Still waiting for “new faces” in Government, S&P downgrades Ireland
Poor Frank Gill. The Standard & Poor’s sovereign debt analyst was one of the first people to set our democracy alarm bells ringing when in March 2009 he surmised there was a need for “new faces” in government. This rare example of simultaneous perceptiveness and gall outraged the Dáil, which can usually only muster up the latter. In any case, that was way back when S&P’s best brains were cutting Ireland’s credit rating to a now covetable ”AA+”. Things have moved on, in the markets’ eyes at least. Shortly before midnight last night, the ratings agency downgraded Ireland from “AA-” to “A”, outlook very much negative.
And, no, an A is not good, as I wrote here, back when it was still possible to be glib about these things.
The statement by Standard & Poor’s makes little mention of political instability, with just a quick, throwaway blackmail about Ireland’s credit ratings coming under “renewed pressure in the short term should the domestic policy consensus weaken”. You will be shocked to discover that neither the sensitivities of Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey, nor Paul Gogarty and his unpredictable childcare arrangements, nor Brian Cowen’s sexist remark about Joan Burton, make the cut. Instead, Frank Gill emphasises that the lower ratings “reflect our view that the Irish government will have to shoulder additional costs associated with further capital injections into Ireland’s troubled banking system”. By Irish government, he means us.
The statement says lots of other nasty things too, although none of this will surprise anyone at this late stage of the game, what with Bank of Ireland set to join Anglo Irish Bank, AIB et al on the roster of failed, nationalised institutions that we will desperately try to offload on anyone rich enough and brave enough.
Despite the speed at which events are unravelling, this may not happen overnight. ”In our view, Ireland’s banking system will take several years to downsize,” says Gill. “The outlook for future costs to the government from financial retrenchment remains uncertain.” (Some commentators are talking about a quarter of a trillion, all in.) Meanwhile, ”the high overhang of private debt, fiscal austerity and the uneven outlook for external demand in Europe” means that S&P now expects “close to zero nominal GDP growth for 2011 and 2012″.
Frank’s still waiting for his “new faces”, as are we. In some ways, it’s comforting that an organisation whose clients are the power-crazed, plutocratic institutions we know as “bondholders” has been even more naive than local democracy fans when it comes to the office-clinging abilities of Fianna Fáil. On the other hand, a general election or no general election – pffft. Worryingly, it now seems that bit more irrelevant to the credit ratings agencies and their institutional investor paymasters.
Standard & Poor’s will hold a teleconference on its downgrade decision at 3.30 pm today, although frankly I’m planning on training the full leaden weight of my gloom in the direction of the gothic horror that is the four-year austerity plan – upon which you will find news updates and commentary at www.irishtimes.com, here at The Index blog and on twitter.com/IrishTimesBiz.