Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The 2017 Balance of Payments

A few weeks ago the CSO published the 2017 estimates for the Current Account of Ireland’s Balance of Payments.  It got no attention – deservedly so.

Balance of Payments Current Account Annual

Up to recent years most of the impact of MNCs on Ireland’s Current Account largely netted out.  This wasn’t the case for redomiciled PLCs and their retained earning have been flattering the current account since these corporate relocations first had an impact in it around a decade ago.  The impact of aircraft leasing has been growing over the same period and since 2015 the acquisition and depreciation of intangible assets has been source of the recent major volatility in the data.

As we have been tracking there also seems to be an issue about the treatment of expenditure on R&D services in the Balance of Payments.  Although changes in both national accounting methodology (ESA2010) and balance of payments methodology (BPM6) now mean that R&D spending is considered investment rather than intermediate consumption, implementation delays across the EU mean the spending on R&D services is still treated as intermediate consumption for balance of payments purposes.  This means that the amount of outbound profit is lower than it otherwise might be if such expenditure was treated as investment (i.e. the use of reinvested profits) rather than a cost (i.e. something that reduces profits).

The CSO publish a modified Current Account, CA*, that now takes account of all of these issues except that relating to R&D services.  This has yet to be updated for 2017 so the available figures only go as far as 2016.

Balance of Payments Modified Current Account Annual

This is better but the improvements in recent years seem a little hot with a surplus of €13 billion reported for 2016.  Some of the heat may be taken out of this if the treatment of spending on R&D spending is updated.  This isn’t a Irish-specific modification per se but will see the Irish estimates move more in line with the approach set out in the updated methodology. 

We can try to assess the possible impact this will have by using the figures for R&D services imports that can be derived from the various categories of investment now provided by the CSO in the quarterly national accounts.  At present the spending on imported R&D services of MNCs is treated as coming from “Irish” income. 

It would be better if this were regarded as “foreign” income and thus treated as an outflow of retained earnings in the current account and counted as inflow of direct investment in the capital account.  The net effect of this on the overall accounts will be zero but the changed treatment will better reflect the ownership of the income used to fund the R&D services investment spending.  Thus there will be higher profit outflows in the current account and higher investment inflows in the capital account. 

Balance of Payments Underlying Current Account Annual

This is possibly what the modified current account, CA*, will look like in due course and seems to provide a narrative that fits with the overall story of the Irish economy over the past 15 years or so.  It still doesn’t go to 2017 as we have details on very few of the adjustments that are necessary but it would not be a surprise if the improvements shown for recent years continued.

Although there are a huge number of moving parts with large offsetting flows here are some factors which may have helped achieve that improvement.

1) The amount of interest payable on public debt to non-residents has been falling since 2014.  Figures for 2017 haven’t been released yet but that downward trend is likely to have continued.

GG Debt Interest Payable Outside the State Nominal

2) Corporation Tax receipts have surged in recent years and around 80 per cent of Irish Corporation Tax paid by foreign-owned companies.  This increases the amount MNCs are contributing to Ireland’s national income and boosts the current account.

Corporation Tax Receipts 2003-2017

3) On the domestic side food exports have performed well though a large part of this is due to price effects rather than volume increases.  Ireland’s balance of trade in food reached €4 billion in 2017

Balance of Trade in Food

And a large part of the improvement in 2017 was driven by developments in dairy with the higher price of milk seen in 2017 adding significantly to incomes.

Balance of Trade in Dairy Products

4) Revenues from international transport are counted as an export for the country the operator is resident in.  Unsurprisingly, Ireland runs a large surplus for transport services with most of this being international air transport around the EU (though imports in other categories will obviously reduce the overall impact on the current account).

Balance of Trade in Transport Services

5) And finally here’s one that had been helping up to 2015 (or at least making a less negative contribution) but since then spending by Irish residents on tourism services abroad (mainly accommodation and food services) has been growing at much the same rate as such spending by non-residents in Ireland.

Balance of Trade in Tourism Services

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