independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Splurge in spending and debt levels raises new questions on bailout exit

Minister Michael Noonan
Minister Michael Noonan

GOVERNMENT spending and debt levels both jumped in the first months of 2013 to levels well in excess of annual troika targets.

If these figures are not reduced over the rest of the year, Ireland will have failed to meet the targets required by the EU and IMF, in the same year that it attempts to leave the bailout programme.

The State spent €5.84bn more than it earned between January and March, hit by payments related to the liquidation of bad bank IBRC as well as interest paid out on the country's loans.

This resulted in a quarterly budget deficit amounting to 13.8pc of gross domestic product (GDP). The troika requires Ireland to reduce this to 7.4pc over the whole of 2013.

"The figures don't look great but I'd still be very surprised if the Government doesn't meet its targets this year," said Alan McQuaid of Merrion Stockbrokers.

"This, of all years, is not the time to mess around, and they know it. If they have to they will reduce spending."

The bad news comes as the head of the State's debt management agency said the markets would react favourably if the Government applied for a precautionary credit line when it leaves the bailout at the end of the year.

Recession

Last year the Government comfortably hit its budget deficit target of 8.6pc, coming in well below at 7.6pc, but the country lurched back into recession at the start of this year.

Total State debts also jumped between January and March, up €11.6bn in just three months to €204.1bn.

These debts now amount to 125.1pc of GDP, a record high, up from 117.4pc at the end of 2012.

The target imposed by the troika is 123pc. Officials predicted it would peak in 2013 and decline afterwards. The EU average is around 85pc.

Improved tax take and exports in the second half of 2013 may provide some respite. November is the State's most lucrative month for taxes, since self-employed people file their returns in that month.

There is also room for exports to improve following several months of substandard results.

"Exports are the key thing for GDP, and they have been poor in the last few quarters," said Mr McQuaid.

But Irish exports are hugely dependent on the pharmaceutical industry, which has been hit after a number of drugs produced here lost their patents.

Credit

Meanwhile, the NTMA said Ireland was funded for more than a year from the end of this year, when it is due to leave the bailout and will have to fund itself on the money markets on a full-time basis.

Chief executive John Corrigan, however, accepted that the markets would like the country to apply for a precautionary credit line, a safety net of sorts, when the State leaves the bailout at the end of the year.

"I think it is a general sense that market participants would like us to have the safety net of a precautionary programme," Mr Corrigan said.

Mr Noonan said the Government had been "tossing ideas around" with the IMF, the European Commission and ECB.

"What I would like to see is a backstop arrangement, which would give additional confidence to the markets. Preferably a backstop arrangement we would never actually use."

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