Business Irish

Saturday 21 April 2018

IMF says we need to cap austerity and focus on

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Ireland has been lauded for taking drastic budgetary action regarded as necessary to restore competitiveness and the public finances, but the questions of whether that action has gone too far is increasingly being raised.

The dramatic drop in borrowing costs for the country seen in the near collapse in the "yield", or interest lenders charge Ireland on the markets, is welcome.

But the latest report from the IMF warns that austerity could be hurting rather than helping the situation after economic growth slowed to just 0.2pc over the three months to the end of September.

The warning is a shock to the prevailing consensus, not least for the Government which outlined €3.5bn of tax increases and cost-cutting in the Budget on December 5.

Nurturing growth is essential to restoring the national finances. Without a cut in the overall debt burden, the only way that a country can sustain debts is to grow into them, and it isn't happening.

Borrowing costs are down largely because investors think the Irish economic fundamentals are sound.

It includes a sharp decline in the cost of hiring staff, cuts in the gap between what the state spends versus what it takes in taxes, and stabilising unemployment levels.

On all of those scores Ireland is doing better than its peers, but there is no pay-off in terms of real growth in the economy.

The latest IMF report shows that lack of growth is a frustration for the architects of the Irish bailout, as well as for the population here left to pay off huge debts from an ever-decreasing economic pie.

On paper it shouldn't be happening – Ireland is doing everything asked by the bailout authorities.

In part the problem is caused by issues elsewhere. The IMF said the outlook faces "significant risks" from weakness in key trading partners, as well years of austerity.

Exports rose by just 0.3pc in the third quarter of this year. The IMF now says any additional spending cuts should be put on the long finger if growth continues to disappoint next year.

The message from Washington is that we have done our bit, without relief from Europe on the cost of the banking bailout and without a return to growth. The risk now is that bond yields could start to rise again – it seems we are in uncharted territory.

Irish Independent

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