Signs of growth offer hope to the former Celtic tiger

Charities should consider whether Ireland offers investment possibilities, says John Hildebrand of Investec Wealth & Investment

John Hildebrand
John Hildebrand

Ireland's reputation as a fast-growing economy was hit hard by the recent downturn. However, charities looking to invest overseas might be interested to know that we are beginning to see some signs of recovery. Is it possible that this Celtic Tiger will be the first to purr?

At a time when many finance ministers warn of the precariousness of their economies, those of Ireland are beginning to wonder if they might need less support than they initially expected. The signs remain uncertain, with activity still some way below 2007 levels, but most forecasters now expect Ireland to grow in 2011. And overseas investors have been willing to put money into the Bank of Ireland.

In part, this is because Ireland's fiscal problems were not caused by government overspending, but by its banks going on a lending spree that caused a property boom and bust, and forced the government to guarantee the banks' liabilities of EUR400bn. This is not a small amount for any country, least of all a country with a gross domestic product of EUR156bn.

Not all the lending went into Irish property. Some went into other areas, such as UK property, and these loans are now being sold off. The Irish government created a 'bad bank', the National Asset Management Agency, which took on EUR71bn of the worst debt but had to pay only EUR30bn for it and expects to sell off the loans within eight years at a small profit.

The Irish government's willingness to address its problems has impressed the IMF, which confirms that Ireland's deficit reduction plan is on target.

So why does this matter? First, it shows that economies can pick up even when government is cutting its expenditure. Second, some years ago the UK was encouraged to follow the Irish model. In 2006, George Osborne wrote in The Sunday Times that he had gone to Dublin "to listen and learn" - to find out how the UK could emulate the Irish. Third, it highlights the knife-edge volatility of markets.

But my main reason for reviewing Ireland is that so few papers seem to be picking up on this good news. The Irish economy might not be roaring, but it does still offer multinationals a 12.5 per cent corporation tax, a route into Europe and a population that is willing to work hard to dig itself out of the mess left by some of its financial institutions.

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