Trouble in Ireland as Fitch cuts debt two notches to AA- and deficits soar

Fitch, the credit rating agency, has just downgraded the sovereign debt ratings for the Republic of Ireland from AA+ to AA-.  That is two notches and is proof-positive that the ratings agencies are worried about the hole in Dublin’s finances.

If you read the Irish press this morning, it is all doom and gloom and has a lot to do with the banks and budget deficit.  It is not just about the ratings downgrades.

The EU has just released figures putting in doubt Ireland’s rosy scenario for cutting budget deficits.

The Irish Independent says:

Next month’s Budget may set the economy back further, but without it the country’s national debt could reach 100pc of output (GDP) by 2011, the EU Commission has said in a new analysis.

The Commission is forecasting a decline of 1.4pc in Irish GDP next year. But Brussels is not taking the impact of next month’s Budget into account, because the details are not yet known.

"Depending on the specific measures that are eventually implemented, a dampening effect on consumer demand cannot be excluded," the Commission says in its autumn economic forecast.


On the other hand, it says that faster correction of the economy’s problems might give more support to consumption and investment by helping confidence.

The Government’s plans include a correction of 4.3pc of GDP — around €8bn — in the Budgets for 2010 and 2011.

Unless there is a compensating boost from confidence, this could also reduce the modest 2.6pc growth forecast for 2011.

These forecasts are higher than those in the Commission’s estimates last May, but it warns of the struggle facing the Irish economy in trying to return to strong growth.

Another top headline in the Irish Independent has the OECD warning that the Irish government should not rule out nationalising banks in addition to its bad bank programme, NAMA.

The Government shouldn’t rule out temporarily nationalising the country’s banks as they may require more capital to cushion against surging bad debts, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

The Government is setting up the so-called bad bank that will buy €77bn of property loans from banks at a discount of 30pc. Losses on those assets may leave the lenders needing extra capital.

“Further recapitalisation may be necessary as assets are being purchased below book value,” the Paris-based OECD said in a report today. “Temporary nationalisation would have a number of drawbacks, but it should not be ruled out altogether.”

The Government has already guaranteed all deposits at banks and some of their debts, pumped €7bn into Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland and seized Anglo Irish Bank.

“Substantial” banking losses are likely to be met by the taxpayer and nationalisation should only be undertaken with the “utmost reluctance,” the OECD said.

The FT’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael has a piece out doubting the maths used in NAMA, which bolsters the OECD view that the bad bank may not be enough.

So you have a trifecta of bad news coming out of Ireland: a two-notch downgrade by a major ratings agency, a warning from the EU that the economy will be weak for sometime to come and that deficits targets will not be met, and another warning from the OECD that the banking situation in Ireland is still very grave.

Quite frankly, it is not looking good for an Irish recovery at this time without the help of the IMF. This all brings me back to my question one year ago: Is Ireland the next Iceland? They will be if the EU, IMF and Irish government do not take today’s bad news seriously and take drastic action to bolster the Irish banks, economy, and government finances.

Who said the financial crisis was over? It is not.

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