Archive for the ‘European economy’ Category

A dangerous union for small countries


Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Here are three papers I have read recently.

1. Reinhart and Trebesch on the way that external debts can hollow out local democracies. No need to elaborate on this I think.

2. Avdjiev, McCauley and Shin on cross-border banking: well worth a read for people not familiar with this stuff. They are talking about complicated transactions, but as we know in Ireland, much simpler transactions (banks borrowing overseas) can have dangerous consequences.

3. Athanasios Orphanides on the highly politicised nature of crisis decision-making in the Eurozone.

From 3, and from everything that we have observed during this crisis, from Ireland in 2010 to Greece in 2015, I infer that a small country is much more vulnerable inside the Eurozone than outside, if it gets into trouble. Outside, you will deal with the IMF on its own, and they have a standard policy template: debts will be written down, currencies will be devalued, and yes, there will also be austerity. Inside the Eurozone creditor countries will sit alongside the IMF at the table and you may find that neither of the first two policies will be feasible, which will make the austerity far more harmful than it would otherwise be, both economically and politically.

From 2, I infer that a small country needs to watch its banks like a hawk, especially if it is inside the Eurozone, because (from 1, and 3, and from what we have experienced since 2010) the political consequences of not doing so are just too damaging.

And from 1 and 3, I infer that government debts are something that small countries inside the Eurozone also need to be very concerned about. Especially in a monetary union without a banking union, like ours.*

So I find myself in agreement with Colm McCarthy. As was the case 15 years ago, we need to worry about the possible real exchange rate consequences of expansionary fiscal policy at this point in the cycle. And to be fair to the Irish economics profession, lots of people did worry about that then. But the main concern for me is no longer about economics, but about the risks to our Republic’s democracy. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


*What is a banking union? If Arizona elects a bunch of communists or survivalists to run the state, and the state budget explodes as a result, local banks will still be backed up by the Fed. My money will still be safe. I will still be able to withdraw it if I choose. This is what a banking union looks like, and don’t let anyone in Brussels or Frankfurt tell you any different.


Economic Policy Panel, October 2015


Friday, October 16th, 2015

Papers are available here.

Garret FitzGerald Lecture and Autumn School


Thursday, October 1st, 2015

UCD College of Social Sciences and Law will host the Garret FitzGerald Lecture and Autumn School on Monday 19th October, in the UCD Sutherland School of Law. The daytime School (from midday) will focus on the significance of the social sciences. The evening Lecture will be delivered by Professor Cass R Sunstein,Harvard Law School, on the theme ‘Is Behavioural Science Compatible with Democracy?’. More details and bookings here.

New York Times: A Migration Juggernaut is Headed for Europe


Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Eduardo Porter, one of the most highly respected economic analysts in the US media, has an interesting, thoughtful new article on European immigration pressures. He argues that European economies and societies need to prepare for large-scale immigration from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. These regions are close to Europe, are notably poor by world standards, and have a forecast population increase of three billion in coming decades, on top of the large increases which have already occurred in the recent past. Porter argues that attempts to stop completely this migration pressure will not succeed, and instead Europe should try to adjust to an inevitable large inflow.

Guest post by Marios Zachariadis: On the Greek Crisis and German Imbalances


Friday, July 24th, 2015

Policies undertaken from a narrow national perspective that encourage systematic fiscal surpluses coupled with a national consensus on wage suppression between unions and industry facilitated by the state, impact negatively upon domestic spending while increasing national saving and may lead to mercantilist outcomes of systematic policy-induced positive trade balances with large financial flows going the other way. This mechanism in relation to export-dependent countries like Germany has been recognized for a while by leading American economists like Obstfeld (the IMF’s new chief economist succeeding Blanchard) or Bernanke, while many have also pointed out low domestic investment, consumption taxes, and rigidities in the service sector as additional policy-related reasons for this German systematic phenomenon. (more…)

Economists and the European democratic deficit


Friday, July 24th, 2015

I have a column in Critical Quarterly, available here.

McCarthy and Mody on what the Greek fiasco tells us about the ECB and IMF


Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Here, and here.

Three questions arise. Why would any non-European country be willing to accept another European IMF head? Would it not be better for the Europeans themselves if a non-European IMF head provided us with an “adult in the room” at times of crisis? And why would any European be happy living in a monetary union in which a politicized central bank cannot be relied upon to act as a lender of last resort, and in which their guns could be turned on any (sufficiently small) member state in a time of crisis?

Canada Day


Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Yesterday, the First of July, was Canada Day.

Discussing  the crisis in the Eurozone with some visiting Canadian relatives led to the question How stable is the Canadian currency union?

At first sight it seems to be much more stable than its European counterpart. The Canadian banking system is renowned for its solidness. It is dominated by five national banks that operate coast to coast, supervised by the much-admired Bank of Canada.  There is a large national budget that includes important elements of inter-provincial fiscal equalization. Internal labour mobility is relatively high.

But on the other hand the provincial governments are not constrained in their borrowing, there are enormous differences between the economic structures of the provinces, and there is always the Quebec question.

In fact, to a surprising extent, the stability of the Canadian union appears to depend on the fact that, as the author of this article puts it,”there are no Greeces here”.  He draws attention to flaws in the design of the Canadian currency union that could come home to roost some day.

Sinking, fast and slow


Saturday, October 11th, 2014

For well over a year now some of us have been pointing out that the Eurozone crisis was entering a very dangerous phase, in which slowly increasing unemployment would eat away at the foundations of Europe’s societies, while short-sighted politicians and excitable journalists proclaimed that the Euro was saved. The invaluable Eurointelligence has been doing a great job recently tracking the apparently inexorable deterioration in the economic fundamentals of the Eurozone, with Germany itself now apparently affected. But for both political and personal reasons I find myself worrying most about France.

Twiddling their thumbs and hoping that something (the economy) will turn up, flawed macroeconomic policy notwithstanding, seems to have been the French government’s master plan up till now. As a result it is hard to see Francois “Say” Hollande, or any other Socialist for that matter, getting through to the second round in 2017.

You may think that Paul Krugman is being too alarmist when he raises the possibility of President Le Pen, and I hope you are right. But Sarokozy’s apparent return to the political fray does worry me. Of course, you may think that if he wins the UMP nomination, the Left will rally round and vote for him when it comes to the second round.

How confident are you about that?

Symposium at NUI Maynooth: “Can Social Investment Save Social Europe?”


Monday, May 19th, 2014

On Thurs., 29th of May, a special seminar on Social Investment in Europe will be hosted by the Department of Sociology/ NIRSA, Political Economy and Work Cluster and the New Deals in the New Economy project. The seminar will run from 9.30 to 1.30 and will be followed by the launch of a new MA in Sociology (Work, Labour Markets and Employment) by Minister Joan Burton.

‘Social Investment’ focuses on investing in people’s skills and capacities and supporting them to participate fully in employment and social life (EU Commission). Does ‘social investment’ lead to a renewal or an erosion of the welfare state? Will ‘social investment’ support economic and social recovery?

The event will start at 9.30 with registration and coffee followed by the seminar at 10.00 in the Phoenix building on the North Campus in NUIM keynoted by Prof Anton Hemerijck, VU University Amsterdam and Prof Brian Nolan, UCD, and chaired by Prof. Seán Ó Riain.

Following a break for coffee there will be a roundtable discussion with: Rossella Ciccia (NUIM), Tom Healy (NERI) and Rory O’Donnell (NESC), chaired by Mary Murphy (NUIM).

See more at:

Please register for seminar by emailing before May 26th, 2014

Problematic Calibration of the EU Banking Sector Stress Test for Ireland


Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The details for the calibration of the EU-wide bank stress test are now available. Looking only at Ireland, and only at one of the key variables in the stress test, the calibration looks problematic. It may be coincidental that the Irish adverse scenario has been badly chosen; it might be that all the other member countries have reasonable calibrations.  If the others are as problematic as in the Irish case, this is not a reliable EU banking sector stress test.

Under the adverse scenario, Irish property prices are assumed to suffer a cumulative three-year drop of 3.03%; equivalent to a decline of 1.02% each year for three years in a row. Over the period covered by CSO data, 2005-2013, Irish residential property prices had an annual sample volatility of 11.7%. This in turn implies (under reasonable assumptions) a three-year volatility of 20.27%. In risk analysis it is conventional analytical shorthand to measure adverse outcomes in “x-sigma” units defined as the outcome as a multiple of the standard deviation. For an adverse scenario calibration, the assumed outcome is usually roughly a two-sigma or three-sigma event. Using a four-sigma shock would not be unusual (due to fat tails in some probability distributions). The EBA has calibrated the adverse price shock as a 0.1492-sigma event. That is not credible as an adverse scenario in a stress test.

Keep in mind that the stress test is meant to reassure market participants that even in an adverse scenario the Irish banks are sound. This test reassures us that if property prices fall by as much as one percent a year over the next three years, the banks have enough capital. In the case of a two-percent fall, there are no promises.

As a caveat, this does not mean that the Irish banks need equity capital. They have already had a credible stress test (in 2011) and a big capital injection. Also, the Irish property market although very volatile has a maximum likelihood price change which is positive over the next three years. However the asset class also has considerable “downside” potential and continued high volatility. Conventionally, at least in the case of portfolio risk analysis, the unconditional mean of a stressed variable is set equal to zero for risk analysis purposes. The EBA has chosen to build in a big positive benchmark price rise for Irish property assets, and this is part of the reason that the adverse scenario is unacceptably mild. In any case, this calibration is extremely mild as an adverse scenario and not reassuring for the EU-wide test.

Philippe Legrain on the need for a European spring


Friday, April 25th, 2014

Here. The book on which the article is based is here.

Whose expectations?


Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Anyone else noticing how bad news is always flagged up as being “unexpected” these days?

EC: Annual Growth Survey


Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

A lot of material was published today by the DG FIN in the European Commission including the 2014 Annual Growth Survey and the 2014 Alert Mechanism Report.  These and other documents can be accessed here.

EC Autumn Forecast 2013


Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

All the documents can be accessed from here.

The main figures for Ireland (“rebalancing on track”) are:

Among Euroarea countries six are expected to face a BoP current account deficit in 2014: Estonia, Greece, France, Cyprus, Latvia and Finland.  The largest deficit is expected to be in Estonia at 2.2% of GDP.  On the other side Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia will have a current account surplus of more than 6% of GDP.  The first three will have three-year averages greater than the 6% of GDP threshold set out in the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure.  In aggregate the euroarea is projected to have a current acount surplus of around 3% of GDP for the next two years.

The Spanish public deficit is forecast to increase to 6.5% of GDP in 2015 with France, Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia also projected to have deficits in 2015 over the 3% of GDP threshold for the Excessive Deficit Procedure.  In aggregate the Euroarea is expected to run a public deficit of around 2.5% of GDP for the next two years with public debt steady at around 95% of GDP.

Economic policy: voters versus men in white coats


Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Eurointelligence’s news briefing this morning (the professional edition) had a really excellent comment regarding the news that Jeroen Dijsselbloem is proposing that the stability pact be reformed, so as to link flexibility on deficit correction to “economic reform”. The question is, of course, what constitutes “economic reform.” Says Eurointelligence:

We recall that the expression „economic reforms“ had the exact opposite meaning in the 1970s – a reduction in market liberalism, more regulation, more workers rights. Economic reforms is always a political process. Is Dijsselbloem saying that decision on labour market organisations, for example, should be done at central level, and if not, who decides what reforms are desirable, and what constitutes reform? Say, the Commission enters into a “contract” with a country on certain types of reforms, what would stop a newly elected parliament in that country from breaking such a contract? In German constitutional law, for example, the parliament’s sovereignty would always rank above such contracts. One of the lessons of the eurozone’s short history is that one should not put currently fashionable ideological positions into a treaty or a law.

It is one thing to say that monetary policy should be the preserve of technocrats. You can also make a case that the same should be true of governments’ overall fiscal stances (although as soon as you get into questions of taxation and expenditure, you are beginning to trespass on matters that should properly be dealt with by democratically elected parliaments; and there are also the questions of whether the beurocrats in charge know what they are doing, and whom they are listening to). But the balance between expenditure cuts and tax increases in a deficit reduction programme? The composition of taxes or expenditures in normal times? Microeconomic regulations influencing the balance of power between employers and workers? These are political matters, on which the right and the left have legitimate disagreements (and, besides, economists know a lot less about a lot of this stuff than they sometimes pretend). Sorting out these disagreements is a core function of any modern democracy.

If, as a technical matter, the Eurozone requires at least some degree of fiscal union, and if, as a political matter, a big obstacle to this is citizens’ distrust of “Europe”, then measures which can be seen as attempted power-grabs by the centre at the expense of voters would seem to be directly counter-productive. Not everything in the economic life of a nation is a purely technical matter; we should be trying to convince voters that the Euro, and the EU itself, are compatible with the principle that our votes count for something, and that we can change policies that we don’t like, no matter how “technically desirable” they are thought to be in 2013 by the OECD or IMF or EC or whoever it is. Make the electorate feel disenfranchised, and you play into the hands of the populists.

Google’s Tax Planning


Friday, October 11th, 2013

The Dutch Sandwich and Double Irish figure prominently in this FT article about Google’s tax returns for 2012.
It seems that Google Netherlands Holdings, which represents the Dutch part of the sandwich, received €8.6bn in royalties from Google Ireland Ltd last year.

Aviation policy ‘week’ this November


Friday, October 4th, 2013

This year’s European Aviation Conference takes place at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland on 14 and 15 November. Programme, speakers, booking details and venue are at

Feedback after last year’s event indicated a greater preference for active debate, so almost the entire first day this year is devoted to a moderated discussion between ten invited advocates and critics of airport price regulation. And the 2013 Martin Kunz Memorial Lecture is to be given by the person credited with devising modern price cap regulation, Professor Stephen Littlechild.

HAC 2013 is preceded on Wednesday 13 November by a workshop of the German aviation research society (GARS); the call for papers is here:

Unsated wonks can devote the entire week to aviation policy; IATA holds a two-day discussion on evaluating the economic effects of air transport on Monday and Tuesday 11-12 November in Geneva. Details on the GARS website given above.

New CEPR website


Saturday, July 27th, 2013

The CEPR has a new website accessible here.

Ireland’s (and Britain’s, and Italy’s…) long recession


Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Jeff Frankel has a terrific piece here on the unsatisfactory way in which recessions and recoveries are called in Europe.

The current European definition of a recession (two successive quarters of declining GDP) is particularly unsuitable in Ireland, given its dodgy and volatile GDP statistics — looking at a broader range of indicators over a longer period of time would surely make more sense here.

There is an additional cost to the two-quarter rule of thumb in the Irish and Eurozone context: it implies that Ireland is periodically proclaimed to be out of recession. This then allows Eurozone politicians and central bankers to defend the status quo monetary and fiscal policies prolonging the economic crisis in Ireland and elsewhere. (And to express “surprise” when Ireland tips into recession “again”, despite its model pupil status.)

Update: the CEPR’s Euro area business cycle dating committee does not use the “two-quarter GDP decline” rule of thumb. Details of their methodology are available here.

Du global au local


Thursday, May 16th, 2013

I dare say that readers of this blog do not all subscribe to “Le Petit Écho des Entremonts“, so here is an article I wrote for a forthcoming issue dedicated to the economy.

ECB Policy Responsibilities and Banking System Fragmentation


Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

The Eurozone banking system is not working properly due to fragmentation between core and peripheral banking systems. In a recent speech, the president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, has acknowledged this, but argues that fixing this problem is someone else’s responsibility. The ECB has the tools to address this crucial flaw in the Eurozone system, and over the medium term horizon there is no other Eurozone institution that can. The ECB should use the tools available to fix this market fragmentation, in particular, the ECB should engage in aggressive, long-term asset refinancing on sufficiently generous terms to encourage bank participation. (more…)

Taxation Trends in the EU


Monday, April 29th, 2013

Eurostat have published a news release with some summary tables of taxation trends in the EU.  The data are taken from the 2013 Statistical Book on the same topic.  The section on Ireland in the book opens with the following summary.

At 28.9 % in 2011, the total tax-to-GDP ratio in Ireland is the sixth lowest in the Union and the second lowest in the euro area. In recent years this ratio gradually decreased from a 2006 high of 32.1 %, but has increased again in 2011, apparently on foot of budgetary measures aimed at raising tax receipts.

The taxation structure is characterised by a strong reliance on taxes rather than social contributions. Direct and indirect taxation make up 43.4 % and 39.4 % of the total revenue in 2011 respectively, whereas the social contributions raise only 17.2 % of total tax revenue. The share of social contributions is the second lowest in the EU. The structure of taxation differs considerably from the typical structure of the EU-27, where each item contributes roughly a third of the total. As in the majority of Member States, the largest share of indirect taxes is constituted by VAT receipts, which provide 54.1 % of total indirect taxes (53.3 % for the EU-27). The structure of direct taxation is similar to that found in the EU-27. The shares of personal income taxes and corporate income taxes are in line with the EU-27 average and represent 9.2 % and 2.4 % of GDP. Social contributions represent a meagre 5 % of GDP (second lowest in the Union after Denmark), compared to an EU-27 average of 12.7 %. Employers’ and employees’ contributions are at 3.5 % and 1.3 % of GDP, respectively.

Ireland is one of the most fiscally centralised countries in Europe; local government has only low revenues (3.5 % of tax revenues). The social security fund receives just 16.4 % of tax revenues (EU-27 37.3%), while the vast majority (79.2 %) of tax revenue accrues to central government. This ratio is exceeded only by Malta and the UK.

‘Panic Driven Austerity’


Friday, March 1st, 2013

Paul de Grauwe and Yuemei Ji have an interesting commentary on the causes and effects of austerity here.

Reaping the Benefits of Globalisation: What are the Opportunities and Challenges for Europe and Ireland?


Monday, February 25th, 2013

This Conference, jointly organised with the European Commission, is an associated event of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU. It will present and discuss the main findings of the 2012 edition of the European Competitiveness Report as well as recent related empirical evidence and their implications for industrial and innovation policies in Europe and Ireland. The Conference Programme and more information are available here.

Economic Assessment of the Euro Area


Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

On behalf of the EUROFRAME group of research institutes, the ESRI today published a report entitled “Economic Assessment of the Euro Area”.

Among the findings contained in the report are the following:

·         As a result of relatively weak external demand, continuing financial uncertainty and the contractionary stance of fiscal policy, output fell in the Euro Area in 2012 (-0.5 per cent). Over the course of 2012 there was a slowdown in some key economies, which were previously contributing much of the growth. This slowdown has carryover effects into 2013.

·         Even though we anticipate a recovery in confidence in some major economies over the course of this year, the outcome for the Euro Area as a whole is still likely to be a further limited fall in GDP in 2013 of 0.3 per cent. Weak external demand will not be enough to compensate for the fall in domestic demand.

·         For 2014, a recovery in domestic demand should see a return to significant growth in GDP of around 1.3 per cent. However, this forecast must be considered in the light of the continuing vulnerability to financial shocks of a number of the Euro Area member states.

·         This vulnerability of countries in financial distress is being addressed through a continuing major fiscal adjustment. However, the fiscal adjustment under way across other members of the Area is also having a substantial negative effect on growth, particularly in the crisis countries. Without this fiscal adjustment the Euro Area would be looking to growth this year at around 1½ per cent and next year at approximately 2 per cent.

Globalisation and Industrial Competitiveness


Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The European Competitiveness Report 2012 provides empirical evidence about industrial competitiveness in the post-crisis recession in Ireland and the other EU countries as well as EU’s neighbouring countries. A presentation of the report can be found here.

Inflation in Ireland and the Euro area


Saturday, August 18th, 2012

In an earlier post I drew attention to the extent to which Ireland’s recent apparent competitive gains reflected the weakness of the euro relative to the dollar and sterling.

Another component of competitiveness is, of course, our rate of inflation relative to that of the Euro area as a whole.

It is therefore of interest to put on record the inflation rates in Ireland and in the Euro area since 1999.

This is facilitated by the European Central Bank’s website, from which monthly data on the rate of inflation as measured by the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) may be readily downloaded.

The following Chart tells the story.

It may be seen that for the first five years of the new monetary union Ireland’s inflation rate was – contrary to expectations – significantly higher than the Euro area average.  This resulted in a significant loss of competitiveness relative to the rest of the Euro area.

For the years between 2004 and 2007 our inflation rate behaved as expected in a monetary union and differed little from that of the Euro area average.

During 2009 and 2010 we experienced more deflation than the rest of the Euro area. This helped restore some of the competitiveness we had lost in the early years of membership and the ‘internal devaluation’ was hailed at the time in the belief that it would play a big role in getting the economy moving again.

Since 2010, however, our inflation rate has been climbing back up towards the Euro area average.

It would seem that any further ‘restoration of competitiveness’ will require further weakness of the euro on the foreign exchange markets.

Regaining Competitiveness


Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

The orthodox view is that enhanced competitiveness should play a significant part in Ireland’s (and other euro area countries’) recovery from recession.

In the March 2012 “Review Under the Extended Arrangement” the IMF team states that:

“Ireland’s economy has shown a capacity for export-led growth, aided by significant progress in unwinding past competitiveness losses.” (my italics)

The evidence does indeed point to a significant improvement in Ireland’s competitiveness between 2008 and the present.  The following two graphs show the ECB’s ‘Harmonized  Competitiveness Indicator’ (HCI) based on (a) Consumer Prices and (b) Unit Labour Costs.  (A rising index implies a loss of competitiveness.) Both graphs show a competitive gain since 2008, with second  showing the more dramatic improvement. However, this measure is affected by the changing composition of the labour force, which became smaller but more high-tech as a result of the collapse of many low-productivity sectors during the recession.

Concentrating on the HCI based on the CPI, the Irish competitive gain has still been impressive – our HCI fell 17% between mid-2008 and mid-2012, giving us the largest competitive gain recorded in any of the 17 euro-area countries over these years.  Greece, at the other extreme, recorded no change in its HCI, Portugal fell only 4.5%, Spain 6.6%, Italy 6.8%.  So by this measure Ireland is some PIIG(S)!

However, we need to dig deeper and understand why Ireland’s HCI has fallen so steeply.

Part of the story – the part on which some commentators dwell – is that early in the recession the Irish price level and Irish nominal wages fell. From a peak of 108 in 2008 the Irish Consumer Price Index fell to 100 in January 2010. But it has started to rise again – by mid-2012 it was back up to 105. The fall in the Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices has been even less impressive – from a peak of 110 to a low of 105 and now rising back to its previous peak.

Wages are more important than prices as an index of competitiveness because price indices are influenced by indirect taxes and include many non-traded services and administered prices. But Irish nominal wages tell much the same story as the price indices. The index of hourly earnings in manufacturing peaked around 106 at the end of 2009 (2008 = 100) and then fell to a low of 102 in 2011, where it appears to have stabilized.  Even in the construction sector, where employment collapsed in the wake of the building bust, wage rates declined only 6 per cent between 2008 and 2011.

Falling wages and prices are in line with what many commentators thought would happen after the surge in unemployment in 2008.  Widely-publicized wage cuts in the private and public sectors were seen as part of the ‘internal devaluation’ needed to rescue the Irish economy from the recession.  It was argued that this was the only way we could engineer a reduction in our real exchange rate given our commitment to the euro. (Paul Krugman likes to refer pejoratively to an ‘internal devaluation’ as simply ‘wage cuts’.)

However,  the Irish wage and price deflation has not been very dramatic and seems to have stalled in 2011, even though the unemployment rate continues to climb.

So why has Ireland’s competitiveness improved so sharply since 2008 if the ‘internal devaluation’ has been so modest?  The answer, of course, lies in the behaviour of the euro on world currency markets and the fact that non-euro area trade is much more important for  Ireland than for any other member of the EMU.

This can be seen by looking at the HCI for the euro area as a whole.  The euro area HCI fell from 100 in mid-2008 to 84.7 in mid-2012 – almost as big a fall as was recorded for Ireland and far higher than that recorded in any other euro area country.

The paradox that the euro area HCI has fallen much further than the average (however weighted) of the constituent EMU countries is explained by the fact that for each individual country the HCI is compiled using weights that reflect the structure of that country’s total international trade, but for the euro area as a whole the weights reflect the only the area’s trade with the non-euro world.

In its notes on the series the ECB draws attention to this:

“The purpose of harmonized competitiveness indicators (HCIs) is to provide consistent and comparable measures of euro area countries’ price and cost competitiveness that are also consistent with the real effective exchange rates (EERs) of the euro. The HCIs are constructed using the same methodology and data sources that are used for the euro EERs. While the HCI of a specific country takes into account both intra and extra-euro area trade, however, the euro EERs  are based on extra-euro area trade only.” (my italics)

It is understandable that Ireland should show a large competitive gain by euro area standards as the euro declined on world markets after 2008 because non-euro area trade is far more important to Ireland than to any of the other 16 members of the EMU. A fall in the dollar value of the euro does nothing to make France more competitive relative to Germany, or Greece relative to either of them, but it does a lot for Ireland relative to its two most important trading partners – the UK and the US.

As a consequence, the decline in the value of the euro on world currency markets, and especially relative to sterling and the dollar, has had a much larger effect on our competitiveness than on that of any other euro area country.

The following graph shows the USD / EUR exchange rate and Ireland’s HCI since 2008.  It does not take any econometrics to convince me that the main driving force behind Ireland’s competitive gain has been the weakness of the euro.  Undoubtedly a more sophisticated treatment, including the euro-sterling and other exchange rates of importance to Ireland – duly weighted – would show an even closer co-movement.

This should alert us to the point that Ireland’s much-praised recent competitive gain has been due more to the weakening of the euro on the world currency markets than to domestic wage and price discipline.

No doubt it could also be shown that a significant amount of the loss of competitiveness in the years before 2008 was due to the strength of the euro.

The fault – and the blame – lay not with us but with the far-from-optimal currency arrangement under which we labour.

Continuing gains in  competitiveness would therefore seem to depend more on further euro weakness than on the process of ‘internal devaluation’.  Should this have been a condition of our Agreement with the Troika?

Who will pay for banking losses?


Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The WSJ has a really good piece by Gabriele Steinhauser and Matina Stevis on the core story of the Eurogroup meeting, which seems to have slipped past the domestic media somewhat. Yes, yes, they’ll get to Ireland’s debt in September/October. Grand. The key issue of just who pays for any losses within the ESM is not settled, nor is it likely to be any time soon. From the piece:

Germany’s finance minister said that even once the euro zone’s bailout fund has been authorized to directly recapitalize struggling banks, the lenders’ host government should retain final liability for any losses.

Wolfgang Schäuble’s statement early Tuesday indicated disagreements on how far the currency union needs to go to protect countries from expensive bank failures. His declaration, which followed more than nine hours of talks between euro-zone finance ministers here, clashed with those of other officials, who insisted that banks’ host states wouldn’t have to guarantee any support from the bailout fund.

The issue is hugely important for Spain, which risks being locked out of financial markets amid concerns over how a European bailout for its banks will affect Madrid’s ability to repay investors.

Fun times ahead.