Business

The financial truth hurts Ireland

BBC business editor Robert Peston on Dublin's financial woes

European governments hoped that their unambiguous signal on Sunday night of their intention to provide around £75bn of rescue loans to Ireland would calm investors - and stop the fall in the price of debt of the more financially challenged eurozone states.

It hasn't happened.

Irish government bond prices fell sharply today, to levels almost as low as at the height of the recent crisis - which would mean that the Irish government would have to pay a prohibitive 8.4 per cent rate on a ten-year loan, if investors were prepared to lend to it, which they're probably not.

And there was contagion to the debt of a much bigger economy, Spain, whose bonds also dropped - such that the gap between what the Spanish government would have to pay in interest and what the German government pays widened to a record.

That means investors are more worried than they've ever been about the ability of Spain to honour its debts.

As for Ireland's fragile banks, their share prices fell - and there was contagion to the prices of overseas banks, including the UK's.

What caused the global tremors, which also saw stock markets fall?

Well it was largely the fear that Ireland's political instability would derail the international rescue - which may seem extraordinary, in that Ireland's economy is tiny.

But it only goes to show, again, how dangerously and intricately intertwined are global banks and national economies.

By the way, I don't know whether it adds to or detracts from financial stability that Ireland's central bank governor, Patrick Honohan, has again been refreshingly frank today, in an address to the Chartered Accountants Ireland Financial Services Seminar (yes, I know it's not fair that we weren't all able to get tickets).

Mr Honohan admits that Ireland's banks have been hopeless at making adeqate provisions for expected losses on their poor loans or in keeping investors abreast of the risks they take.

Little wonder then that the Irish banks' creditors trust them so little, and have been pulling out their money by the tens of billions of euros, till the banks - and the Irish state that stands behind them - have been taken to the brink of collapse.

Mr Honohan also points out that Ireland's official GDP and unit labour cost statistics have consisently overstated the size of the Irish economy and its productivity respectively - largely because that economy is so dependent on multinationals with headquarters in the Republic, whose high profits acrrue to the overseas owners of those multinationals rather than to Irish residents.

That overstatement of the magnitude of the output of Irish residents, which in some real sense is attributable to those residents, could be as much as quarter, he says.

Which implies of course that the ability of Ireland to repay its enormous bank and state debts is even worse than the eye-poppingly high ratios of borrowing to GDP would imply.‬‪

You can keep up with the latest from business editor Robert Peston by visiting his blog on the BBC News website.

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