Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Does Ireland really have the lowest per capita consumption of housing in the EU15?

Last week Eurostat published their first estimate of Actual Individual Consumption for 2018.  What is unusual about AIC from an Irish perspective is that it is one of the few national accounting aggregates that Ireland comes below the EU average in per capita terms.  Here is the volume of AIC per capita in the EU15 countries relative to the aggregate level of the EU15.

There is Ireland down towards the bottom with a level equal to 88 per cent of the outcome for the EU15 as a whole.   By this measure Irish per capital consumption of goods and services is below that of Italy. 

A further thing worth noting about Ireland’s AIC is how little it has improved relative to the rest of the EU15 during the recovery.  The drop after the crash in 2008 is not surprising but, as shown in the chart below, Ireland’s real AIC per capita was 89 per cent of the EU15 level in 2012 and was actually lower in 2018 when it was measured to be 88 per cent of the EU15 level.  And this is pretty much where it was back in the late 1990s.

If the recovery is as strong as almost all measures seem to suggest why is it not showing up in real AIC per capita?  Here are the components of consumption for a selection of years (again all figures are relative to the EU15 level which is set to 100).

For most of the components Ireland has improved relative to the EU15 level since 2012 including household furnishings (70% to 83%), transport (94% to 102%), communication (91% to 94%), recreation (60% to 72%) and restaurants and hotels (incl. pubs) (134% to 145%).

Of the components going in the other direction, housing shows the largest fall going to 92 per cent of the EU15 level in 2012 to 78 per cent in 2018.  And what happens to this component is important as housing is actually the largest component of AIC.

Here are the nominal and real values for each component in aggregate and per capita terms using Eurostat’s price level indices for Ireland in 2018. 

The final column gives the share of each component in the aggregate and shows that, at 17.5 per cent of the total, consumption of housing services is the largest component of AIC. This was 21 per cent in 2012.  These changes suggest it is worth looking at Ireland’s consumption of housing services. 

In the context of real AIC per capita, it can be seen that the housing component rose from 78 per cent of the EU15 level in the mid-1990s to around 95 per cent of the EU15 level just before the crash and the recent relative fall has seen it return to 78 per cent of the EU15 level.  Let’s look at some ways to try and explain this.

First, here it is in aggregate terms using constant (2010) prices.

Perhaps surprisingly this shows that our aggregate consumption of housing services has fallen in the past few years and in 2017 was six per cent lower than the level from 2011.  In per capita terms, the reduction is larger due to the growing population.  Compared to 2011, our per capita consumption of housing services is around 10 per cent lower. 

Why has our measured level of consumption of housing services fallen?  It is hard to know.  There has been very limited additions to the housing stock since 2010 but it has not fallen.  Here are the gross and net (after depreciation) stocks of dwellings since 2010.

When looking at the consumption of housing we see that, in real terms, there has been a drop in imputed rentals (which are imputed for owner-occupied and vacant dwellings).  This has only been partially offset by a rise in actual rentals for dwellings with tenants.

Again, we are left with the question as to why imputed rentals have fallen by ten per cent in real terms since 2011.  Yes, some additional units may have become occupied by tenants but, at best, that offsets only one-third of the fall in imputed rentals.

A consequence of this fall is that Ireland now has the lowest real per capita consumption of housing services in the EU15.

There we are, right down at the bottom, only getting ahead of Portugal on alphabetical order.  Housing consumption per capita in Italy is almost 40 per cent higher than in Ireland which goes a long way towards explain the relative position of each in the very first table above.

Here are a couple of outtakes from the SILC that seem to belie our low level of measured housing consumption (with the relative positions of Ireland and Italy worth looking at).

So we have more rooms, less overcrowding and more under-occupied housing then the rest of the EU15.  Yes, there is a difference in coverage.  These figures are from a survey done at household level rather than the aggregate approach based on the capital stock of dwellings taken for the national accounting statistics.

And it is not necessarily the case that houses represent more housing than other types of dwelling but we have more people living in houses than in any other country in the EU15.

And further we have one of the lowest shares in the EU15 of people experiencing severe housing deprivation (again note position of Italy):

OK, again, these might be measuring different things but it still is somewhat incongruous with our position of having the lowest per capita real consumption of the housing services in the EU15.

There could be lots of things going on (vacancy rates, prices, start point bias etc.) but given that Actual Individual Consumption is potentially a useful national accounts measure, not least because it is not distorted by the activities of MNCs, it would be good to have confidence in it.  At present, it says that Italy’s per capita consumption of housing is 40 per higher than Ireland’s which doesn’t instill such confidence.

Friday, April 19, 2019

What do we do with €112 billion of annual savings?


Last week the CSO published the Q4 update of the (non-financial) Institutional Sector Accounts.  These are a great source of information on what is happening in the economy but are terribly difficult to navigate.

Here is a summary of the aggregated current account (Q1 to Q4 2018) by sector. Click to enlarge.


The starting point is the first estimate of nominal GDP for 2018 which is €318.5 billion.  Looking across by sector we can see where this is generated and the clear domination of the non-financial corporate sector in Ireland’s GDP figure (which in turn is dominated by foreign-owned MNCs). The final column gives the flows with the rest of the world. Figures in parenthesis are amounts paid by the relevant sector.

Deducting wages paid and adjusting for taxes paid and subsidies received on products and production gets us to Gross Operating Surplus/Mixed Income.  For the household sector, mixed income is a combination of the earnings of independent traders (the self-employed) and the rent that owner-occupied are imputed to pay themselves (this income is deducted as consumption later down the table so the bottom line is unchanged).  As with GDP, the main generator of GOS in the economy is the NFC sector.

Adding wages received, adjusting for taxes received and subsidies paid on products and production, and accounting for property income paid and received (mainly interest and dividends among others) gets is to Gross National Income.

The move from Gross National Income to Gross Disposable Income is done by adjusting for taxes and transfers.  Most of this are inter-sector flows with payments by one sector being receipts of another.  For example, income taxes paid by households and companies go to the government sector (some minor cross-border flows notwithstanding). 
GDI is a couple of billion lower than GNI because of some cross-border transfer flows.  The rest of the world received about €5 billion more under "Other Current Transfers" from Ireland than Ireland receives from abroad under this heading - €9.5 billion out versus €4.5 billion in. 

Some of this has to do with Ireland’s foreign-aid budget and other transfers.  A large part of it is made up of Ireland’s contribution to the EU budget but it should be noted that earlier in the table the €1.6 billion of "Subsides Paid" from the rest of the word mainly come from the EU and these make up the bulk of the €1.5 billion of "Subsidies Received" by the household sector (agriculture).

Anyway, by this point we have a total economy Gross Disposable Income of €248 billion, of which we use “only" €136 billion on consumption.  That leaves us with Gross Savings of €112 billion and the breakdown by sector can be seen in the bottom row. 

To see what we did with this we turn to the capital account.  Again click to enlarge.


The first panel of the table gives the change in net worth by taking into account capital taxes and transfers and consumption of fixed capital (depreciation on existing assets).

The second panel shows what happened to gross savings and it can be seen that we did €82.8 billion of gross capital formation on produced capital assets and had net purchases of €22.5 billion of non-produced assets (such as marketing assets and customer lists).  That left the economy in a net lending position of €6.6 billion for 2018 (with this €6.6 billion being borrowed by the rest of the world).

The continued deleveraging of the household sector is evident in its net lending position of €5.5 billion.  This will have been, in part, used to repay debt and the household sector has significantly reduced its outstanding debt over the past decade.  The government sector had close to a balanced position in 2018 so, unlike the household sector, did not have a surplus to reduce its debt.

The big figures are again in the NFC sector with €83 billion of Gross Savings fully offset by €62 billion of investment in produced capital assets (gross capital formation) and €22 billion of net acquisitions of non-produced assets giving a net borrowing position of €1 billion.
This relatively modest outcome at an aggregate level probably belies significant changes within the sector.  It is highly unlikely that the companies with the €83 billion of Gross Savings were the companies that invested €84 billion in assets.  The companies with the savings would have used that to reduce their debts (built up when acquiring assets, including intangible assets, in earlier years) while those acquiring assets in 2018 would have funded that by new borrowing of their own.  So while the accounts might show €112 billion of Gross Savings most of it is the result of MNC activities and is not ours to spend.

It is probably a little more than a coincidence that the numbers in the NFC sector were so close in 2018 giving a net outcome of "just" minus €1 billion.  And, it should be noted, that these are just the first estimates.  Things could be very different when the National Income and Expenditure results are published during the summer.  We saw this for the 2015 results though such changes are largely limited to the NFC sector.

The previous compositional issue is also true for the household sector, though on a smaller scale.  While the household sector had net lending of €5.5 billion, repayments against existing debt would have been much larger than this, possibly twice as large.  Those in the household sector who undertook investment (which is mainly on houses) could have funded this with new borrowing.  The balance of repayments on existing debt and new borrowing for investment gives the overall net lending position of €5.5 billion.

This is a Gross Saving that is ours to spend.  Eventually the deleveraging will stop.  Whether that leads to an increase in consumption or investment is hard to tell.  The vulnerable position of the government sector probably means that some caution in the household sector is warranted but whether this caution will persist remains to be seen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Housing Costs in the SILC

Eurostat’s Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) have lots of household-level data.  Here we will look at outcomes related to housing costs and look for the impact of the ongoing difficulties with housing in Ireland in the data. 

We’ll start with what Eurostat call “total housing costs” as a share of disposable income.

EU15 SILC Housing Costs to Disposable Income 2004-2017

In 2017, Ireland had the lowest “total housing costs” as a share of disposable income in the EU15.  In Ireland, the average share of housing costs was 16.1 per cent of disposable income in 2017 and this has been falling slightly in recent years, i.e. household disposable income is growing faster than housing costs – on average across all households. 

The picture isn’t much different if we look at the median instead of the average with Ireland again being towards the bottom.

EU15 SILC Median of the Housing Cost Burden 2004-2017

In 2017, in Ireland the median housing cost burden was 11.3 per cent of disposable income.  Half of households had a housing cost burden as a share of disposable income that was less than this.

Of course, we would like to know what is included in “total housing costs” used as the numerator in the above charts.  The details are provided here.  For all tenure types it includes the following if they are paid by the occupant:

  • Structural insurance,
  • Mandatory services and charges (sewage removal, refuse removal, etc.),
  • Regular maintenance and repairs,
  • Taxes, and
  • The cost of utilities (water, electricity, gas and heating).

For all tenure types housing costs are considered gross of any housing benefits (i.e. housing benefits should not be deducted from the total housing cost), then for each tenure type it also includes:

OWNERS: Mortgage interest payments, net of any tax relief

TENANTS at market price: Rent payments

TENANTS at reduced price: Rent payments

The most notable thing is that principal repayments on mortgages are not included as part of “total housing cost”.  In part, this reflects the element of choice involved.  If two borrowers take out identical mortgages except one is over 15 years and one is over 25 years it is not appropriate to consider that the household with the shorter term has higher housing costs – they have a higher savings rate.  Of course, the degree to which households have control over the pace of capital reduction on their mortgage may not make it a matter of choice at all.

There will also be differences across countries where borrowers in some countries tend not to make ongoing capital repayments which may be a factor in explaining why countries such as  The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark are so high in the previous charts.  Capital repayments also increase the equity the household has in the property so aren’t a consumption expense.

Thus, it could be argued that this measure of “total housing costs” doesn’t give a full picture of housing costs but rather is the answer to a question that seeks to find something that is consistent across households and countries and not subject to change due to choices or preferences.  The size and length of mortgage payments will still be picked up through the interest component of “total housing costs”.

It would be useful if “total housing costs” as a share of disposable income was provided by tenure status but it does not seem to be available.  It is, however, provided in Purchasing Power Standard (PPS) units for “owners” and “tenants”.

EU15 SILC Owners Total Housing Costs in PPS 2004-2017

EU15 SILC Tenants Total Housing Costs in PPS 2004-2017

It would be useful if owners were broken down by those with a mortgage or loan and those with none, and if tenants were broken down by those paying the market price and those paying a reduced price.  This is particularly true for Ireland where there are more tenants paying rent at a reduced price then at the market price.

The chart for tenants above shows housing costs rising in recent years. This was around two per cent a year up to 2016 but accelerated to 4.5 per cent in 2017.  This will likely be dampened by the presence of tenants paying a reduced price (such as to local authorities and housing bodies) in the cohort so we could expect the increase for those paying at the market rate to be higher.

Eurostat also provide the share of rent in disposable income for tenants.  Again, it is for all tenants so both those paying a reduced price and the market price will be included.  As a share of the average disposable income of renters, Ireland has the third-lowest average rents in the EU15.  However, Ireland had been the lowest up to 2017 but lost this position due to the increase in rents highlighted above.

EU15 SILC Share of Rent in Disposable Income 2004-2017

Eurostat measure the housing cost overburden rate as being the share of population living in households where total housing costs (as defined above) exceeds 40 per cent of household disposable income.  In 2017, Ireland had the second lowest housing cost overburden rate in the EU15, with only Finland having a (slightly) lower rate.

EU15 SILC Housing Cost Overburden Rate 2004-2017

Ireland might have the next-to-lowest level for all households but as with most of these measures there is plenty going on under the surface.  Here is the 2017 breakdown of the housing cost overburden rate by tenure status.

EU15 SILC Housing Cost Overburden Rate by Tenure Status 2017 Table

Ireland’s overall rate might be 4.5 per cent but for tenants with rent at the market price the housing cost overburden rate is 21.5 per cent putting Ireland sixth-lowest in this category in the EU15.  Thus, just under one-fifth of tenants paying market rates had “total housing costs” in excess of 40 per cent of their disposable income.  As shown in the chart below tenants paying market price has always being the tenure status with the highest housing cost overburden rate in Ireland.

SILC Housing Cost Overburden Rate by Tenure Status in Ireland 2004 to 2017

It may also be surprising how little this is changed over period shown, though there is now a noticeable upward trend since 2013.  It has gone from 16.6 per cent  in 2013 to 21.5 per cent in 2017.

The picture is much the same if we reduce the threshold.  The next chart looks at the share of the population by tenure status where “total housing costs” exceed a lower threshold of 25 per cent of disposable income.  Again, tenants paying the market rate fare worst but here the increase is only visible after 2015 and at 60 per cent in 2017 is the highest in the series.

SILC Housing Cost Burden greater than 25pc of Disposable Income in Ireland 2004 to 2017

And, just for completeness here is a chart of the housing cost overburden rate (40 per cent of income threshold) for tenants renting at the market price across the EU15.  Ireland, has generally had one of the lower housing costs overburden rates for tenants paying market rates since 2004, but, though still near the bottom, Ireland’s relative position has been moving upwards in recent years.

EU15 SILC Tenants Housing Cost Burden more than 40pc of Disposable Income 2004-2017

Next, is the housing cost overburden rate for households that are at-risk-of-poverty, i.e. those with an equivalised disposable income of less than 60 per cent of the median.  Again, this is another instance where Ireland is near best-in-class in the EU15, with only Finland again having a slightly lower rate.

EU15 SILC Housing Cost Overburden Rate AROP Households 2004-2017

Ireland’s position in the above chart indicates that Irish households who are at-risk-of-poverty have to devote a lower share of their disposable income to housing costs than in other countries.  For example, in Denmark around 80 per cent of households who are at-risk-of-poverty have housing costs that are greater than 40 per cent of their disposable income.  And, the more income that has to go on housing costs the less there is for other items of consumption.

To explore this further, Eurostat also calculate an at-risk-of-poverty rate that deducts “total housing costs” from household disposable income.  This uses the standard at-risk-of-poverty threshold, i.e. 60 per cent of the national median equivalised disposable income, but compares it to household income after housing costs have been subtracted from it which can give an indication of what is available to spend on items other than housing.

EU15 SILC AROP after Housing Costs 2004-2017 2

Using this approach Ireland had the fourth-lowest at-risk-of-poverty rate in the EU15 in 2017.  Housing costs include rents at the market price but this has not resulted in any noticeable increase in this measure and, in fact, has declined slightly in the past few years.

As “total housing costs” used to calculate the above shares and rates excludes capital repayments on mortgages it may be that the calculations and ratios do not give a full insight into housing costs.  To this end, participants in the SILC are asked to assess the “financial burden” of their housing costs on the scale of give their view of whether it is:

  • a heavy financial burden,
  • a financial burden, or
  • not a financial burden.

Eurostat’s notes tell us that here a broader approach is to be taken to housing costs when this more subjective view of housing costs is being assessed:

With regard to the calculation of the financial burden of the total housing cost, the following methodological issues should be taken into consideration:

  • The objective is to assess the respondent feeling about the extent to which housing costs are a financial burden to the household.
  • Total mortgage repayment including instalment and interest is to be taken into account for owners and actual rent for renters. In addition, service charges (sewage removal, refuse removal, regular maintenance, repairs and other charges) are to be considered.

Here is the share of people living in households who consider the impact of their housing costs (including capital repayments on mortgages) to be a heavy financial burden.

EU15 SILC Financial Burden of the Total Housing Cost 2004-2017

This is likely closer to what we expect for Ireland. The share of people living in households who assessed that they were experiencing a heavy financial burden due to housing costs increased after 2007 and reached 43.3 per cent by 2013. It has since fallen back and was down to 28.4 per cent in 2017, though still the seventh highest in the EU15 – Ireland’s relative position was fourth highest in 2013.  However, as this is a subjective measure such cross-country comparisons may not be entirely valid.  Still, the individual trend for Ireland is revealing and the 2017 level is close to the levels seen from 2004 to 2007.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Reducing the legacy debts of the credit bubble

The information provided in the annual accounts of the banks allows us to observe developments in the remaining stock of debt from the loans that were issued during the credit bubble.  For example, here are Bank of Ireland’s mortgages (PDH and BTL) by year of origination with the data going back to 2011, the first year such information was provided.

BOI Mortgages Outstanding 2018

Between the end of 2011 and the end of 2018 BOI’s stock of mortgages decreased by 15 per cent – from €27.9 billion to €23.7 billion.  However, this headline figure masks what is happening within the loan book and new loans issued each year replace those which are repaid.  The reduction in loans originating in 2011 or earlier is much greater.

At the end of 2011, BOI had €20.0 billion of mortgages that originated between 2004 and 2008, the peak years of the credit bubble.  By the end of 2018, the amount of mortgages issued in that five-year period had reduced to €11.1 billion.  This is a reduction of €9 billion or 45 per cent over the seven years. 

And that is only since 2011.  If the figures were available for earlier years they would show that well over half of the mortgage debt issued by BOI between 2004 and 2008 no longer exists.

Of course, this may overstate the reduction in debt for individual households as many may have remortgaged because, for example, they moved house.  At the end 2011, BOI had 115,000 mortgage accounts that were issued between 2004 and 2008. By the end of 2018 this number had fallen to 85,500.

We can use the number of accounts to get an average outstanding balance for each year.

BOI Mortgages Average Balance 2018

This shows that from the end of 2011 to the end of 2018, the average balance on the remaining mortgages issued between 2004 and 2008 fell by between 24 and 30 per cent.  This is not a like-for-like comparison each year as the average is calculated using only the number of mortgages which remain on the bank's balance sheet; mortgages which are repaid in full or replaced due to remortgages are not included. 

The figures above, though, probably give a good indication of what is happened to mortgages that are being reduced with regular monthly repayments.  For example, at the end of 2011, the 24,000 mortgages BOI has which it had issued in 2007 had an average balance of just over €200,000.  By the end of 2018, the number of these mortgages had fallen to 19,000 and the average balance of those remaining was €148,000 – a reduction of 26 per cent (and that is since the end of 2011 not the point of origination).

Whichever way we look at it – remaining stock or average balance – it can be seen that the legacy debts of the credit bubble have been significantly reduced.  They will have a long tail but, for BOI mortgages at least, we are probably passed the half life.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Do we need another SSIA scheme?

IBEC have joined a number of recent calls for the introduction of an SSIA-type scheme for Irish households.  The various proposals are usually accompanied by claims that such a scheme should be counter-cyclical and can help prevent the economy “overheating”.  Given that the previous scheme ran from May 2001 to April 2007 corresponded to the build up of unsustainable levels of economic activity it may be hard to find support for such claims.  And it may be that such a scheme simply ends up being a transfer to those who can save.

To assess the impact, if any, of the previous SSIA scheme and whether we need one now let’s look at some outcomes for the household sector.  First, the gross savings rate.  This is essentially the share of gross disposable income that is not used for consumption (i.e. current expenditure).

Household Sector Gross Savings Rate 2001-2018

This offers some support for the thesis that such schemes can take money out of the economy.  The gross savings rate rose from around six per cent in 2001/02 to around ten per cent by 2005.  But then the savings fell in 2006/07 when overheating pressures reached their peak.  It is possible that the timing of contributions and maturities of the SSIAs played a role in these outcomes.

It is also worth noting that even without an SSIA-type scheme we have seen a significant rise in the gross savings rate in recent years.  During 2018, the savings rate averaged almost 12 per cent.  This compares to an average of around eight percent for the period 2003 to 2006.  And here is where we stand relative to most of the EU15 (Greece and Luxembourg are excluded):

EU15 Household Sector Gross Saving Rate

Ireland’s current gross savings rate is pretty much in the middle.  It is not clear that it needs to be higher.  And do we need to incentivise something that is already happening?

Of course, the current account only gives a partial impact of a sectors impact on the economy – we need to look at the capital account as well.  The bottom line for a sector is the amount of net lending/borrowing it does.  This is the final outcome after all earnings, taxes, transfers and spending have been accounted for by adding capital flows to the current flows that are used to get the savings rate.  And it is on the bottom line that we see where the action was:

Household Sector Net Lending-Borrowing 2001-2018

The 2001 to 2007 SSIA scheme might have been taking some money out in the current account but once we add in what was happening in the capital account we can see that the household sector was a net borrower and that this increased during the period.  It is very likely that some of the income that was considered “saving” in the current account only arose because of the significant borrowing shown above in the capital account. 

In 2001, for every €100 of disposable income that the household sector had it, had total spending (current plus capital) of around €110. By 2006, household spending was more than €120 for every €100 of income (with some of this fueled by maturing SSIAs).  The borrowing came to a shuddering halt in 2008 and for the past decade total spending has been around €95 for every €100 of income.  The Irish household sector has been a net lender and, in aggregate terms, this has averaged around €5 billion a year for the past decade or so.

This impact of this borrowing and lending can clearly be seen in the household sector balance sheet:

Household Sector Loans and Deposits 2002-2018 CB Data

There was a huge run-up in household sector loan liabilities up to 2008, reaching a peak of €204 billion.  Since then, the net lending has led to deleveraging with a loan liabilities reducing to €138 billion by the third quarter of 2018.  At the same time, household deposits have been increasing and during 2018 actually exceeded household loans for the first time since 2002. 

It has been a remarkable improvement in the aggregate balance sheet of the Irish household sector.  That this deleveraging, which ought to have been a drag on growth, coincided with a resurgent economy is even more remarkable.

And here is Ireland’s household sector net lending/borrowing relative to the rest of the EU15 (with only Luxembourg excluded in this instance).

EU15 Household Net Lending-Borrowing

As of 2018, the Irish household sector has the third highest net lending rate in the EU15.  Maybe we could look for a change in the composition of that lending.  This could happen as the debts of the credit bubble are paid off and households may switch to something like increased pension saving.

But, it is doubtful that it needs to be higher.  It might be that, given the risks we face, that we need other sectors to be doing a bit of saving (the government sector maybe); after a decade of deleveraging the household sector can probably afford to cut loose a bit. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why the “working poor” makes for an inappropriate policy target

The publication by the CSO of the results from the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) always generates plenty of reaction.  One focus following the release of the 2017 results has been the “working poor” such as the headline of this piece.

The CSO provide income and poverty rates by principle economic status and the 2017 outcomes are summarised here:

CSO SILC Income and Poverty by PES 2017

As can be seen for the “at work” category the at-risk-of-poverty rate (equivalised disposable income below 60 per cent of the national median) is given as 5.4 per cent.  When we add in measures of deprivation, we find that 1.4 per cent of those with a principle economic status of “at work” live in households deemed to be in consistent poverty.  Given how low these levels are relative to other categories, the “at work” group seem a peculiar group to focus on.

Here we provide five reasons why targeting the at-work at-risk-of-poverty rate may be inappropriate.

  1. Ireland already has the second-lowest AROP rate for employees in the EU15.
  2. The measure is as much a function of household type, especially the presence of children, as it is labour market outcomes.
  3. When it comes to labour market outcomes the most important factor is the amount of work with low AROP rates for households with high or very-high levels of work intensity.
  4. The link between low pay at the level of the individual and low income at the level of the household is weak.
  5. One-third of the “working poor” are self-employed who are excluded from most policy proposals.

1 Comparison across the EU15

Eurostat provide figures that allow us to compare the at-risk-of-poverty rates across the EU for people who are employed and one feature of this is how well Ireland does.  Here are the AROP rate for employees since 2009:

EU15 SILC Employees AROP 2009-2017

The 2017 figure for Ireland has not been provided to Eurostat yet but it seems likely that Ireland will have close to the second-lowest in-work at-risk-of-poverty rate for employees in the EU15.

2 The role of household type

The determination of whether of being at-risk-of-poverty is based on equivalised household income rather than than earnings of the employee on their own.  For example, you could have two employees both earning €30,000 – one could be deemed to be at-risk-of-poverty and one may not. How can that be if there are both earning the same amount? Type of households or, more particularly, children. 

If there are more people in the household then the available income has to be spread over more people thus reducing the equivalised, or per (weighted) person, income of the household. 

Here are the figures from Eurostat for the at-risk-of-poverty rates for people at work but living in two different types of households in Ireland:

  • Household with two or more adults with dependent children
  • Households with two or more adults without dependent children

SILC Eurostat In Work At-Risk-Of-Poverty Rate 2004-2017

It can be seen that, bar the peak crisis years of 2009 to 2011, the at-risk-of-poverty rates of workers in the households with children is about twice that of households without children.  It is not the labour market that drives in-work at-risk-of-poverty rates; it is household type.

3 The amount of work

This amount of work can be measured by household work-intensity: the amount of available time that someone is working.  If the working-age adults in a household have a high or very-high work intensity there is close to no chance of that household being at-risk-of poverty.

SILC Eurostat Work Intensity At-Risk-Of-Poverty Rate 2004-2017

In-work, at-risk-of poverty rates are highest for those households with low work intensity.  These are households where members of working age worked between 20 per cent and 45 per cent of their total potential during the previous 12 months.  Households composed only of children, of students aged less then 25 and/or people aged 60 or more are completely excluded from the work-intensity indicator calculation.

Again, relative to the rest of the EU15, Irish households with low work intensity have at-risk-of-poverty rates well below those of other countries.

EU15 SILC AROP Low Work Intensity Households 2003-2017

Over 60 per cent of Irish households who are classed as in-work and at-risk-of-poverty have either low or medium levels of work intensity.  It is not earnings that drives the in-work, at-risk-of-poverty rates; it is the amount of work.

Something, such as a refundable tax credit may have very little impact on at-risk-of-poverty households with children.  The at-risk-of-poverty threshold for a 2 adult plus 2 children household in 2017 was €29,000.  Even allowing for Child Benefit such a household close to that threshold which gets its income from work will have used almost all the available tax credits.  Making them refundable will make little difference to them.

The majority of households who are deemed be in-work and at-risk-of-poverty have low or medium work intensity.  Refundable tax credits in this instance would be a reflection of a low amount of work rather than low earnings.

4 Low pay and household income

The link between low pay and at-risk-of-poverty rates is weak.  Ireland has workers who are low paid but they are not in low-income households.

Low Pay and the Distribution of Income

The chart would suggest that something around six per cent of low-pay employees (below a threshold of €12.20 a hour in the analysis shown) are in households who are at-risk-of-poverty. Or, in other words, 94 per cent of low-pay employees are in households who are not at-risk-of-poverty.  Indeed, over half of low-pay employees are in households in the top half of the income distribution.  There are almost as many low-pay employees in households in the top decile as there are in the bottom decile.

Policies, such as refundable tax credits, that target the low paid seem likely to make overall inequality and at-risk-of-poverty rates worse as very little of the benefit would accrue to those at the bottom of the income distribution.  It is likely that part-time second earners would appreciate it but in most cases these already come from middle- to high-income households.

It is also not clear how a refundable tax credit would work in the case of the self-employed. It was noted at the press briefing for the SILC publication that around one-third of those deemed to be in-work and at-risk-of-poverty are self-employed. Refundable personal and PAYE tax credits would mean that one-third of the target group is excluded. And a large share of the resources used would go to people outside the target group – the low-paid in high-income households.

Saying that the “working poor” should not be a policy target doesn’t mean we should have policies that try to increase incomes. We should. But using the in-work at-risk-of-poverty rate as a benchmark for either the justification of certain policies or in judging the success of polices may not be appropriate.

We conclude with a comparison we have made before:

Ireland Sweden AROP by Work Intensity

For all levels of household work intensity Ireland has at-risk-of-poverty rates that are lower than Sweden’s, and significantly so in some cases, e.g. medium and low. Yet, the overall at-risk-of-poverty rates of the countries are very similar.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Corporation Tax and the Balance of Payments

A previous post looked at how the current account of the balance of payments can be an early-warning indicator of an economy “living beyond its means”.  This is particularly so if the unsustainable income arises via credit expansion.  The post concluded, though, by saying that a red flag might not always go up for the balance of payments if the unsustainable income flows through it.

Getting a handle on Ireland’s underlying balance of payments position isn’t straightforward.  The CSO have published a modified current account that attempts to strip out many of the distortions, mainly from MNCs, that pollute the headline position. 

For our purposes here we are interested in the end result rather than the modifications made.  The most recent version of the modified current account is available for the period 2007 to 2017 and here it is as a proportion of GNI*.

Modified Current Account 2007-2017

As we now now know there was a significant deterioration in the current account up to 2008.  Since then, like many economic indicators for Ireland, there has been a significant turnaround.

In the early years of the crisis one factor that contributed to the improvement in the current account was the reduction in imports.  We were spending a large amount of the unsustainable, credit-fueled income on imported goods.  There was a reason champagne was removed from the Consumer Price Index in 2011 (see Table 1.1).

In recent years, food exports have boosted the underlying position, most notably dairy products for the past two years or so.  On the income side, the amount of outbound interest on the government’s debt has been declining.

There is some level of uncertainty about all of these but concerns over volatility do not necessarily translate into concerns of sustainability.  One item affecting the current account that generate such concerns are Ireland’s surging Corporation Tax revenues.

Corporation Tax Receipts 2003-2018

And this is what we see if we put Ireland’s revenues in the context of the EU15.

Taxes on Income of Corporations in the EU15 2011-2018

It wouldn’t be usual to link tax revenues to the current account.  In general, tax revenues are raised from activities and entities in the domestic economy while the current account reflects the cross-border flow of trade, income and transfers.  But Ireland is unusual for the amount of Corporation Tax that comes from foreign-owned companies and unique for the amount that comes from foreign companies which are US-owned companies.

The following table gives the domestic company/foreign company split for the gross operating surplus generated in the business economies of the EU15.  Gross operating surplus (GOS) is a relatively useful proxy of the corporate income tax base but some caution is warranted because it is before the deduction of depreciation.  For this, and a few other reasons, we will use data from 2014 rather than a more recent year.

Gross Operating Surplus EU15 2014

The foreign share in GOS is highest in Ireland (69.4 per cent).  Luxembourg is the only other country to have more than half of GOS generated by foreign-controlled companies.  The median for the EU15 is 24 per cent.

And it is for US companies that Ireland really stands out.  After Ireland’s highest share at 56.8 per cent, next is again Luxembourg but this time the gap is all the way to 14.7 per cent.  The median for the share of GOS generated by US-owned companies in the EU15 is 3.6 per cent.  It was only in the sentence before last but Ireland is 56.8 per cent (or at least was in 2014; it is likely higher now).

The issue is that the surge in Corporation Tax is coming through the current account. The current account looks fine.  The deficits built up in the previous boom have been eliminated and there have been underlying surpluses for the past few years.  This suggests we could increase our consumption and investment spending from within our existing resources.

However, we need to be mindful of the impact Corporation Tax from US MNCs has on how we measure those existing resources using the current account.  These receipts are somewhat of a transfer to Ireland that are boosting the current account – could we compare them to the EU receipts of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

Of course, we don’t know what will happen Corporation Tax revenues over the coming years and it is much better to be receiving €10 billion of Corporation Tax than not receiving it. Our point here is that looking for the current account to provide a red flag for “living beyond our means” - as the previous post did – may not be wholly appropriate.  The current account will only reflect any unsustainability in these Corporation Tax receipts when it is too late, i.e. when they are gone.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Does one-third of Income Tax and PRSI come from IDA client firms?

The IDA summary of their 2018 results includes the following:

IDA Ireland’s clients are also significant employers; with average salaries at €66,000 in 2017 they are consistently above national averages (€46,402). As a result foreign MNCs account for one third of total Income tax, USC and Employers PRSI paid in the state.

Does one-third of Income Tax, USC and PRSI come from IDA client firms? No.  Ireland’s national income is heavily influence by the contribution of foreign-owned MNCs but that does not extend to them being the source of one-third of income tax revenues.

According to the Revenue Commissioners net receipts in 2017 from Income Tax/USC and PRSI came to €28.7 billion in 2016 and €30.2 billion in 2017.  It is easy to see that the IDA claim is incorrect from this summary table.

Impact of FDI on Irish economy

The numbers are impressive but unless almost all the €11.7 billion of payroll from these companies in 2017 went to tax and PRSI there is no way they can contribute one-third from a total of €30.2 billion.

The footnotes to the table state that the IDA’s claim is “based on Revenue analysis of foreign owned multinational employer returns for 2016 of income tax, USC and employer PRSI excluding wholesale and retail trade.”  They are referring to this paper by McCarthy and McGuinness which includes the following figures:

Employment and Payroll Taxes in Companies 2016

We can see that payroll Income Tax, USC and Employer’s PRSI from foreign-owned MNCs came to €6.7 billion in 2016.  This is for all foreign-owned MNCs not just those who are IDA clients.  The IDA note that they exclude firms in the wholesale and retail trades (who won’t be their clients) but are probably still left with a figure that is around €5 billion (which is 45% of the payroll total for 2016 from the first table).

Now, this may be nearly one-third of the €16.7 billion shown for Income Tax, USC and PRSI shown in the table but this is only the amount that arises from companies.  It excludes the self-employed, the public sector and non-labour related sources of income taxes. 

IDA-client firms may be the source of one-third of a particular sub-set of income taxes but that is not what they have claimed. It looks like the answer may be around one-sixth (c.€5 billion out of €30 billion) which is, of itself, pretty significant and substantial.  But with 80 per cent of Corporation Tax coming from foreign-owned MNCs we have enough evidence of concentration risks without the need to be exaggerating their contribution to other tax headings.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

“Living away beyond our means”

The concept of an economy living beyond its means does not have a uniform definition.  However, there are outturns in the national accounts that can reflect it.  Once such event is when Net National Saving turns negative.

Net National Saving is a measure which shows the difference between national income and the amount necessary to fund current expenditure on consumption and the investment needed just to maintain the capital stock. This is spending that does not bring long-term living standard benefits and is primarily to maintain living standards as they are now.

[There are a number of things that could be considered exceptions to this, one of which is current expenditure on education.  Although counted as consumption of goods and services it could be argued that this current expenditure leads to long-term benefits but for our purposes here we will treat it as current spending as we are looking to see whether we can afford it – the main cost being included being teacher salaries which is government consumption.] 

If national income is not sufficient to fund consumption of goods and services and cover depreciation of the capital stock an economy could be said to be living beyond its means.  There have been two instances in the past 50 years when this has happened in Ireland: 1980-81 and 2009-2012 (n.b. the series break in 1995).

Net National Savings 1970-2017

In both instances significant adjustment was required.  The differing pace of that adjustment can be seen through the improvement in the net national saving ratio after coming out of negative territory; gradual and prolonged in the 1980s; steep and rapid in the recent instance.  Net National Savings was the starting point for a recent presentation I gave on Ireland’s national income (slides, text).

Should we be looking at Net National Saving as a sign of macroeconomic imbalances? No. By the time this particular canary has fallen off its perch the damage has been done.  Ireland’s problems were in train well before Net National Saving turned negative in both 1980 and 2009.  Net National Saving might be useful if you want to go on television to talk about “living away beyond our means” but a red flag is needed to try and help prevent things getting as far as that in the first place.

That red flag might be the current account of the balance of payments.

BoP Current Account 1970-2017

It can be seen that the two instances of Net National Saving turning negative (the shaded regions) were preceded by significant deteriorations of the current account of the balance of payments.  Prior to the 1980 the current account deteriorated from a relatively small deficit of 1.6 per cent of Gross National Income in 1975 to a deficit of 6.4 per cent of GNI in 1978 and to one of 12.2 per cent in 1979. 

Before 2009, the modified current account deteriorated from a surplus of around 1 per cent of modified gross national income in 2003 to a deficit of 5.0 per cent of GNI* in 2006 and further again to a deficit of 7.5 per cent of GNI* in 2008.

Net National Saving doesn’t signal the problem as imbalances are building up because the unsustainable income isn’t picked up by it until the tide goes out.  As long as some sector can inject the money into the circular flow it will appear as income in the national accounts.  Credit can be the source of this injection.  The government did the borrowing in the late 1970s with the private sector doing so in the run-up to 2008.  And the spending driven by this increase in debt showed up in the deterioration of the current account – or at least it does now.

One major issue with the current account in the run up to 2008 was that the scale of the deterioration was not fully identified at the time.  Here are the first estimates of the changes in the current account from the publication archive and the latest estimates for 2000 to 2008:

BoP Current 2000-2008 First Estimate versus Latest

There are likely a range of measurement and methodological reasons for the differences but it can be clearly seen that from 2004 to 2007 the latest estimate shows significantly larger deteriorations than the real time data.  And if we look back at the first full-year estimates for 2006 published in March 2007, which did show a current account deficit, but the first sentence of the release points to the “continuing the trend of reducing deficits during 2006.”

When it comes to assessing imbalances both measurement and interpretation matter.  There are plenty of reasons why the CSO’s modified current account balance is important.  It looks fine at the moment with a surplus of just over 1 per cent of GNI* showing for 2017.

But it is not the be all and end all.  For example, there would be no red flag from the current account if the unsustainable income that makes net national saving appear comfortably positive also shows up current account of the balance of payments.  Corporation Tax receipts from US MNCs could fit that bill. The link between CT receipts and the current account is something we may come back to but, for the moment at least, the scale of the potential imbalances seem much smaller than those of the late 1970s and mid-2000s.

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