Wednesday, February 22, 2017

21/2/17: The Future of Finance

Last week I was speaking at a forum on Open Societies in Panama City. My speech covered the key threats and transformational changes in the global financial services. Here are my annotated slides:

Monday, February 20, 2017

20/2/17: CESIfo on Potential Gains from EU-EEC Trade Agreement

An interesting study from German's CESIfo on the potential impact of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Community:

Top of the line conclusions:

  • EU side: "According to Ifo’s research results, a comprehensive agreement between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Community could lead to a 0.2 percent increase in real per capita income in the EU, corresponding to an annual EUR 91 upturn in per capita income." Of these, 31 billion euros in benefits are expected to accrue to Germany (net impact for Germany will be 22 billion euros due to increased Russian exports to Germany.
  • Russian side: "For Russia this increase could be as high as three percent or EUR 235 per year. “These income gains stem from the fact that the economic structures on all sides are highly complementary.” Of these some EUR 71 billion is expected to come from increased exports from Russia to the EU states. Additional EUR 6 billion in exports increases will come from rising efficiencies in Russian trade outside the EU.
  • Key obstacles: “A free trade agreement is barely conceivable as long as the Ukraine conflict remains unsettled. Such a pact could nevertheless form an integral part of a new strategic partnership between the EU and Russia” 

20/2/17: The Effect of GFC on Italian Non-Performing Loans Overhang

In yesterday’s post I covered some interesting current numbers relating to NPLs in the European banking sector. And sitting, subsequently, in the tin can of an airplane on my way back to California, I remembered about this pretty decent paper from Banca d’Italia, published in September 2016.

Titled “The evolution of bad debt in Italy during the global financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis: a counterfactual analysis” and authored by Alessandro Notarpietro and Lisa Rodano (Banca d’Italia Occasional Paper Number 350 – September 2016), the paper looked at the evolution (dynamics) of Italian banks’ NPLs since the start of the Global Financial Crisis and the twin recessions that hit Italy since 2008. Actual data is compared against “the counterfactual simulations". "A ‘no-crises scenario’ is built for the period 2008-2015. The counterfactual dynamics” generate a comparative new bad debt rate, which “depends on macroeconomic conditions and borrowing costs.”

Per authors, “the analysis suggests that, in the absence of the two recessions – and of the economic policy decisions that were taken to combat their effects – non-financial corporations’ bad debts at the end of 2015 would have reached €52 billion, instead of €143 billion."

Chart above plots the evolution of two time series of debt: actual and ex-crisis counterfactual, for non-financial corporates, showing the crisis-related debt overhang of around EUR 90 billion. More precisely: “In the absence of the two crises – and of the economic policy decisions that were taken to contrast their effects – the stock of non-financial corporations’ bad debts at the end of 2015 would have reached €52 billion, instead of €143billion. In the counterfactual scenario, the level at the end of 2015 is only 1.7 times larger than the one observed at the end of 2007; in actual data, the observed level was almost 5 times as large. As a share of total outstanding loans to non-financial corporations, bad debts rose at about 17.9 per cent at the end of 2015; had the two crises never occurred, it would have been around 5 per cent, roughly in line with the pre-crisis level.”

While the numbers may appear to be relatively small, given the size of the Italian real economic debt pile, provisioning on this bad debt overhang would amount to a serious dosh. Per the authors’ and previous estimates, roughly 13 percentage points was lost in Italian GDP (once public debt is accounted for). In other words,  through 2015, Italian economy has lost some 13.5 percent of GDP in potential output due to debt overhang. Of this, near 7 percentage points were lost due to sovereign debt-related losses and 6.5 percentage points due to corporate bad debt overhang.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

17/2/17: European Non-Performing Banks' Loans 2016

Latest Fitch data shows some significant progress achieved by Ireland in dealing with non-performing loans on banks' balancesheets:

According to Fitch, Irish banking system ranked 6th worst in terms of NPLs in the EU at the end of 2016. This is a significant improvement on second and third places for Ireland during the height of the Greek and Cypriot crisis. However, the above data requires some serious caveats:

  1. Ireland has been the earlier starter in the game of repairing banks' balancesheets than any other country in the Fitch's Top10 Worst systems table above;
  2. Ireland's performance crucially depends on the assumed quality of mortgages debt restructurings undertaken by the banks over recent years - an assumption that is hardly un-contestable, given that the vast majority of mortgages arrears resolutions involve extend and pretend types of measures, such as extending mortgages maturity, rolling up arrears into a new (for now cheaper) debt and so on; and
  3. Ireland is compared here to a number of countries where the banks bailouts have either been much shallower or completely absent.
Still, for all the caveats, it is good to see that after 9 years of a crisis, Irish banking system is no longer in top-5 basket cases league table in Europe. At this speed, by 2026, me might be even outside the top-10 table... 

Monday, February 13, 2017

13/2/17: Wages, Income and Consumption: Euro Area's Poor Performance since 2003

Based on data reported at the end of January 2017 by the Eurostat, since 2003, through 3Q 2016, or roughly across the span of 13 years,
  • Nominal adjusted gross disposable income per capita has grown by a cumulative 26.37 percent in the Euro Area (EA 19) member states  
  • Real adjusted gross disposable income per capita has risen only 5.30 percent
  • Real actual final consumption per capita rose just 7.75 percent
  • Nominal wages have expanded by 12.4 percent, cumulative.

Compared to pre-Global Financial Crisis peaks (based on the 4 quarters average around the peak) at the end of 3Q 2016:
  • Nominal adjusted gross disposable income per capita was 9.7 percent higher
  • Real adjusted gross disposable income per capita was only 0.73 percent higher
  • Real actual final consumption per capita was up only 1.66 percent
  • Nominal wages rose 4.64 percent, or less than half the rate of increase in nominal income.

As chart below shows, in simple terms, the last nine years saw:
  1. Basically flat real adjusted gross disposable incomes per capita; and
  2. Widening gap between real actual consumption per capita and the real adjusted gross disposable income per capita

Coupled with a simple fact that the EA19 includes countries with consumption and incomes catching up toward the EA12 averages, while gross disposable income does not net out fiscal losses sustained due to post-crisis tax and spending rebalancing across the EA19, the picture is quite dire: there is, effectively, no meaningful growth in incomes in the euro area for some 9-10 years running. Worse, when we adjust for ageing demographics, the marginal increase in the real consumption of the last 9-10 years is also far from being comforting. 

While the Eurostat does not report received real wages dynamics, using income deflator we can estimate changes in the real wages. Chart below shows the results:

In real (inflation-adjusted) terms, take home (received) wages have fallen in the EA19 group of countries in 2003-2016, with 3Q 2016 real wages index reading at around 93.6, down 6.4 percentage points on the end of 2003. A caveat applying to this is that I am using index values to map out nominal-to-real revaluation. Still, minor errors and rounding issues aside, the chart above clearly shows the lack of real wages income uplift in the EA19 since the early 2000s.

Friday, February 10, 2017

10/2/17: Sovereign Debt Bubble: Methane Emissions from the Debt Dump

Because global pile of debt growth has been outpacing global economic growth for quite some time now, the sovereign debt bubble is getting wobblier by the day.

As Fitch Ratings noted yesterday: "The number of Fitch-rated sovereigns with 'AAA' ratings is at its lowest level since 2003 and is expected to remain unchanged over the next two years". In other words, non-junk is getting smaller and smaller, even as Central Banks continue to hold more of the prime stuff.

Currently, only eleven countries have 'AAA' status with Fitch, compared with an all-time high of 16 during 2004 to 2009, "reflecting the longer term impact of the global financial crisis." Personally, I don't think this reflects the impact of the GFC alone. Instead, it reflects the fact that majority of Governments around the world have gone on a debt-piling binge post-GFC in the absence of real productivity and economic growth.

All in, less than 10 percent of the global sovereign debt issuers are now rated AAA. And only 40 percent of global sovereign debt volumes fall under AAA rating (much of this sitting in the Central Banks' vaults), "down from 48% a decade ago".

Source: Fitch Ratings

Thursday, February 9, 2017

8/2/17: BRIC Composite PMIs: Russia Sustains Growth Momentum in January

Having covered January PMIs for BRIC economies for manufacturing sector ( and for services sector (, let’s update data for Composite PMI indicator.

Overall, only one BRIC economy - Russia - provided solid support to global growth in January, with China providing a slight downward momentum and India and Brazil leading to a significant downside momentum.

Brazil’s Composite PMI continued to signal severe contraction at 44.7 in January, tanking deeper into a recessionary territory compared to December 2016 reading of 45.2. This makes 23rd consecutive month of contraction. Brazil registered recessionary PMIs in both Services and Manufacturing and in both sectors, January readings were no better than December. In simple terms, there is no light in the end of Brazil’s recessionary tunnel, yet.

Russia Composite PMI posted a robust upward improvement, rising from an already fast-paced 56.6 in December 2016 to 58.3 in January 2017, marking 12th consecutive month of above 50 readings and the highest Composite PMI level on record. Impressively, both Services and Manufacturing sectors PMIs rose in January, compared to December.

Chinese Composite PMI posted a significant slowdown in growth from 53.5 in December 2016 to 52.2 in January. Still, the index remains above 50 mark for 11th month in a row. Chinese Manufacturing PMI declined substantially in January, while Services posted a very modest drop. Importantly, Chinese Manufacturing PMI has now dropped below statistically significant above-50 reading, after just one month at the level close enough to being almost statistically significant.

Third month of sub-50 readings in Services PMI and anaemic 50.4 reading in manufacturing meant that India’s Composite PMI remained below 50.0 marker for the third consecutive month, posting 49.4 in January compared to 47.6 in December. Despite index improvement (signalling slower rate of economic activity contraction), Indian economy remains in recessionary dynamics, courtesy of the completely botched self-inflicted policy mayhem - the misguided demonetisation.

Table below summarises the most recent movements in Composite PMIs

Chart below shows Composite PMIs for BRICs (quarterly basis) against the Global Composite PMI, showing that the current global growth trend is still being supported by the BRICs, with primary positive impact coming from Russian figures.

The following chart summaries the sheer magnitude of Russian growth momentum compared to BRICs-ex-Russia:

However, the good news is that despite slippage in India and extreme weakness in Brazil, overall BRIC’s contribution to global growth continues to trend upward, albeit with some significant moderation since mid-4Q 2016:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

7/2/17: There's Zero Growth in Irish Patentable Innovation & Research Outputs

In a recent post on Irish patents filings and applications with the EPO, I showed that:

  1. Irish R&D and innovation performance - as reflected by patents data - is hardly impressive, with the country ranking 14th in the sample of 50 countries as an origin for EPO Applications;
  2. There has been no material improvement in Irish standing in the data in recent years, compared to trends.
Some of the readers have taken me to task on the second point, despite the fact that my evidence (based on EPO data) shows no gains in Irish patenting activities with the EPO in terms of both applications and filings, and in comparative terms as a share of both in the total number of EPO applications and filings. 

So I took a different exercise, plotting a relationship between average levels of filings and applications (combined) across 2006-2008 period against the same for 2014-2015 data. 

Not surprisingly, Ireland comes smack in the middle of the distribution and right on the regression line, implying that:
  1. Ireland's patenting performance is to the upper range of the overall distribution of 50 countries, but it is at the bottom of this sub-group of top performing countries. In fact, Ireland's position is statistically indistinguishable from 'mediocre' or 'average' group of countries. 
  2. Ireland shows only tiny growth in applications between 2006-2008 period into 2014-2015 period (see Ireland's point position just slightly above 45 degree line), which is statistically indifferent from zero growth.
  3. Once we control for the factors that drive global trend in patents (blue regression line), Ireland shows no statistically identifiable growth (Ireland's point is bang on the regression line).
Yes, patents are not the only measure of innovation and R&D, but, being the core part of STEM-focused research, they are the main measure of innovation and R&D, because patents data omits only one form of innovation - that linked to software. Now, software innovation is important, and Ireland may or may not be doing well in this sub-sector, but STEM research is based not on software innovations, but on 'hard' patents. And Ireland does not brand itself as 'Software-only Innovation Hub'. In fact, Ireland spends (as a State and economy) more on STEM innovation than on software innovation, so the key focus on Irish policies is, once again, measurable via patents.

Until we get 2016 data to update the above analysis, I rest this topic discussion.

7/2/17: BRIC Services PMIs: Supporting Global Growth

BRIC Services PMIs for January signal continued expansion on world’s largest emerging economies.

Brazil Services PMI remained at a disappointing 45.1 in January, same as in December 2016, implying relatively steep rate of economic contraction in the sector. This marks 23rd consecutive month of sub-50 readings for the indicator, almost on par with 24 months-long sub-50 readings run for Manufacturing. Current 3mo moving average for Services PMI is at 44.9, marginally up on 44.0 3mo average for the previous period and on 44.5 3mo average through January 2016. Current 3mo average for Services is in line with the 45.1 3mo average for Manufacturing. Both sectors are signalling continued steep decline in the economy battered by 2 years of recessionary dynamics and no signs of a light at the end of that tunnel.

In contrast to Brazil, Russia Services PMI posted another steep acceleration in growth, rising from 56.5 in December 2016 to 58.4 in January 2017, the highest reading in 102 months. As a reminder, Russia’s Manufacturing PMI reached 70-months high in January at 54.7. Russian services sector now posted 12 consecutive months of above 50 readings, implying that Russian recession is now over (with Manufacturing PMI reading above 50 for 6 months in a row). 3mo moving average through January is at blistering 56.5, up on already solid 3mo previous at 53.1 and significantly up on 48.2 3mo average through January 2016.

Chinese Services PMI posted a slight moderation in growth from 53.4 in December 2016 to 53.1 in January, with current 3mo average at 53.2, up on 52.2 average for the previous 3 months’ period and on 51.3 3mo average through January 2016. Chinese Services PMI has never registered a sub-50 reading in its history.

India Services sector PMI continued to post sub-50 readings for the third month in a row, coming in at 48.7 in January, compared to 46.8 in December. On a 3mo average basis, January reading is at 47.4, which stands in sharp contrast to the sector fortunes in the previous 3 months period (53.7 average) and compared to January 2016 3mo average at 52.7.

Table below summaries both Manufacturing and Services PMIs for the BRICs:

Chart below shows dynamics in monthly Services PMIs

While the second chart shows current 1Q 2017 performance in quarterly data context.

Key point of the above chart is the strong co-movement between Global PMI and the Russian and Chinese PMIs for the sector. As I noted back in September, this is a strongly positive sign of global economy gaining some much needed growth momentum.

Clearly, Russia leads growth momentum within BRICs, with China providing supporting uplift. India and Brazil act as major drags on global growth across the Services sector.

Note: I covered BRIC Manufacturing PMIs in an earlier post here:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

5/2/17: European Patents and Ireland's 'Knowledge Economy' Myths

Irish policymakers are keen on promoting Ireland as a technology and R&D centre of excellence, often claiming the country is a ‘Knowledge Economy’, a ‘Data Island’, a ‘Europe’s Tech Capital’ and so on. While catchy, these tag lines are far from reality, and, in fact, represent an empirically dubious proposition. 

To establish this claim, consider the European Patent Office data on patent filings and approvals, with the latest data set covering the period of 2006-2015. 

As chart below clearly shows, Ireland is far from being a significant source of patent filing in Europe, despite the fact that many patents from Ireland are filed by the U.S. and other multinationals, including a score of foreign companies that choose to tax-invert into Ireland. The EPO data, in fact, fails to control for this distortion. Still, even with those companies filings counted as ‘Irish’ by origin, Ireland ranks 14th in a key metric of the rate of European Patent Applications per million of inhabitants. 

Worse, Irish rate of patent applications (119 per 1 million of inhabitants) is below the mean for the sub-sample of European states (including EU28 states and other countries within the EEA). Statistically, Irish rate of patent applications per inhabitant is not distinguishable from the rates filed by Italy and Slovenia, and is well below the rate recorded for France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. Irish numbers are also statistically indistinguishable from the global average - the average that includes non-European states’ filings. It is worth noting that the data set includes other countries, that similar to Ireland serve as major tax optimnization locations for R&D and IP, e.g. Luxembourg and the Netherlands. However, even controlling for these states, Irish data does not shine beyond being average.

In absolute terms, Irish patent filings and applications with the EPO have trended up in 2006-2010 period, but have since flat-lined (on trend) for filings and declined (on trend) for applications. 

In addition to the chart above, combined filings and applications for EPO patents by Irish-origination stood at 1,325 in 2015, down on 1,364 in 2014 and down on 1,356 average for 2008-2011 period. While data can be interpreted in a number of ways, there is clearly no indication of an improving trend in either filings or applications over the recent years. This comes on foot of aggressive acceleration in tax inversions into Ireland in previous years - an acceleration that brought into Ireland a range of large R&D-intensive companies.

Consistent with the above, Ireland’s share of all European Patent Office filings and applications has declined, on trend, in recent years, as evidenced by data presented in the chart below:

As the chart above shows, Ireland accounts of just 0.266% of all EPO patent filings and 0.364% of all EPO patent applications. Separately reported data for patents approvals shows Irish share of all patents granted by EPO to be just 0.395%. The number is laughably negligible by Europe-wide standards and is massively out of line with Irish share of European GDP. However, these numbers are consistent with the simple fact, also highlighted by EPO data, that Ireland fails to register in the top tier of generators of patents in any of the sectors tracked by EPO. 

In summary, Ireland is far from being a powerhouse for R&D and knowledge economy activities as measured by a key research output measured by European authorities. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

3/2/17: Global Composite PMI signals improving growth in January

Over the last four months, I have been suggesting that markets participants pay close attention to Global PMIs, and in particular to the emerging signals of firming global economic growth. January 2017 figures did not disappoint on this front.

I covered Manufacturing PMI yesterday in a post available here.

Today, we got the reading for Services and Composite data. Both printed 53.9, which marks statistically significant expansion and a rise on 4Q 2016 figures, suggesting that global growth is still accelerating. Crucially, new orders are continuing to rise as well.

Per Markit: “The J.P.Morgan Global All-Industry Output Index… posted 53.9 in January, its best reading since March 2015 and up from 53.6 in December. The index has now signalled expansion for 52 consecutive months.”

One caveat is that China data is not included in both Manufacturing and Services PMI readings. But, As shown here: China Manufacturing PMI posted lacklustre performance in January, barely staying above 50.0 level.

Again, quitting Markit, “growth of global service sector business activity improved to a 17-month high in January, offsetting a minor easing in the rate of expansion of manufacturing production.”

Geographically, “the acceleration in the rate of increase in all-industry output was led by the US and Russia. US growth was the sharpest since November 2015, while Russia registered its quickest expansion of economic activity for over eight-and-a-half years. The euro area saw output growth steady at December’s 67-month record, while rates of increase slowed in Japan and the UK. India and Brazil both saw all-industry activity decline at the start of 2017.”

“Global employment rose again in January, with the pace of job creation matching December’s 19-month record.” Again, geographically, employment “…increased in the US, the eurozone, Japan, the UK, Russia and India, but fell further in Brazil.”

Crucially for monetary policy forward, inflation ticked up as well.

Overall, Global Manufacturing PMI remained at rather robust levels of 52.7 in January 2017, comparable to those attained at the end of 4Q 2016 and well above the 51.4 average for the last 4 years. Global Services PMI ended January 2017 at 53.9, which is above already robust 53.5 recorded in 4Q 2016 and above the 4-year average of 53.4. At 53.9, Global Composite PMI is slightly ahead of 4Q 2016 levels (53.6) and is well above 53.0 average for the last 5 years. Thus, across both sectors, the global economic expansion appears to be improving to the upside at the start of 1Q 2017.

Analysis of BRIC Services and Composite PMIs coming up as soon as we have China data.

2/2/17: BRIC Manufacturing PMIs: Russia Leads, Brazil Drags

Quick run through the Manufacturing PMIs for January for BRIC economies:

Brazil's Manufacturing PMI slumped to 44.0 in January 2017, down from 45.2 in December, marking 24th consecutive month of sub-50 readings. Worse, rate of contraction in the sector fell to 46.3 in October 2016, prompting some analysts to declare a possible turnaround in Latin America's largest economy. This has now been fully erased, with month-after-month drops through January. January reading is so dire, it marks the lowest reading in seven months and the fourth lowest reading since April 2009 and ninth lowest on record. Three-month average through January sits at 45.1, which is worse than 46.0 3mo average previously and 45.6 3mo average reading through January 2016. In simple terms, economic contraction is accelerating in the case of Brazil, despite the fact that the country has been in a crisis since mid-2013.

Russian Manufacturing PMI continued to surge in January, rising from 53.7 in December 2016 to 54.7. This marks 6th consecutive above-50 reading and, more importantly, marks the highest rate of growth in 70 months (since March 2011). Another important marker, the index has posted increasing rates of growth every month since July 2016, and has now broke away from the resistance at 53.6-53.7. Index's 3mo average though January 2017 is at 54.0, marking a huge reversal of fortunes compared to 3mo average through January 2016 (49.5). All of this is consistent with rapid recovery from the 2014-2016 crisis and we can date the start of this recovery back to May-June 2016, based on Manufacturing data.

India's Manufacturing PMI regained 50.0 territory rising to statistically insignificant 50.4 in January 2017 from 49.6 in December 2016. 3mo average through January 2071 is at 50.8, which is slightly better than 50.2 3mo average a year ago. The rate of Manufacturing expansion is the second slowest in 13 months, implying that the recovery in the Indian economy is still very fragile. As I noted in 4Q analysis of BRIC PMIs last month, India is suffering from the economic crisis brought about by botched de-monetisation of its economy. This crisis appears to be easing, but is not over, yet.

China's Manufacturing PMI failed to gain faster momentum compared to December 2016 (51.9), falling back to 51.0 in January 2017. 51.0 is not a statistically significant reading for growth in China's case, although the index reading in January was still third highest since August 2014. Chinese Manufacturing PMIs have now been notionally (but not statistically) above 50.0 in five consecutive months. Current 3mo average is at 51.3, which is a sizeable improvement on 3mo average through January 2016 (49.5). Still, current PMI reading continues to signal substantial weakness in Chinese Manufacturing and is a reason to worry.

Charts below plot the trends in Manufacturing PMIs and tabulate more recent changes:

Chart below contextualises January PMI readings into quarterly data set and includes comparative for the Global Manufacturing PMI:

Overall, Russia continues to lead BRIC economies in Manufacturing PMI readings for the third month in a row. China comes in second after Russia for the second month in a row. India is effectively posting stagnant economic performance, while Brazil is showing accelerated rate of contraction.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

2/2/17: FactSet on Five 'Notable' 2016 Corporate Data Breaches

In our recent working paper on the systemic effects of cyber risks expressed via financial markets, we have shown the first empirical evidence of systemic (cross exchanges and cross companies) contagion from cyber risks to share prices of the world’s largest corporates, starting with 2014. You can read the full paper here:

Some new evidence on the effects of cyber crime on corporate performance is now also presented in a recent FactSet analysis here.

In this article, FactSet look at the corporate performance effects arising from five “notable” 2016 data breaches, specifically focusing on the stock performance. The methodology in this analysis, unfortunately, is weak and does not lend itself to establishing any specific hypotheses, including those claimed.

Still, an interesting collection of factoids and illustrations of the shorter term impacts (or lags in such).

2/2/17: Global Manufacturing PMI Continues to Signal Potential Growth Recovery in January

Market published Global Manufacturing PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) for January, showing that growth conditions in global manufacturing at the start of 2017 have matched those prevailing in December 2016, with both months posting a PMI reading of 52.7, which is:

  1. Statistically above 50.0 (signalling statistically significant expansion in the sector);
  2. Statistically above 51.4 - the long run average; and
  3. Current reading ties December 2016 reading for a 34-month high and 51st consecutive month of above 50.0 readings.

Some important details from Markit release are:

  • “The improvement in business conditions was led by the investment goods sector, where the PMI rose to its highest level in over five-and-a-half years.” This suggests that the globally depressed capex cycle might be turning to the upside, finally, after years of subdued capita investment by companies;
  • “The improvement at consumer goods producers was slightly better than that seen in December, while growth in the intermediate goods category lost some momentum.” This suggests that current outlook is for improved short run consumer demand, but a moderation in previous expectations about future growth in demand might be afoot. 
  • Growth was concentrated in the US, the euro area and the UK, but slowed in Japan. South Korea, Brazil, Turkey and Greece were “the only nations to register contractions.”
  • “…the rate of growth in new business intakes accelerated to a two-and-a-half year high. Part of the increase in demand reflected stronger international trade flows, as new export orders rose at the quickest pace since September 2014.” This fed into “a further increase in outstanding business during January. Backlogs of work expanded for the eighth consecutive month, with growth registered across the consumer, intermediate and investment goods categories.” This is consistent with my view - expressed earlier - that going forward, expectations of future growth in final demand might be moderating.

Additionally, “the latest release sees the launch of a new index tracking business sentiment – the Future Output Index – that is based on a question asking companies if they expect output to be higher, the same or lower in 12 months’ time. The start of 2017 saw positive sentiment climb to a 19- month high, with improvements seen in the US, the euro area, Japan, the UK, India, Brazil and Russia.” I would not hold my breath for the robustness of this indicator for quite some time, as we need to see more historical data building up to assess just what exactly does it tell us about the sector activity.

As the chart above clearly shows, we are only inching toward late-2009-mid 2011 levels of activity, although we have now breached 2015-mid-2016 doldrums trend.

Overall, the data is a welcome news for the global growth, but we will have to wait and see for China and Indonesia Manufacturing PMIs to come out to see more robust picture of what is happening in global trade and manufacturing trends. We also need to see if the current levels of growth can be successfully breached to the upside in February-March. January is, overall, a challenging month to base one’s assessment for broader 1Q economic performance signals due to shorter range of working days and lags from December feeding into January numbers.

2/2/17: What Euro Health Index 2016 Tells Us about Ireland's Health System?

Some pretty harsh ratings of the Irish Health system have been released by the Euro Health Consumer Index back at the end of January. Overall, based on data across 35 countries, including European Union member states, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the Balkan states (Montenegro, Albania, Serbia and FYR Macedonia), Irish health system ranks miserly 21st, scoring 689 points across 6 key macro-categories of assessment (or sub-disciplines).

The sub-disciplines on which assessments were based are:
1) Patient Rights and Information
2) Accessibility (waiting times of treatment)
3) Outcomes
4) Range and reach of services
5) Prevention
6) Pharmaceuticals

Ireland’s total score is statistically indistinguishable with a higher-ranked FYR of Macedonia (20th place), not exactly a known powerhouse of social or public services and Italy (ranked 22nd). With exception of Italy, Ireland’s ranking is the weakest amongst all high income countries present in the EU and in the sample overall. 

The issue of income and relationship between amounts spent on healthcare and the system performance is a complex one. And the report does attempt some analysis of this. However, it might be an interesting exercise to see, just how much better would Ireland’s system perform were we to adapt the best practices found across each sub-discipline amongst two subsets of the countries, both with vastly lower incomes than here. 

I undertake this exercise below under two scenarios. For each sub-discipline:
1) Scenario IRL “Peripheral” assumes that Ireland adopts the best practice found in the group of the euro ‘peripherals’ states (Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain); and 
2) Scenario IRL “Emerging” assumes that Ireland adopts the best practice found in the group of the sampled states that comprise emerging economies of East-Central Europe (Slovenia, Estonia, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Romania).

Note: these are not exactly scientific exercises, so treat them as an indicative analysts, rather than an in-depth and conclusive. However, I did perform some simple statistical robustness checks on these findings and they do not appear to be complete ad hoc.

The two scenarios are co-plotted in the following charts alongside the actual Euro Health Consumer Index scores:

As shown in the last chart above, adopting best practices from the countries with vastly lower incomes (and, thus, lower per capita expenditures on healthcare - controlling for the argument that the issue with Irish system is lack of money) would have resulted in a vastly better performance of the system across the board. That is because with exception of just one sub-discipline (Pharmaceuticals), Ireland’s performance is substantially sub-par when compared to the lower income countries best practice experiences. 

The truth is: the Euro Health Consumer Index suggests that the real problem with Irish health system's abysmal performance is not necessarily solely down to the lack of money (although that too might be the case) but may be significantly down to the lack of will to adapt some of the better practices that are, apparently, available and accessible for lower income economies. Yet, despite this pretty simple to grasp observation, majority of Irish analysts and media continue to insist that improving Irish health system requires only one thing: more cash from the taxpayers. What's the margin of error on this argument, given Macedonia scores better on Health Index than Ireland? I would say it is huge.