Friday, 14 September 2012

Is the IMF playing ostrich in Ireland?

Since December 2010, Ireland has diligently implemented an adjustment program agreed with the so-called Troika (IMF, ECB and EU). On its 6th review in June 2013, the IMF concluded that: “Ireland’s ownership of the program remains strong and policy implementation has continued to be steadfast despite the considerable challenges. All quantitative targets for the review were met, maintaining the strong performance in earlier reviews. Fiscal, financial, and structural reforms are advancing as envisaged”. Yet, the IMF seems intent on deliberately ignoring its failure (or lying), because it acknowledges in the same report “renewed tensions in the euro area have driven up Irish bond spreads, while growth remains weak and unemployment high”.

Indeed, in terms of both costs and results, the outcome is appalling. Let us look at the results first:

The chart above from the IMF report shows that the borrowing costs are higher than at the start of the program, remain at unsustainable levels and recently have resumed its rising trend. Likewise, the external debt shows no signs of abating, as shown in the next table:

The Irish net external debt position (excluding FDI and Reserves) deteriorated 16.8% (€30 billion) since the start of the program. Moreover, the government takeover of private debts has increased the general government debt from 25% of GDP in 2007 to 108% in 2011 and the IMF forecasts that it will increase to 121% of GDP in 2013.

Finally, let us look at the bank recapitalization. This program was pursued through a staggering increase of Tier I capital to 16%, but it did not solve the banking system solvability and profitability. The IMF table reproduced below shows that equity losses were still 20% in 2011, while the percentage of non-performing loans had increased from 12.1% to 19.5%.

So far for the results!

Unfortunately, the adjustment costs are equally dismal. The following table gives further details:

Suffice to say, Irish production (GNP) is still 11.8% less than it was four years ago and may fall again in 2012. Meanwhile, unemployment has reached 15% and might continue to rise despite a return to massive emigration. For instance, it is estimated that between 1976 and 2011, about 7.5% of native Irish in their twenties emigrated.

With such dismal results obtained at such an appalling cost, one must conclude that the IMF is playing ostrich in Ireland. Indeed, some observers may even wonder whether Ireland will become another Greece. So, it is not too soon to question whether the program is taking too long to work or it is fundamentally flawed.

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