek default as one in which a private sector involvement (PSI) agreement is not in place or is inoperative. My question is:

In the event of a disorderly Greek default, how should the EU spend Z?

There is a historical precedent for massive wastage of taxpayer funds in analogous situations. Bulow and Rogoff call it the “buyback boondoggle.” The buyback boondoggle refers to the tendency of fiscally-distressed states to demonstrate their newfound fiscal discipline by handing over large quantities of taxpayer funds to outstanding bondholders, even when there is no fiscal benefit in doing so. In reality, the payment of funds to existing bondholders by states in fiscal distress can actually lower rather than raise the future borrowing prospects of the state (see the paper above and this related paper).    

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A European Solution to a European Problem – It Might Work

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Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The latest attempt by the ECB to get a grip on the Eurozone crisis might work. It has the potential both to push sovereign market yields toward sustainable rates, and to block self-fulfilling institutional bank runs in which corporate deposits move to stronger Eurozone countries, draining weaker member banking systems of liquidity and credit.

Colm McCarthy was keen on a “reverse tap” in which the ECB enforces a maximum yield (minimum market price) on Italian/Spanish/etc sovereign bonds using its money-creation potential to back up this policy. The problem with his plan, in my view, was the lack of a surveillance mechanism to ensure the funded countries were continuing their needed restructuring. Germany would not accept that solution. My own preference was for the IMF to serve as conduit for sovereign funding via official IMF programs backed by ECB-funded bonds. Colm criticized this as an unnecessary intermediation by the IMF in a problem that needed to be solved by Europe.

The new ECB unlimited-three-year bank funding strategy uses the banks themselves as the monitor for sovereign discipline. It also provides direct bank liquidity so that the slow-motion institutional bank run phenomenon is less likely to lead to the negative feedback loop (corporate depositors distrust the PIIGS banks, PIIGS banks lose liquidity and restrict credit flow to their national economies, PIIGS national economies slow down due to shortage of credit, PIIGS banks suffer due to national economic slowdowns). Actually the “G” does not belong in this acronym anymore since it is a separate case. Perhaps PISI? Commercial banks in the PISI who lose corporate deposits to Germany or elsewhere can replace them with even cheaper funding from the ECB.

Might the new ECB strategy work?

Bad arguments

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Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

We’ve gotten used to disingenuous arguments by István Székely regarding the EC/ECB stance on burning bondholders, but (given that the original interest rates they insisted on were a disgrace) this one really takes the biscuit:

Separately, the top European Commission official on the Irish bailout said critics of the decision not to impose losses on senior bank bondholders should recognise the benefit from the interest cut on Ireland’s rescue loans.

István Székely said the cut would yield €12 billion while moves to “burn” Anglo Irish Bank bondholders might have realised €3 billion.

Also, €3 billion?

Karl is right: it is too late to do anything meaningful about this, and the game has moved on. But that doesn’t mean that we should let these guys rewrite history.

Variable-rate Mortgages, Liquidity Funding, and the Euro

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Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, received a clamour of popular support recently when he publicly objected to the Irish domestic banks planned decision not to decrease variable mortgage rates in response to the ECB cut in interest rates. The political establishment was warmly enthusiastic for Elderfield’s intervention. The government used its shareholding and political muscle to ensure that the banks’ decisions were reversed. The government also offered to provide the financial regulator with legislative power to determine banks’ mortgage rates. Wiser heads within the Central Bank prevailed, and the government was told by the Central Bank “thanks, but no thanks” for the offer of new legal power to set retail mortgage rates. (more…)

Two New EU Pillars, Where One Old International One Will Do Better

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Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The Eurocrats are anxious not to waste the current debt crisis. In today’s Financial Times, Manfred Schepers of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development proposes not one, but two new EU institutions, to be staffed by transfers from the senior civil services of member states, and promotions within the Brussels/Frankfurt bureaucracies. There will be a new European Monetary Fund, taking on the roles of the International Monetary Fund managing troubled sovereigns, but working on a permanent rather than temporary basis within the Eurozone. Then there will be a new European Debt Agency, managing debt issuance and deficit control for all member states. At a minimum, Schepers’ proposal will aid the Brussels and/or Frankfurt commercial real estate markets, since these bodies will need a lot of office space.
Schepers is keen to retain the ECB’s restricted mandate as a central bank without the ability to engage in quantitative easing, restricting its work to commercial bank liquidity provision and inflation control. He holds this view despite the growing evidence that this central bank design does not work, and the alternative, more flexible mandate of e.g., the Bank of England and US Federal Reserve, does work.
Much more sensible are the views (via a skype video) of Jeff Sachs suggesting that the IMF, together with a reformed ECB acting as a lender of last resort, be brought in to restore stability and confidence to the Eurozone, in the interests both of Europe and the world economy. We also get a glimpse of Professor Sachs’ chi-chi Manhattan kitchen in the background of the video.

A Euro Proposal: ECB-Funded, IMF Bailout Bonds

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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Colm McCarthy and many other commentators want the ECB to print euros to whatever extent is necessary in order to keep essentially-solvent Euro states from being unable to finance their deficits. Colm argues that this ECB-provided unlimited funding back-up can prevent an inefficient coordination-game outcome in which investors flee Euro bond markets … because other investors are doing likewise. Once the unshakeable resolve and money-printing firepower of the ECB is demonstrated clearly, the Euro crisis will diminish, in Colm’s view. Many other commentators, e.g, Gavyn Davies, Mervyn King, numerous Germans, argue that this money-printing solution will just generate an indirect subsidy of wasteful Euro governments by prudent ones, with Euro-wide inflation or eventual ECB capital losses serving as the income-transfer mechanism.
There is some talk in today’s papers of a Eurobond system linked to closer EU control over national finances. The EU’s record for governance of this type of national fiscal oversight is not good, and the core nations are rightly sceptical.
Why not a combination policy? The IMF agrees to run sovereign bailout programmes for any Euro countries as needed, with funding provided via IMF-issued, ECB-purchased bonds. The ECB gets a decent, non-exorbitant yield on all new Euros issued, and the IMF has access to an unlimited supply of Euro funding as needed. The guarantee from the IMF-ECB that Italy, Spain and France could be brought within this bailout process as needed, with no funding limits, would probably eliminate the need to bail them out at all (via the same “good equilibrium” mechanism that Colm suggests). To make it credible this programme would need to be ready to activate as needed without exception. Recalcitrant Euro governments who failed IMF programme criteria would be booted from their bailout programmes in the normal way.

The provision of water services

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Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

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.

Legal Services Regulation Bill

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Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The Department of Justice has published a press release indicating that the Legal Services Regulation Bill is to be published within the next few days, having received the approval of cabinet.

Regulatory reform in respect of legal services is a key commitment in theEU/IMF Programme for Financial Support for Ireland. A blueprint for reform, indicated in the financial support programme, was provided by the Competition Authority’s 2006 report on the legal professions. The detailed indications of the content of the Bill in the press release suggest the government has rejected some aspects of the Competition Authority report. Notably the proposal that a new regulator would oversee professional self-regulation (as occurs in England and Wales through the Legal Services Board established in 2009) appears to have given way to a new regulatory body which will have direct responsibility for oversight of the professions.

In addition to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, two further new public bodies are to be established: an Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator (who will take on regulatory functions over costs currently administered by the Taxing Master) and a Legal Professions Disciplinary Tribunal which will take over responsibility for addressing complaints of professional misconduct, currently administered by the Bar Council and the Law Society of Ireland.

The central rationale stated for the reforms is the promotion of a more competitive environment for provision of legal services, and this is reflected in proposals to allocate tasks concerning entry to the profession and the education of lawyers to the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority so as to liberalize certain aspects of professional education and end the situation under which the profession is both provider and regulator of legal education.

The establishment of three distinct agencies may be controversial and raises the question whether the variety of functions could be undertaken by a single agency. The press release indicates that the industry will be levied to pay for the new regulatory bodies (as occurs with a number of existing regulatory bodies such as the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland). Comments in the press suggest that the professions are concerned that the power of the minister to appoint members of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority will compromise the professional independence of lawyers. It is actually not unusual to find ministers exercising such powers of appointment (appointments to the Legal Services Board in England and Wales are made by a government minister, the Lord Chancellor). Clearly board members must be appointed by someone and ministers are accountable to parliament for their actions. Even the most independent of actors within the legal system, judges, are appointed by ministers (though this is not uncontroversial).

Certain of the more controversial aspects of potential reform, such as fusing the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions and introducing multi-disciplinary partnerships have been assigned to the new Regulatory Authority for research and consideration rather than be provided for directly in the Bill, according to the press release.

Ireland Debates the Limits of Austerity

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Monday, September 12th, 2011

No new ground in this Reuters report, but it’s a worthy summary of the current situation in Ireland, and perhaps a guide to the debates to come.

Debt forgiveness, one more time.

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Friday, August 19th, 2011

This Irish Times article reports Morgan Kelly’s keynote ISNE lecture where he discussed debt forgiveness and, in particular, mortgage debt relief. From the piece:

“We are talking sums in the region of €5 billion to €6 billion which would be necessary to spend on mortgage forgiveness, which by our standards are not very large,” he said.

“This sum to sort out tens of thousands of people with big problems does not seem enormous.”

Seamus Coffey has some thoughts on Prof Kelly’s argument here.

Readers should know I’m in favour of debt forgiveness for households, and have been for some time. It may be worth discussing the pros and cons of such a policy again.

Update: Jagdip has some thoughts on this debate on NamaWineLake.

Debt dynamics

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Monday, August 15th, 2011

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, what’s the value of a video? Google has put some effort into data visualization. This example works in 5 dimensions at once. It’s on government debt in Europe. The kinetics of Turkey and Ireland are astounding.

Nama’s Property Price Insurance Scheme

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Friday, August 5th, 2011

A little bit more detail has emerged (via press interviews rather than detailed technical documents) about the Nama property price insurance scheme as it is currently proposed. The basic design was leaked to the press in early July, and was discussed in my earlier thread. The emerging details of the scheme as announced so far are not reassuring. The scheme has considerable potential to manipulate recorded property sales prices, to damage confidence in Irish property market openness, and to build up a hidden future cash flow liability for Irish taxpayers. The motivation given by Nama for implementing the scheme is not entirely convincing.

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Protecting Senior Bondholders

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Sunday, July 31st, 2011

In his Sunday Independent column today, Colm McCarthy again makes the argument the Government is protecting – or being forced to protect – senior bondholders in order to protect European banks. 

It is entirely fair for our European partners to observe that we have brought this on ourselves but it is equally fair to note that in picking up the tab, the Irish are ‘taking one for the team’, in the phrase of Sharon Bowles, the British MEP who chairs the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. The team, in the form of the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the Franco-German political leadership, persist in the pretence that the protection of creditors of the bust Irish banks, at the expense of the Irish Exchequer, represents some form of generosity to Irish citizens and taxpayers.

Fortunately, the existing deal with our European partners is impractical as well as unfair. It has not worked, it will not work and there will be further rounds of modifications as Europe gropes towards a resolution of the banking and sovereign debt crises. It will not be enough, in regaining solvency, for the Irish Government to avoid further pay-offs to bondholders in Anglo and Irish Nationwide. The Irish Exchequer’s contributions to bank rescue have already destroyed the sovereign’s capacity to borrow. There is still an opportunity to avoid default on the sovereign debt of the state, but the ability to avoid this outcome is being undermined by the obligations undertaken to investors in bonds issued by insolvent banks.

The restoration of that ability requires, in addition to vigorous reductions in the budget deficit, that the remaining costs of rescuing the Irish banks be shared with their creditors and with the European institutions whose defence of bank bondholders has helped to create the current untenable situation.

Putting aside the relative costs to Ireland’s creditworthiness of defaulting on sovereign bonds compared to sovereign guarantees, oversimplified claims that senior bondholders are being protected to protect foreign banks are undermining support for necessary fiscal adjustments.  

The concerns of the ECB about balance sheet/precedent-related contagion does explain the absence of loss sharing for the roughly €3.5 billion of unguarnateed seniors in the defunct and depositor-less Anglo and INBS.   The constraints on loss sharing in the pillar banks are quite different. 

There is an effective instrument to impose losses on pillar-bank bondholders – bankruptcy.    Although we know the credit system is already impaired, making the pillar banks bankrupt would impair the credit (and payments) system to a significantly greater degree.   Also, it is conveniently ignored that depositors rank equally with senior bondholders under current law.    It might have been possible for the State to make depositors whole when the State was creditworthy.   That ship has sailed. 

Now I do think more should have been done early on to put in place a resolution regime to increase loss-sharing options.  However,  the legal avenues appear to be quite proscribed.    While I am not saying this is the end of the argument, given the damage done to public support for tough fiscal measures, anyone who pushes the line that losses should be imposed on broader bondholders has an obligation to explain how the legal obstacles could be overcome while protecting the credit system and protecting depositors.    It is emotionally satisfying to heap blame on a requirement to protect foreign banks.  The reality is more complex.

Strenthening the Ring-Fence (Warning: Wonkish)

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Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Now that we’ve had a bit more time to digest the implications of the EU summit, I would be interested to hear more views on how the measures have strengthened or weakened the “ring-fence” beyond Greece, especially as it applies to Ireland.    The idea of a ring-fence is that measures to improve debt sustainability and the reliability of a lender of last resort attenuate potentially self-fulfilling expectations of default; that is, expectations of default that lead to higher interest rates, thereby increasing the probability of default (in part because countries get pulled into European crisis resolution mechanisms that threaten debt restructuring as part of subsequent financing packages and also because of worsening debt dynamics). 

I think it is fair to say there is general agreement that the interest rate reductions / maturity extensions strengthen the ring-fence given that they improve the chances of debt sustainability.   However, there also seems to be a view that the private-sector involvement (PSI) that is being applied to Greece weakens the ring-fence, as it increases the threat of that PSI being applied to other countries at a later stage.   The latter does not seem right to me.   It is widely recognised that Greece’s debt to GDP ratio makes debt restructuring inevitable.    From the point of view of the ring-fence beyond Greece, it would have been best to have decisive action on Greece’s debt, so that it is unlikely that the necessary PSI would have to be revisited in their case.   As it is, it is likely that further restructuring of Greece’s debt will have to take place, creating ongoing uncertainty about what the PSI element of the Eurozone crisis-resolution mechanisms is going to look like down the road, increasing the uncertainty facing other countries.   In other words, the problem (from the perspective of the ring-fence) is that too little PSI is being applied to Greece, not too much.

Forbearance and Frontrunning in Irish Property Markets

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Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

The most recent Financial Stability Report from the Bank of England warns about the danger to U.K. economic stability from excessive debt forbearance by U.K. domestic banks. The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, put stress on this risk in his speech introducing the report (although he also noted that this does not mean that forbearance is always a bad thing). In the report, only the potential UK fallout from the Euro crisis ranks more highly than excessive debt forbearance on the list of risks to the UK banking system. This should ring alarm bells in Ireland, since the level of debt forbearance in Ireland at present is much higher than in the U.K.  Encouraging debt forbearance is a deliberate Irish government policy, and the extreme level of forbearance by domestic Irish institutions is storing up potential problems for the future.

There is a considerable overhang of unwanted or distressed (in some cases unfinished) property assets in Ireland (see Ronan Lyons and Namawinelake for discussion). The smart-money players (foreign-owned banks with Irish property assets) might front-run the slower-footed players (domestic, taxpayer-owned banks and Nama) by selling relatively quickly, leaving the Irish taxpayer to fund any eventual shortfall. (I am including the IBRC, the vestiges of Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide, in my definition of domestic banks.) So loan forbearance and front-running in Irish property markets could interact to the detriment of taxpayers.   

 

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