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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Jun 16, 2015 - 4:07 PM

Ireland and leaving the Euro: 10 questions for pub-stool economists
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jun 22, 2010 - 6:53 AM

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Green: EU countries using the euro: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain

Mauve: EU countries not using the euro

Ireland and leaving the Euro: During times of crises, there is generally no drought in easy panaceas and while true believers will never be convinced by inconvenient truths, we nevertheless outline an number of questions that should be posed to the proverbial pub-stool economists.

We have said previously that while the EMU (European Monetary Union) has been a success, it is clear that the criteria for entry have been too low. Countries with weak governance systems; economies with deep structural flaws and a weak central surveillance system, coincident with an international credit boom, have seen increased living standards alongside unsustainable debt. Now, in the absence of the devaluation tool, it can seem like the Eagles' famous 1977 hit: "Hotel California" - - "You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave!"

Last week, we outlined why in reality, there is next to no chance that the Eurozone will break up as a result of the current economic crisis in Europe or as a result of a probable Greek sovereign default. There are several reasons why. SEE: The Euro: Despite the markets and prophets of doom, the common currency is safer than ever

The following are 10 questions for pub-stool economists:

1. Does leaving the euro imply leaving the European Union? It appears so as EU citizens' ultimate Court of Appeal is the European Court of Justice and within the EU, a citizen would have a right to object to contracts in euro arbitrarily changed to another currency.

2. Why are advocates of leaving silent about the inevitable turmoil and logistics that would follow a decision to revert to a new national currency? How would a siege economy work with exchange controls to prevent movement of funds overseas?

Would the key foreign-owned sector of the economy be subject to the same rules as residents?

It would take months to switch-over to a new currency and a fragile economy would sink amidst market mayhem, widespread economic dislocation and uncertainty.

The biggest Irish companies such as CRH and Ryanair would move overseas and the banking system would move from the respirator to the graveyard.

4. Would the public debt owed to foreign lenders be subject to a default or still payable in euros?

5. Why would devaluation help Ireland when most exports are made by the foreign-owned sector; import content is high and the majority of the trade is within multinational companies?

The majority of Iceland's goods trade is its own fishing resources i.e no import content

6. Sterling's trade-weighted exchange rate has fallen about 25% in the past 3 years. So why is the UK not experiencing an export boom compared with say Germany?

Advocates of devaluation generally ignore the reality that much of the claimed benefit arises when there is a positive international environment.

Even where a commodity producer gains via a devaluation, unless there is internal economic reform, advantages are generally short-lived.

Greece devalued the drachma twice in the 1980s and its key structural problems remained.

Selling finished goods and opening up new markets is a much bigger challenge than just price. Ask someone with experience of exporting not an armchair "expert."

In the case of Greece and most other Mediterranean Eurozone members (with Italy as the partial exception) large export gains from even a big competitive devaluation look very unlikely.

7. After each devaluation, inflationary risks rapidly appear, which require more monetary tightening than would be the case within the euro. What level of interest rate would  offset the short-term benefit of devaluation?

Expectations of further devaluations would arise, increasing both interest-risk, currency-risk and country-risk premiums.

8. How much was the export boom in the 1990s attributable to the huge influx of US direct investment (Intel, HP, Dell etc) or was the 10% devaluation of the punt in 1993 the main factor?

It would be the height of economic illiteracy to claim that the punt devaluation was the key issue.

9. How much did Irish government bond spreads widen after the 1993 devaluation? What premium would foreign lenders require after leaving the euro?

We would simply be locked out of international debt markets for years.

10. Why would it benefit Ireland long-term to abandon its biggest market?

The Eurozone is Ireland's biggest market and it has been largely unexploited by indigenous Irish firms.

We hear of the problems of "peripheral" countries, but the Baltic republics are eager to join and Poland, one of Europe's successful emerging economies, may be in the EMU by 2015.

Apart from rejecting its biggest market, absent the liquidity support of the ECB, why would the IMF be a more benign supporter?

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