Latest Assessment Report from IFAC

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has published its latest Fiscal Assessment Report.  The report and some additional resources are available here.

Accompanying the report is a working paper that looks at how a counter-cyclical “rainy day fund” could be incorporated in the framework of the Stability and Growth Pack.  Last week, IFAC published its assessment of compliance with the Domestic Budgetary Rule in 2017 as well as an update of its Standstill Scenario which estimates of the cost of maintaining today’s level of public services and benefits in real terms over the medium term.

A bullet-point summary of the latest FAR:

  • A rapid cyclical recovery has taken place since at least 2014 and this is continuing at a strong pace.
  • Ireland’s debt burden is still among the highest in the OECD.
  • Negative shocks will inevitably occur in future years and there are clear downside risks over the medium term, namely those associated with Brexit, US trade policy and the international tax environment.
  • Improvements on the budgetary front have stalled since 2015 despite the strong cyclical recovery taking place – one that is reinforced by a number of favourable tailwinds.
  • Any unexpected increases in tax revenues or lower interest costs should not be used to fund budgetary measures.
  • The Council welcomes the Department’s publication of alternative estimates of the output gap.
  • The Medium Term Objective (MTO) of a structural deficit of no less than 0.5 per cent of GDP was reached in 2017.
  • The Council sees the fiscal rules as a minimum standard for sustainability and continues to recommend that the Government commit to adhering to the Expenditure Benchmark even after the MTO is achieved.

And on Budget 2019 in particular:

  • The Government should at least stick to existing budget plans for 2019 as there is no case for additional fiscal stimulus beyond existing plans as set out in the 2018 Stability Programme Update.
  • Estimates of the medium-term potential growth rate of the economy and expectations of economy-wide inflation for next year imply an upper limit for increasing the adjusted measure of government expenditure of 4.5%.
  • In nominal terms this translates into spending increases or tax cuts of up to €3½ billion (“gross fiscal space”) as the starting point for Budget 2019.
  • Previously announced measures – including sharp increases in public investment – mean that the Government’s scope for new initiatives in Budget 2019 will be limited.
  • If additional priorities are to be addressed, these should be funded by additional tax increases or through re-allocations of existing spending.
  • Improving the budget balance by more than planned would be desirable, especially given current favourable times, possible overheating in the near-term and visible downside risks over the medium term.

That 26% growth rate – from startled earwigs to stars in our eyes

Last year we were scrambling around in response to the impact of the 26.3 per cent real GDP growth rate that was the headline from the 2015 National Income and Expenditure Accounts (NIE).  So where do we stand one year on? Long post, with too much mind-numbing detail, below the fold.

Continue reading “That 26% growth rate – from startled earwigs to stars in our eyes”

Presentation to MacGill Summer School

Earlier in the week I contributed to a session at the MacGill Summer School on threats to the economy.  My speaking notes for the presentation are here though delivery may have been slightly different.

Conclusion:

We can build 40,000 houses a year, motorways between our regional cities, urban rail connections in the capital, and the roll-out of broadband across the country. We can reduce taxes, increase social transfers and public sector pay. We can spend all the benefits of the surge in Corporation Tax, ultra-low interest rates and the proceeds from the sale of the banks. They are our choices to make. But we cannot do it all and expect the benefits of prudent economic and budgetary management.

No lobby or special interest group sees their request for support as being the one that pushes the economy into the red. And they are right; but we have to watch the totality of what we are doing. If we try to do too much and fly too close to the sun we will fall to earth.

The biggest threat to the Irish economy may not be the decisions of Teresa May or Donald Trump; the biggest threat to the Irish economy are the choices we make ourselves. Let’s make a better fist of getting it right this time.

Producing Short-Term Forecasts of the Irish Economy: A Suite of Models Approach.

A new working paper from Niall Conroy and Eddie Casey of the Fiscal Council Secretariat.

Abstract:

The Council’s mandate includes endorsing, as it considers appropriate, the official macroeconomic forecasts of the Department of Finance on which the annual Budget and Stability Programme Update are based. As part of the endorsement process and for the purposes of its ongoing monitoring and analysis of the Irish economy, the Council’s Secretariat produces its own Benchmark macroeconomic projections. This paper describes the short-run forecasting models used by the Secretariat for producing these projections. The general forecasting approach can be described as follows. Equations are used to forecast each component of the expenditure side of the Quarterly National Accounts. Multiple models are estimated for most components, with the simple model average used as an initial input into the formulation of the Benchmark projections. The out-of-sample forecasting performance of these models is assessed at each endorsement round. In addition to these model-based projections, other elements are considered. Discussions with the Council and other forecasting agencies help to guide any judgement that may be applied before arriving at the final Benchmark projections.

The fatal flaw of the populist approach

The world is awash with populists. From Ireland’s independents to President Duterte of the Philippines, from Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD party to Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, from Ukip and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain to Donald Trump in the US, populists are on the rise. And we’re not talking just a few random demagogues here, though personality does go a long way. (Trump-related Pulp Fiction pun intended, by the way.)

We are seeing a rise in populist parties getting and holding onto power in several European countries including Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Ireland and Switzerland. Iceland is about to elect the Pirate Party (no really) to power. The French Front National may well take power in France, riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment there.

Populists come from both sides of the political spectrum: Greece’s Syriza party and Spain’s Podemos party consider themselves of the left, while Germany’s AfD and France’s Front National are on the far right.

So it’s a problem. Old, established, centrist parties have lost their grip on power – spectacularly so in Greece – while newer parties are standing mostly on a basis of what they are not – Corbyn is not a Blairite, Marine Le Pen is not Nicolas Sarkozy, and so forth. The 32nd Dáil contains 19 TDs who are nominally ‘independent’, with 12 more in left or far-left groupings. Ireland does not produce far-right TDs that often, though it does produce some very right-wing policies from time to time.

Continue reading “The fatal flaw of the populist approach”