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Irish Economy: Economic fairytales had a lot of currency in Ireland during
the property bubble when it appeared that the free lunch had been invented
thanks to demography. Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), a businessman who was the
first professor of political economy in France, and who is said to have coined
the word entrepreneur (’l'entrepreneur d’industrie’), had bubble-time economist adherents in
Ireland for what is known as Say's law: supply creates its own demand. Today, we
have a new set of fairytales that are as misleading and this week, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) fell for one of them. Headline Irish national
accounts data cannot be taken at face value.
The IMF issued a working paper (such a paper does not reflect the official position of the Fund. Working papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to further debate) : 'Boosting
Competitiveness to Grow Out of Debt—Can Ireland Find a Way Back to Its Future?'
[pdf], which looks at the prospects for Ireland to grow its economy against the
backdrop of high indebtedness. It concludes:
"These findings suggest that Ireland is poised to return to its path of
strong growth and low imbalances, though the road could be bumpy due to ongoing
challenges. Enhanced competitiveness was a key factor in pulling Ireland out
of its high indebtedness of the late 1980s and can play that role again. The
decline in domestic costs registered since the crisis, together with the
associated boost to inward FDI (foreign direct investment), suggests that even with the tepid external
demand currently projected for the medium-tem, Ireland can still register
moderate exports growth and a boost to GDP and fiscal revenue."
The paper notes that exports growth recovered
from negative 3¾% in 2009 to 6¼% and 5% in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
"It has compensated for falling domestic demand, helping subdue the decline in
real GDP to less than one% in 2010 and boost GDP growth to almost 1½% in 2011.
Holton and O’Brien (2011) indicate that the increase in Ireland’s GDP towards
the end of 2010 had been led by the export-oriented MNCs (multinationals), which
tend to be less reliant on domestic banks. This is in line with the finding of
studies suggesting that postcrisis declines in exports tend to be smaller for
large firms and MNCs (Iacovone and Zavacka, 2009)."
IMF economist, says: "The success of Ireland in increasing exports will depend
on domestic policies that can bolster competitiveness."
Foreign firms mainly American are responsible for about 90% of Ireland's tradeable goods and services exports. The main markets are the US, the UK and mainland Europe. English speaking markets dominate indigenous firm trade.
Competitiveness is a factor but the corporate tax regime and facilitation
of significant tax avoidance are the key ones for foreign firms.
So, what are classified as part of Irish FDI
inflows, are in reality held in the United States.
The biggest flight of fantasy is in respect of
The real value of goods exports has been almost
static in the period 2000-2011, but the real value of services exports increased
by 322% and in 2011 accounted for 48% of the value of total exports. However,
there was no increase in total full-time employment in the
internationally tradeable sectors (indigenous and foreign-owned) between 2000
The US-dominated drugs sector, which along with medical devices account for
two-thirds of merchandise exports, has had big gains in ‘output’ but no need for
Numbers in ‘computer services’ have also been unchanged despite huge jumps in
Thirty years after switching policy from
protectionism to promotion of inward foreign investment, Intel, the US chip
giant, announced in 1989 that it would build a plant in Ireland
official report published in 2004 [pdf] said that "over the period
1990-2002, exports by (State) agency-assisted indigenous enterprise grew in
nominal terms at 5.5% per annum (versus 15.9% for foreign-owned companies). When
inflation is taken into account, the real growth in both sales and exports was
In 2002-2011, indigenous
tradeable exports rose 4% annually in current price terms. Industrial production
in traditional industries fell in the period 2001-2010.
So whatever the IMF models produce,
comparing what happened from the late 1980s, which coincided with the US high tech boom, with the outlook today, is not valid.
Mwanza Nkusu, the author of the paper, can’t be really blamed for this (although
it does illustrate the limitations of remote desk-bound analysis) as for example
this week, Central Bank and ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) commentary on booming services exports, avoided
the truth that most of the rise can be attributed to the tax strategies of big
US multinationals. I delicately term the diversion of revenues from other
countries to Ireland that are unrelated to Irish economic activity, as
Google has less than 2,000 employed in Dublin from a 37,000 head count ex-Motorola but
almost half global revenues are booked in Ireland.
A few months ago, Peter Breuer, the IMF’s resident representative in Dublin, was
surprised when I told him that Dell remained Ireland’s biggest merchandise
exporter even though it had moved all its EMEA PC production to Poland in 2008/2009.
In 2011, the share of pharmaceuticals in Irish GDP was just 11%, well below
exports revenues worth 30% of GDP.
The official position aided by business lobby
groups such as the Irish Business and Economic Confederation (IBEC) and The
Irish Exporters Association (IEA) who are funded by the big US multinationals,
is to promote the success of exports even though the FDI and indigenous
exporting sectors created no net jobs in 12 years. The US firms also dominate
the monthly PMI (Purchasing Managers' Index) manufacturing and services
sectors data and services data, even though 'strong' orders received may be
end-user sales in for example Google France, Apple UK (business services revenue for Ireland), Facebook Italy
or Microsoft Germany.
Official unemployment was 75,000 in 2000 and
325,000 at the end of 2012.
Despite all the blather on exports which
exceed 100% of GDP, most jobs are in the non-exporting sectors:
Central Bank economists, Martina Lawless, Fergal McCann and Tara McIndoe Calder,
said in a 2012 paper
“the vast majority of indigenous employment (which makes up 78% of private
sector employment) is still accounted for by traditional sectors such as
Hotels & Restaurants, Wholesale & Retail, Business & Administrative services
and Transport & Storage.
These ﬁgures suggest that, while export growth and export linkages are vital
to modernisation and growth strategies, the
role of the typical domestic-demand driven services economy must not be
overlooked when contemplating strategies for employment creation.”
Joe Durkan and his ESRI team said this week that the balance of payments surplus
is now estimated at €7.8bn in 2012. “The surplus overstates the fundamental
underlying situation as the data are distorted by the inflow of profits from
overseas multinationals which relocated their Head Office to Ireland, but not
any of their productive activities. Their worldwide profits are treated as an
inflow of factor payments to Ireland but these firms pay no profit tax in
Ireland as a result of double tax agreements with other countries where their
productive activities are located. These foreign earnings are to varying extents
not distributed to shareholders of the companies and the effect of this is to
artificially raise GNP and also Gross National Income (GNI) - - the measure which
is used to determine Ireland’s payments to EU funds.”
GNP is set to have increased by 3% in 2012, but is due to fall back by 2% in
2013, before growth of 1.4% in 2014. The underlying change in GNP between 2012
and 2014 is about 0.5% each year.
The jump in affiliates' sales value was reflected in rising Irish
export data without any significant change in jobs added. Reported headcount at US non-bank affiliates in Ireland was 90,500 in 2000
and 93,000 in 2007.
However, the IMF paper says: "Net inward FDI
dynamics fell in the run-up to the crisis, reflecting in part loss of
competitiveness. The stock of net FDI into Ireland, which represented almost
100% of GDP in 2002, fell gradually to less than 20% of GDP by end-2007."
Headline exports should be discounted by about 40% for the IMF working
paper to have more relevance. As for Ireland's PPI (producer price index), the
main factor in changes in monthly manufacturing prices is the USD/EUR rate as
most of the inputs of the dominant foreign sector are priced in dollars.
Headline unit labour cost data is not reliable, irrespective of the official
agency that produces it.
Economic fairytales of
Exports, productivity and investment data (e.g. about 1,000 people
work in the international aircraft leasing sector that has over 3,000
commercial aircraft with an asset value of over €80bn -- about half the value of
GDP), GDP and GNP should not be taken at face value.
Patrick Honohan, governor of the
Irish central bank,
spoke in November 2010 of "the accounting and measurement challenges
that have been presented by the extraordinarily globalized nature of the
Irish economy as it evolved over the years...unit labour costs tend to
fall even if wage costs for any individual firm or industry are
increasing. Because of this shifting composition effect, as has been
well-known for decades, but is routinely forgotten by superficial
analysts, unit labour costs are a false friend in judging
competitiveness developments for Ireland. Measurement and accounting are
of crucial importance at times of structural change. Careful scrutiny is
needed to ensure that policy choices are quantitatively
well-judged...Analysing the distinctive structure of the economy that it
created requires careful analysis of good accounting data, both national
Nevertheless, the Central Bank
Quarterly Bulletin [pdf] issued this past week, ignored the reason for the
jump in services exports and noted that the mainstay of growth in
exports over recent quarters has been the services sector. Services exports accounted for 21% of all exports in 2000,
but as of Q3 2012, are estimated to amount to 50% of
the total. Computer services exports grew at an average rate of
14.6% over the first three quarters of the year while the value
of business services exports was 14.2% higher in the year to Q3
2012 compared to the same period in 2011.These two sectors combined
account for over two-thirds of services exports. Data from the Services
Purchasing Managers Index suggest continued buoyancy in the sector
over recent months although the overall index remains well below
the level recorded in 2007."
It added that "a notable development in the Balance of
Payments statistics during 2012 was the emergence for the first time of
a surplus in the services trade balance."
The Economic and Social Research Institute
said in its Quarterly Economic Commentary that "exports of services in
2012 grew very rapidly. We estimate the growth at 8-9%. This
growth was due primarily to the expansion of
recently established overseas firms in the communications and IT sectors."
This claim is balderdash!
The pattern of recent years is that Google and Microsoft alone have
accounted for over a €4bn rise in Irish reported computer services revenues in a 12
month period - - Google's Irish reported revenue rose €2.3bn
in 2011 and Microsoft posted €2.2bn in respect of its 2010/2011
financial year. Computer services exports were valued at €32bn in
2011 and 28.2bn in 2010.
Apple Ireland is one of Apple's most important overseas
units and is responsible for operations in the world ex the Americas and
China. So business services charges of several billion annually are
likely booked in Ireland.
While fearful of attributing the jump in services exports to tax
strategies, the ESRI does say: "While these exports now
outstrip merchandise exports, there are very significant management
charges associated with their operation, so that the contribution to GNP
per € exported is less than for manufacturing exports from
multinationals. This sector is now driving growth of approximately 4% in exports of goods and services, so that it is as well to
recognise that the domestic impact on the economy of a 1% rise
in exports is now less than a decade ago."
In the High Tech/Life Sciences sectors, there were 104,500
employed in foreign-owned firms in 2002 and 101,800 in 2011; there were
s 29,200 and 29,100 employed in Irish-owned firms, respectively in that
period according to Forfás, a State agency.
Why no jobs added if the exports were real?
Jamie Smyth, Financial Times correspondent in Dublin reported in September
2011: 'Pharma sales help to cure Irish ills'
“'About three-quarters of Irish exports are driven by foreign multinationals. New
companies are coming in, bringing high value jobs, which is standing Ireland in
good stead,' said John Whelan, chief executive of the Irish Exporters
"Ireland’s strong export sector is also drawing favourable comparisons with
Greece and Portugal, the other eurozone states bailed out by the EU and IMF.
"Dermot O’Leary, chief economist with Dublin-based Goodbody Stockbrokers, said
Ireland meets the two conditions required to enjoy an export-led recovery –
having a big enough export sector to spur economic growth and producing goods
other states want.
“'Irish exports are worth over 100% of GDP, compared to less than 30% in Portugal and less than 20% in Greece, while it specialises
in areas such as
pharmaceuticals and computer services,' O’Leary said."
Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, Princeton
University professor of economics and Nobel Laureate
commented on the FT article: "There’s a visible push to claim that recent Irish experience
- - somewhat
better-than-expected growth in the second quarter, rising exports - - vindicates
austerity policies. Here’s a new piece on export growth, trumpeting a rise in
So, some cold water. First of all, eventual recovery after years of
Depression-level unemployment is a strange definition of success. But there’s
also a specifically Irish twist. Pharma accounts for a large share of Irish
exports — but it makes a much smaller contribution to the Irish economy. Partly
that’s because pharma uses a lot of imported inputs, so that it has relatively
low domestic content. Partly that’s because pharma is very capital-intensive,
employing very few people - - and the capital is foreign owned, so that the
contribution to Gross National Product, which deducts income paid to foreigners,
is smaller than the contribution to Gross Domestic Product, which doesn’t.
Indeed, Ireland is one of those countries where you really want to track GNP
rather than GDP to get a sense of how the country is doing."
...balderdash from the Department of
"Support for overall activity is coming from the exporting sectors,
with services exports becoming an increasingly important engine of
growth in recent quarters. This, in no small part, reflects the
improvements in price and cost competitiveness that have been evident
since the onset of the crisis" - - the
Department of Finance conveniently ignored the manna from
heaven that has resulted from MNC tax strategies.
Mid-Term Fiscal Statement November 2012 [pdf]
"Demand from our main export markets was subdued but unit cost
reductions and more favourable exchange rates boosted competitiveness
and enabled firms to grow market share. More businesses have
successfully made the transition from domestic sales to exports and
progress continues in developing new markets.
Manufactured goods exporters suffered most from the Eurozone crisis
and weak demand from the UK; however, the sector has remained incredibly
resilient and has clearly benefited from the restructuring efforts
during the 2008-2010 period. Internationally traded services
businesses remain the main driver of both export and employment growth
for the Irish economy" - - IBEC
January 2013 [pdf]
There are several false statements here.
When exports and output are artificially boosted, the resultant
economy unit labour costs are reduced and become bogus. Prof Honohan,
central bank governor, after all said that unit labour costs tend to
fall in Ireland even if wage costs for any individual firm or industry are increasing. Even if the
actual services figures were reliable, the net benefit would be negated
by patent royalties and inter-firm charges.
I e-mailed John Whelan of the Irish Exporters Association in 2012
following its decision to name Google as Ireland's top exporter of 2011
- - following the diversion of 45% of its global revenues to Ireland.
I wrote: "To declare Google as Ireland's biggest exporter is in the realm of
So companies can divert end-user revenues in foreign markets to Ireland and it
becomes an export?
Look at the crazy revenue per worker and it will be clear how data from Google,
Microsoft and increasingly Facebook, with the purpose of minimising taxes
elsewhere is making fools of policy makers and others in Ireland."
Whelan sent me a cryptic response: "Google employ 1600 people here in Ireland."
There was no point pursuing the issue with a hired
hand of a lobby group.