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 ***
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
At a time of heightened global trade tensions and faltering multilateralism, the accord sends a powerful message that mutually beneficial economic openness is still worth striving for. The 2015 election of market-oriented Mauricio Macri as President of Argentina in 2015 gave some impetus to the discussions from 2016 onwards, while the rightward shift in Brazil, with the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Presidency, further catalysed the conclusion of an agreement.
Click here for full analysis, published by Mosoj Global Services.
Reductionists have characterized the agreement as a ‘cows for cars’ deal, with European auto exporters gaining access to previously high-tariff Mercosur markets while the agriculture sectors of Brazil and Argentina, in particular, gaining limited tariff-free access to the similarly-protected and subsidized European market for farm produce.
Late last year, I wrote in these pages about technology as a double-edged sword for social progress. Yes, advances in technology continue to underpin sustained improvements in living standards. But, I also highlighted several downsides detrimental to the wellbeing of certain cohorts of the population. One question I posed was whether we need to use anti-trust competition regulation to break up the tech behemoths that have come to dominate the digital economy.
Some tech firms, like Amazon and Uber, have found a new way of doing business that undercuts traditional providers. Others, like Apple, have carved out a dominant market position through in-house product innovation and cultivating brand loyalty. Yet others, like Google and Facebook, operate in markets – internet search engines and social networks – that barely existed two decades ago.
But Big Tech increasingly faces the public wrath, and risks a regulatory backlash. By re-locating their intellectual property, they manage to pay minimal taxes. By putting bookshops and taxi drivers out of business, livelihoods are undermined. By harvesting their users’ data, and then selling it or using it to target online advertisements, they put peoples’ privacy at risk. Recent revelations that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was compromised shows the risks people have been taking without even realizing it.
The question then is what, if anything, should be done about it. Continue reading
A hundred years from now, catastrophic climate change may have completely changed the way our children and grandchildren live, work and farm. Possible doomsday scenarios include a shutdown of the Gulf Stream, which Ireland depends on for its relatively mild weather, leading to another ice age.
The science is incontrovertible. Global warming is man-made, and emissions of carbon and other gases are the main culprit. Sure, Ireland makes up only a small amount of total emissions. Because of its size, China alone accounts for more than a quarter of all emissions annually. The US, another 15%. But, we rank highly in emissions per person, and total emissions are going in the wrong direction, up 3.5% in 2016 when the government is targeting a 5% reduction.
While the worst environmental impacts of climate change might still be some way off, we could be facing a bill of nearly half a billion euro every year from 2020 onwards unless we get our house in order. As part of European and global efforts to reduce emissions, we have committed to a reduction of 20% (from 1990 levels) by 2020. Ireland is one of the few EU countries on course to miss its target, leaving itself open to annual fines equivalent to widening the standard income tax band by €2,500 or building 2,500 social houses.
So, what to do? Continue reading
Europe’s Central Bank is often cast as one of the pantomime villains of Ireland’s banking crisis. After all, it is the institutional personification of ‘Frankfurt’s Way’. While it is always easiest to blame the outsider, accusations levelled at the ECB are not in this case entirely without foundation. The recent decision by Jean-Claude Trichet – ECB President until late 2011 – to cooperate with Ireland’s banking inquiry is therefore a welcome development.
The ECB has been hitting the headlines for very different reasons of late, and you might be wondering, for once, not what have they done to me lately, but what have they done for me. The big economic news of early 2015 is that the ECB is finally following the lead of the world’s other big central banks with it’s own PPM (programme for printing money), commonly referred to by finance types as QE (quantitative easing). Basically, this means increasing the quantity of euros in the economy, but with the click of a mouse rather than the cranking of printing presses. For the foreseeable future, Frankfurt will create an extra EUR 60bn – roughly EUR 180 per person in the Eurozone – every month. Not to be sniffed at.
Unfortunately, this new money won’t be dropped from a helicopter into your bank account every month. The theory is that more euros in the system will lead to higher prices, higher wages, even lower interest rates, more lending, more exports and stronger growth.
Ok, you might say, but what does that mean for my back pocket?
Insightful if controversial book sets out a hierarchy of blame, with joyriding politicians at the top…
Click here to read my Irish Times review of The Fall of the Celtic Tiger: Ireland & the Euro by Donal Donovan and Antoin E. Murphy.
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz can stake some claim to being the intellectual father of the ‘Occupy’ movement with his May 2011 Vanity Fair article ‘Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%‘. He followed up with a book in 2012, ‘The Price of Inequality‘. This, in turn, builds on inter alia the 2003 and 2004 scholarly works of Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez on income inequality in the US since 1913.
Piketty, Saez and others – including Ireland’s Brian Nolan – have since worked to bring together data on top income shares for some two dozen countries and counting in a consolidated database (complete with helpful interactive graphics).
We saw the first ripples of the US sub-prime crisis in the summer of 2007. A year later, the global economy was on the precipice of disaster. Only resolute action by world leaders, Gordon Brown not least among them, and coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus prevented a re-run of the Great Depression.
Cracks in the Eurozone edifice which had been papered over during the good times were soon brutally exposed. As the crisis enters its seventh calendar year, we are more than half way through a lost decade. The question, particularly on Europe’s periphery is whether one lost decade will turn into two.
2013 promises to be yet another momentous year in Irish economic history; the year Ireland hopes to cease being a ward of the troika; a year plagued with potential banana skins. Without doubt, the fallout from yet another hair-shirt budget will dominate the early months of the year. It follows that we will face into a similarly challenging budget cycle as 2013 draws to a close. Like peeling an apple, the closer you get to the core, the more the pips squeak. Budgets will only get harder. Continue reading
For all the doomsayers predicting an imminent ‘Grexit’ from the Eurozone, the latest EU deal to ease their debt burden to 124% of GDP by 2020 should surely give pause for thought… at least on timing, if not necessarily on the eventuality.
In observing the interminable crisis response efforts of Europe’s leaders, it is easy to confuse a lack of haste for a lack of resolve or a lack of understanding.
Certainly, the process may be frustratingly slow. This is particularly the case for financial markets with ADD and journalists with deadlines and a need for a simple narrative. Continue reading