Monday, August 16, 2010

Leaf in the stream

I have a newsflash for you Ireland: we are not at the centre of the world. I know, I was shocked too! Apparently, that bowl of shamrocks Biffo gave Obama last St. Patrick's Day doesn't even have a special place of honour beside the presidential bed; nor does Obama give it a little pat each night before falling asleep, whispering "I love you Ireland".

Having adjusted to the fact that Ireland is not the nation on everyone's lips, and that indeed many Americans don't know where we are, and that many Brits think we still belong to them, I realise now that such anonymity on the global stage is no bad thing. Sometimes. After all, up till now our bluffing regarding the state of our financial affairs has been accepted (hook, line and sinker one might say) by the international press and, more importantly, by the bond markets. Its hardly surprising really; after all, outside of Ireland there is noone analysing the Irish economy as a full-time job. At best, our financial announcements get a quarter of an hour on the desk of the Moody's analyst who handles the smaller Euro economies, snugly tucked between a report by the Maltese central bank, and an article on the financial situation in Slovenia.

Unsurprisingly then, our bluster about "taking the tough decisions" has been accepted on face value, as no one has had the time or inclination to look behind our words. If the general information available on Ireland was positive (given the circumstances) it was broadly accepted internationally that Ireland was on the road to recovery.

However, with more negative reports emanating from our shores - as they now are - we find ourselves in a pickle. No one is taking the time to see if things in Ireland are truly as bad as the bond markets think, and consequently, it is generally accepted that Ireland is in trouble. This leads to a vicious downgrading spiral as Irish debt becomes more expensive to fund because everyone knows that Irish debt is expensive to fund. And because it is accepted that Ireland's economy has some serious structural flaws, even if we do address things, no one will believe us!

Nothing better sums up how general market ignorance about Ireland has turned from an opportunity to a threat like the recent column by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph. An expert on all things financial, AEP notes how Anglo-Irish Bank is a serious threat to Ireland's long-term financial stability. He notes that the €25 billion provided by the state to bail-out the banks has almost all gone to Anglo, who he refers to throughout the article as AIB (Anglo-Irish Bank), generally painting the bank in a bad light.

Only problem is that AIB is actually Allied Irish Bank which, unlike Anglo, has not been nationalised, and is still quoted on the stock market. Whether AEP's switcheroo has had an impact on AIB's share price is hard to say, as they were already in the toilet has helped push AIB's shares even further into the toilet is hard to tell. However, if even one of the sharpest financial commentators around can only allocate a cursory level of research to Ireland's financial situation, what chance have we of getting a fair hearing from the big cats of the global markets jungle? EDIT - Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan notes commentators confusion regarding AIB/Anglo an issue.

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