IMF Fifth Review

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

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

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).    

A European Solution to a European Problem – It Might Work

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

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.