Wednesday 13 December 2017

Bailout exit: What's all the fuss about?

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde

Colm Kelpie & Donal O'Donovan


Q Yet more fuss. What's it all about now?

The Government had been weighing up the idea of having an overdraft facility in place from Europe and the IMF when we exit the bailout on December 15. The question was whether to accept a €10bn deal that inevitably meant signing up to new terms and conditions, or take the chance and go it alone without a safety net. The Government has decided now not to apply for the loan and we are simply going it alone.

Q But having a safety net in place sounds prudent? Why would they suddenly throw that idea away?

Essentially, now was the time to go it alone, according to Michael Noonan.

Our borrowing costs have fallen to levels even lower than they were before the crisis.

And in the midst of all the speculation in the last few weeks that we wouldn't take an overdraft facility, bond yields didn't budge. The State also has more than €20bn in cash built up, with funding needs next year of up to half that. The Government thinks that's enough of an insurance policy in itself.

Q So this is good news? For the Government, and Mr Noonan, it certainly is. They can now say that the State managed to leave the bailout with enough cash built up to ensure that it could go it alone and on its own two feet. Prepare yourself for lots of sound bites about the State's economic freedom being restored.

For Europe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF, headed up by Christine Lagarde, pictured), it's also a positive. Ireland is the first country to successfully exit an IMF/EU programme, and now it's doing it without any extra support. In effect, they can argue austerity has worked.

Had we taken a credit line, there may have been attempts to impose unpalatable conditions upon the country in return, even if we never used it. One source said any conditions would have been ironed out, but at least that's no longer an issue.

Q Really? With unemployment in excess of 13pc, tens of thousands in mortgage arrears, thousands more emigrating and debt and deficit levels as high as they are, you're not really saying everything is solved?

A: Calm down. Of course not. In reality, yesterday's decision will have little real impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Mr Noonan says our economic freedom has been restored. That's all well and good, but we still have a €67bn bailout debt hanging around our necks. Much remains to be done.

Q Are there loose ends or are we really walking away from the crisis?

The economy is still fragile, unemployment is brutally high and the country is leaving the bailout with a massive national debt.

The next big push is to try and get the bailout pot, European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to take on some of the cost of bailing out the banks.

That would be a trigger for a sharp drop in the cost of the crisis to taxpayers and would be a real boost on the markets, where investors are wary when any country owes more than 100pc of GDP, as we do.

Q Great, when is that happening?

Unfortunately we have been pushing this plan since June 2012, when there was an agreement to break the link between banking debt and the sovereign. So far without success.

There will be a fresh round of stress tests on the banks next year, which could throw up a need for more capital to be pumped into them. If it happens the Government hopes the ESM can pay for it, but even that's not clear yet.

Irish Independent

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