Echo

According to bond markets, Ireland is not yet Greece

Friday, November 5, 2010

A few articles regarding the bond crisis in Ireland:

The Irish Mess (IV)
ECB buying of Irish bonds 'vital' support
The world backs away from Ireland, Spain, Portugal
In keeping with Halloween, here's a scary one
EU leaders trigger another bond market crisis
Ireland fifth best place to live (a separate issue, of course)

Yves Smith's article (first link) is good, providing a network of associated links including one to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. He states the following:

Yes, Ireland is fully-funded until April – and has another €12bn in pension reserves that could be tapped in extremis – but that is less reassuring than it looks. The spreads over German Bunds are mimicking the action seen in Greece in the final hours before the dam broke.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's article is well worth a read; but I'd like to talk about bond markets for just a bit. Yes, the probability of Irish default is increasingly being priced into bond markets; however, Irish bond market conditions have not yet reached those of Greece in May 2010 (the bailout announcement), nor are they really close...yet.

The Irish yield curve (proxied by the 10-year government bond yield minus the 3-year government bond yield, now the 3-10) is still positively sloped. (I choose the 3-10 because of the ESFS that is in place through 2013.)

This is important. See, when there is a binary outcome being priced into a sovereign bond market, default or no default, investors go straight to the long end of the term structure, and the yield curve inverts (negative slope). In a default situation, the longer end of the curve offers a higher expected return where the potential yield compression is much larger. That's what happened in Greece in May 2010, as the 10-yr bond yield reached 12.4% on May 7.

The two yield curves look "similar"; but Greece's yield curve turned negative, or near -500 basis points (bps) inverted - a basis point is the % * 100 - preceding the bailout. At the time, Irish spreads (chart above) dropped to 120 bps; but now the yield curve is even steeper, 170 bps as of 6am this morning.

The 3-yr Irish spread over German bunds is certainly coming under pressure, 492 bps (as of 6am today). But the front-end sell-off is nothing compared to that in Greece: spanning the period April 1 to May 1, 2010 (i.e. excluding the surge to 1700 bps), the 3-yr Greek spread over German bunds averaged 711 bps.

Further, the Irish debt profile is longer, on average, than that in Greece. The weighted average maturity on existing Irish debt is 6.1 years (starting in 2011), where that in Greece is a shorter 4.5 years.

The chart above illustrates the share of Irish and Greek debt by maturity date. 36% of Ireland's sovereign debt expires through 2015, just half the share of Greek sovereign debt maturing by the same year, 70%. Note, too, that according to Bloomberg, Greece has 3 times the debt outstanding of Ireland - a completely different game (for now).

Irish bonds are certainly under pressure. But Ireland being funded until the middle of next year is important, making the timing of its return to market critical.

In my view, though, the quintissential issue is the government's ability to finance its debt via domestic growth. Here's a great paragraph from an op-ed in the Irish Independent last week:
While interest rates charged to Ireland have been rising sharply, many large countries can borrow at very low rates, as little as three per cent. Many economists have been arguing recently that these countries should consider a further fiscal stimulus package. Instead most of them are committed to deficit reduction. This debate is one that we cannot join, unfortunately. These countries have a choice since it appears that they could borrow more if they chose to do so.

We cannot do that, nor can we devalue our exchange rate, since we do not have one. It is perfectly reasonable to ask how we got into this mess, to allocate blame and to demand retribution. But no amount of ranting can expand the limited range of choices available to the Government.

Ireland needs revenues to finance their debt. We'll see if the persistent fiscal austerity leads to growth - I'm totally skeptical.

Rebecca Wilder

This article is crossposted with Angry Bear blog.

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