On the face of it, Budget 2023 was a giveaway of epic proportions. There was something for everyone. Tax cuts, welfare increases, childcare subsidies, reduced student fees, an end to hospital charges and energy cost supports for businesses and households. These were just some of the plethora of attention-grabbing measures announced.
But, what the government appears to have given with one hand, rising prices will more than take away with the other. According to the government’s own economic projections, consumer prices will have increased by 16% between the beginning of 2022 and the end of 2023. Budget measures will help cushion that blow to purchasing power, but for too many people on the margins it won’t be enough. Everyone will feel the pinch, and more people will be pushed into poverty.
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 28 September 2022 ***
Sometimes good news is bad news. News a month out from your annual budget announcement that the public coffers were brimming with unanticipated largesse was the last thing Paschal Donohue will have wanted to hear. Why?
The natural and understandable inclination of any Irish finance minister, and of the Department at their back, is to be conservative, to guard jealously the public purse strings and to manage downwards the expectations of both colleagues and punters. Someone has to take away the punch bowl before the party gets out of hand. This is an inclination inherited a century ago from His Majesty’s Treasury, the so-called ’Treasury view’.
A year ago, the Irish government was expecting an €8.3bn for 2022. As things stand now, we are on course for the largest annual surplus since at least 2006, largely due to gravity-defying corporation tax receipts.
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 25 September 2022 ***
Reported homelessness is at a record high. Unreported homelessness is rampant. Around 50,000 Ukrainian refugees are in emergency shelter. The shortage of student accommodation seems worse than ever despite all the recent investment in that sector. Demand for rental properties races ahead, but supply is at a record low. Surging rents, sub-standard accommodation and insecure tenure are a huge source of stress, anxiety and frustration, and our still-dysfunctional housing market is largely to blame.
When detailed results of the 2021 Census are published, well over half a million households are likely to be in rented accommodation, about a third of the total and rising. While these are concentrated in younger age cohorts, around 1 in 4 householders in their 40’s are in rented accommodation, and this share is also likely to rise as ‘generation rent’ ages. About 1 in 7 renters are estimated to be renting by choice, but the vast majority would rather be owners.
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 19 September 2022 ***
Wholesale gas prices are off the charts in Europe, leading to surging costs to light and heat our homes. Urgent policy action is needed, both in Brussels and in Dublin, if we are to avoid social chaos this Winter. Recent murmurings from leaders in both cities suggest they appreciate the urgency, and that help is on the way. EU energy ministers hold an emergency meeting this Thursday to discuss while preparations continue ahead of Ireland’s budget day on 27 September. Consumers need a break before energy prices break their backs.
Even before the latest round of prices rises, a record 29% of Irish families were already facing energy poverty. That number is now nearing half, and rising. For people already forced to tighten their belts, calls to turn down the heating or wear another jumper aren’t likely to land well. Certainly, steps can be taken to conserve energy but there are limits to what is reasonable in the short-term.
How did it come to this?
It’s all about gas. Russia was the source of 45% of EU gas imports in 2021. But, retaliation for Europe’s support of Ukraine in repelling Russian invaders has seen these supplies reduced to a trickle, causing prices to sky-rocket.
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 6 September 2022 ***
In mid-February, I wrote here that inflation was widely expected to peak in the early months of the year “before falling back over the following 18 months or so towards the levels around 2% that we had become accustomed to.” Highlighting geopolitical threats, I did note that “risks appear to be skewed towards inflation staying higher for longer than is currently anticipated.”
The game changed when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on 24th February. Oil prices initially surged by about 50% while gas prices nearly tripled. Although both have come off their March highs, they remain much higher than pre-war prices. Ominously, there is a growing consensus the war is Ukraine will be prolonged, and growing speculation that Putin could shut off European gas this winter. Meanwhile, international food prices have hit historic highs, even before the impact of Russia’s Black Sea blockade fully feeds through to grain markets. High prices and scarce supply of food and energy will likely get worse before they get better.
Irish consumer prices kept accelerating through May, annual inflation reaching 7.8%. A combination of momentum in prices and the subdued monthly inflation seen in June and July 2021 suggest the annual rate hasn’t peaked yet. Surging inflation is a global phenomenon, and it has everywhere come to dominate political debate around domestic issues. Whether inadvertently or more cynically, this debate has been characterized by much pedaling of myths. So, let’s knock some of those on the head:
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 3rd July 2022 ***
In normal times, January sales for things like clothing and air fares are enough to bring down the price of an average consumer’s monthly shopping basket. January 2021 was very far from normal, of course, and prices ticked up slightly that month.
With the Omicron wave of the pandemic beginning to ebb, this year we are seeing a return to normality. Consumer prices fell -0.4% last month. This brought the annual inflation rate down to 5.0%, from the 5.5% registered in December. The last time inflation was that high, in April 2001, we were still using old money, punts and pence.
So, are we past the worst?
The good news is that, so far, rising inflation in Ireland has not been broad-based. Although supply issues have impacted on home rentals, and on some goods like cars and furniture, price rises have been largely confined to oil, gas and the sectors that depend on these energy inputs (transport, electricity).
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 18 February 2022 ***
Who had heard of GameStop a month ago other than committed gamers and punters on the stock market? The bricks-and-mortar computer game retailer burst to prominence in recent weeks as a pawn in a supposed David-and-Goliath story, a battle of wits between plucky nerds and the wolves of Wall Street.
Spotting a chink in a hedge fund´s armour, small investors organized themselves through a small corner of social media, a reddit bearing the fitting moniker #WallStreetBets. Basically, the hedge fund had reached the not-unreasonable conclusion that computer game shops were going the way of Xtra-Vision. They borrowed shares in GameStop and sold them, hoping to buy them back at a lower price before returning them to their original owner and pocketing the difference.
*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 7 February 2021 *** Continue reading
How you see Ireland’s economic prospects may depend on whether your glass is half full or half empty in the post-Paddy’s day haze. There’s plenty to be bullish about, but warning signs have begun to flash in recent months as we brace for Brexit and a global slowdown.
First, the good news:
In many ways, the Irish economy looks to be in ‘goldilocks’ territory: not too cold, but still not too hot. Moreover, the number of people outside the labour force that could look for work again in the right conditions is still over 100,000, suggesting it still has room to run if factors beyond our control don’t get in the way.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 24 March 2019 *** Continue reading
Writing this time last year, I expected our economic fortunes to get better before they got worse. I saw clouds gathering on the distant horizon, but no major storms forecast for 2018.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 28 December 2018 ***
Ireland isn’t quite partying like it’s 2006, but the stats don’t lie – 2018 has been a bumper year by most measures.
The economy generated nearly 1,300 extra jobs per week in the 12 monthsto end-September, up from less than 950 per week the previous year. Even if the pace of job growth slowed after the middle of 2018, this is still impressive progress by any measure, and enough to see the unemployment rate fall to 5.3% in November, down from 6.4% the previous year.
Although this is close to what economists call ‘full employment’, it should be remembered that the share of the working age population making themselves available for work is still (62.6%) significantly lower than its 2007 peak (67.4%). This flatters the unemployment rate and suggests there are still some 300,000 people that could be enticed back to the workforce.
Growth in average hourly earningshas picked up, from 2.1% a year ago to 3.2% now, more than double the growth rate from two years ago. The minimum wage will increase by 2.6% from New Year’s Day, from €9.55 an hour to €9.80.
Only part of the increase in people’s pay packets is being eaten up by higher prices. Consumer prices are basically flat, edging up only slightly from 0.5% in November 2017, to 0.6% in the same month this year. This average hides important differences: the cost of housing, water, gas and electricity increased more than 5% on the year while the price of furniture and household equipment fell by more than -4%.
This means real hourly wages are increasing in every sector with the exception of public administration, which clocked up only a 0.8% gain in the year to end-September.
With more people at work earning higher wages, it is hardly surprising that we are spending more. Ireland’s GDP figures are heavily distorted by multinational activity, but the most unpolluted – and least volatile – component is private consumption which grew by 2.9% in the third quarter of the year compared to a year earlier.
THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be the ‘Housing Budget’.
A series of government plans, strategies and false starts have so far failed to stem the surge in rents, reverse the relentless rise in homelessness or put homeownership back within the means of low-to-middle income families.
A decade since the property bubble burst and homeless figures began their long march to 10,000, this was flagged as the moment when the Minister for Finance would do what Ministers of Finance do to tackle a social crisis when there’s an election on the horizon – throw money at the problem.
So, let’s take a deep dive into the good, the bad and the ugly of the housing measures in Budget 2019.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 10 October 2018 ***