Most people believe that the significant deterioration in the Greek balance of payments after the introduction of the Euro is a clear sign of the fall in Greek competitiveness and of unsustainable private debt expansion dynamics. It is assumed that the Greek economy was not able to provide the global market with goods and services of a sufficient quality and competitive price while the large expansion of domestic demand (due to significant private credit flows) expanded imports with a rate that led to a large increase in the goods deficit.

Although there is some truth in the above statement, a closer look at the detailed balance of payments data (from BoG) reveals some very interesting facts. The actual balance of payments figure deteriorated significantly from a deficit of €11bn in 2002 to €36.5bn in 2008 all while nominal GDP expanded by 50% in the corresponding time period.

Yet imports and exports of goods excluding oil & ships expanded with the same rate (although at a rate higher than nominal GDP which suggests that private credit flows did play a role). What made the corresponding deficit increase by around €10bn was the fact that exports are only 34-36% of imports although that ratio remained relatively steady throughout that period:

Greek Balance of Payments Imports Exports of other goods 2002 - 2008The actual increase in the balance of payments deficit can be attributed to 3 factors:

  1. An increase in the oil balance deficit which more than doubled by 2008.
  2. The ship balance moving from a surplus of €400mn to a deficit of more than €4.6bn in 2008 and
  3. A significant increase in the balance of investment income (mostly interest payments) from €2.3bn in 2002 to €10.6bn during 2008

Greek Balance of Payments - Oil Ship and Investment Income Balance 2002 - 2008

The first factor can mostly by attributed to a large increase in global oil prices during that period, especially denominated in Euros.  By 2008, global Euro oil price had increased 150% compared to 2002 while the Greek oil balance deficit had expanded by a comparable 170%.

The swing of the ship balance to a large deficit is most probably accounted by a corresponding increase in ship building/purchases investment by Greek ship companies. This was a period of large global trade growth with the Baltic Dry Index reaching new highs. The reasonable assumption was that these large investments would quickly translate into increased shipping payments that would be used to finance the initial outflows and (also) lower the current account deficit through a higher services surplus.

As for the investment income deficit this is mostly the outcome of stock-flow adjustment and monetary policy. Each year’s current account deficit added to an increase of Greek foreign net liabilities and to larger net interest payments in a semi-automatic way. Moreover, the increase in short-term interest rates by the ECB after 2005 made servicing the same amount of net liabilities even more expensive which is one of the reasons why the investment income deficit expanded more rapidly during 2006 – 2008.

If we assume that the sum of the Balance of Goods excluding oil & ships and the balance of services can be regarded as the most representative metric for the Greek external sector and competitiveness we observe that this deficit expanded by only €4.5bn during 2002 – 2008. The bulk of the balance of payments deficit expansion can be accounted by oil, ships and investment income. In other words, global factors (oil prices, expansion of trade and the shipping industry, ECB monetary policy) as well as the automatic effect of flows on stocks were the main drivers of the Greek external deficit.

Greek Balance of Payments changes since 2002 up to 2008

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As I ‘ve highlighted many times in the past, the level of future long-run primary surpluses for Greece plays a major role in the debt sustainability scenarios. The major difference between the IMF and Euro institutions projections is identified in the primary surplus assumptions. The IMF projection for a 1.5% surplus makes debt restructuring necessary while the European institutions assume much higher primary balances which make debt sustainability more favourable.

IMF vs Euro Institutions Greek DSA

A recent ESM paper on Greek debt reveals the importance of these projections. If Greece achieves 3.5% primary surplus until 2032 and 3% until 2038 no debt restructuring is required as long as economic growth is 1.3%. On the other hand, the IMF scenario of 1% economic growth and a primary surplus of 1.5% after 2022 makes Greek debt explosive.

European institutions try to make the case that episodes of large and sustained primary surpluses are not uncommon in European modern history. The ECB especially highlights the cases of Finland and Denmark as well as other countries:

The European Central Bank says such long periods of high surplus are not unprecedented: Finland, for example, had a primary surplus of 5.7 percent over 11 years in 1998-2008 and Denmark 5.3 percent over 26 years in 1983-2008.

and

ECB - Selected Episodes of large and sustained primary surpluses in Europe

My comments are twofold. First, the average primary surplus figure is not always equal to the year-by-year primary balance. Denmark achieved a primary surplus equal or higher than 5.3% in only 5 years during the 1983 – 2008 period. Actually, the primary surplus was at least 3.5% during 9 of the total of 26 years.

Yet the most important element that is not highlighted in the above cases is the fact that large primary surpluses were achieved in the context of equal or (mostly) higher current account surpluses. This is highly important since it allows the domestic private sector to achieve a positive net asset position even when the public sector is in surplus. As a result, economic growth is not threatened by the public sector and the private sector maintains a healthy balance sheet.

To illustrate the above I ‘ve «corrected» the primary surplus by subtracting the current account surplus. I ‘ve also deliberately set the vertical axis maximum to 3.5% which is the surplus requested from Greece to illustrate the fact that it is almost never achieved.

corrected primary balance for current account - selected high surplus episodes.jpg

On the contrary, of the total of 60 years in the above episodes, 26 had a negative corrected primary surplus while it was lower than 1.5% in 40 years illustrating the fact that the IMF assumption of a 1.5% surplus is not unreasonable.

Since the Greek cyclically adjusted current account is highly negative it is clear that the assumption of high primary surpluses which will be maintained for decades is almost without precedence in the context of the private sector balance. Assuming a 3% nominal growth rate (based on the IMF assumption of 1% growth), a 10 year 3.5% primary surplus is equal to a 30% GDP transfer from the domestic private sector while a 20 year 3.5% surplus is equal to 52% GDP transfer which will not be counterweighted by a current account surplus.

In my view, the European institutions continue to make assumptions consistent with avoiding explicit costs for Greece’s creditors but inconsistent with economic reality and sectoral balances.

A recent paper tried to perform a very important exercise of evaluating the balance sheet effects of a Euro exit for various Euro countries. Its results were that the relevant sectoral net positions will be the main drivers of balance sheet effects. Periphery risks are concentrated on the net positions of the government and the central bank while the financial and non-financial sectors mostly hold a positive net position.

net position by sector and country

More specific risks do arise from the fact that certain sectors (within countries) have significant levels of short-term debts, although this fact does not change the overall picture substantially.

Debt by sector and country

I would like to use this opportunity in order to take a detailed view at the sectoral balance sheet risks from a Grexit scenario relying on BoG Greek NIIP data (data are for 2016Q3). I am focusing on specific categories and not taking categories such as direct investment or derivatives into account.

Greek Sectoral NIIP 2016Q3

On the asset side:

  • BoG now holds a large stock of foreign bonds as a result of its participation in the ECB QE program.
  • MFIs have a total of €19bn in deposits and €59bn in bonds a loans. Nevertheless, a large part of the latter are EFSF notes offered as part of the various rounds of Greek banks recapitalization exercises.
  • NFC and households have substantial claims in the form of deposits and banknotes, more than €52bn in total.
  • The general government holds no assets while its foreign exchange reserves are very low and mostly in the form of monetary gold. Although Greece does have a claim on the ECB reserves this would not change the picture in a serious way.

On the liability side:

  • The general government is the largest debtor with €28bn in bonds and €236bn in loan liabilities. Yet most of the bonds and almost all of the loans are long-term in nature.
  • BoG is the second largest debtor with almost €93bn in liabilities which consist of Target2 and extra banknotes.
  • MFIs have a large stock of liabilities in the form of deposits (which are usually a proxy for repo trades).
  • NFC and households have a very small stock of liabilities in the form of bonds and loans (a bit over €10bn).

Overall one observes that:

  • The largest part of the Greek NIIP is attributed to the Greek government with over €260bn in debt.
  • Taking into account the bonds held as part of QE, BoG net foreign liabilities drop to €47bn.Using the most recent available data (January BoG monthly statement) this figure further decreases to a bit over €38bn or close to 20% of GDP.
  • NFC and households hold a strong positive net claim from the RoW equal to almost €44bn. This most certainly masks firm-specific risks and mismatches but overall, the Greek non-bank private sector will improve its net position in the case of a currency depreciation (following a Grexit).
  • Using only deposits figures, Greek MFIs have a net liability close to €28bn. Since a large part of their liabilities will be under foreign (instead of domestic) law this creates a serious risk of missing debt payments or being unable to roll-over short-term repos and other obligations. Given that the Greek banking system will be the one intermediating in all of the private sector’s foreign transactions this net liability position can create rather difficult scenarios.

I will also use BoG MFI balance sheet data to take a closer look at Greek bank foreign risks:

Greek banks foreign risk Jan-2017

It is clear that things are a bit complicated, especially since Greek banks have a large stock of intra-group transactions with group members in other (Balkan?) countries. Nevertheless, after correcting for such transactions one observes that they owe €13.6bn in net liabilities to other MFIs (€18.5bn gross) and another €8.6bn in foreign deposits. The main source of risk will mostly be the first item which is usually secured by a standard contract (master agreements) and is under foreign law.Missing a payment on these liabilities will create serious problems for the corresponding bank and its ability to continue transacting in international markets. Obviously a risk assessment would be made easier if the maturity profile of these liabilities (and assets) was known.

Regarding the BoG liability position I believe that in the event of a Grexit, securities held for monetary purposes will be used to settle the largest part of Eurosystem claims while the remaining net position will be settled with some form of Greek government long-term securities (probably floating rate notes paying Euribor).

In summary, I generally agree with Kostas Lapavitsas who believes that a Grexit scenario will necessitate increasing Greek government foreign reserves to at least €12-15bn. The main immediate sources of risks are the short-term debt of the Greek government and Greek banks. The first consist mainly of liabilities towards the IMF (since SMP Greek bonds are under Greek law and would be converted to the new currency) while the second require a thorough risk analysis. A Grexit would be extremely difficult if Greece only held €7bn in foreign exchange reserves (with 2/3 being monetary gold) since a bank debt payment failure would create serious disruptions in the country’s international transactions.

ELSTAT released the second national accounts estimate for 2016Q4 today and the announcement did make a lot of noise. The main reason being the large growth revisions for the last quarter of 2016 with the volume decreasing by 1.1% compared to the last quarter of 2015, in stark contrast with the initial flash estimate of an increase equal to 0.3%. This development erased the initially estimated annual expansion of 0.3% with the current figure being slightly below zero.

Yet I think that looking into the detailed evolution of specific aspects of the Greek GDP paints a rather different and less alarming picture:

greek-volume-quarterly-national-accounts-2014-2016

Both private consumption and net exports posted positive growth compared to 2015Q4 while general government consumption fell by €200mn in volume terms. The negative outcome for 2016Q4 is entirely attributed to investment which dropped 1.76bn. The reason for this is twofold.

First, change in stocks was a negative 1.47bn which coupled with another -1.53bn in Q3 resulted in a second half figure of roughly 3bn. Nevertheless, private consumption was 0.9% higher in 2016H2 which does not justify such a fall in stocks (almost 10% of quarterly private consumption). Taking a look at a 4-quarter moving sum reveals that the sum is close to the trough of recent stock cycles.

greece-change-in-stocks-4-quarter-moving-sum

Given the fact that 2016Q1 change in stocks was a positive 1bn, even a zero change in stocks during 2017Q1 will lead the moving sum to a figure close to -2.7bn similar to what happened during 2012, at the depths of the Greek Depression. Obviously such dynamics are hard to reconcile with a stable/slowly increasing private consumption. A zero reading for τηε change in stocks during 2017Q1 will be equal to around 3.5% of quarterly GDP and thus have a large impact on quarter-by-quarter growth figures.

The second aspect of investment was gross fixed capital formation which came at roughly the same magnitude as previous quarters (5.45bn). Nevertheless, the corresponding 2015Q4 figure was exceptionally large (6.3bn) and resulted in a negative effect when compared to the last figure of 2016. Yet the 2015Q4 number seems to be a clear outlier, probably attributed to capital controls effects during 2015. This is quite clear if we compare the difference of fixed investment to its 4-quarter moving average since the start of 2011:

greece-fixed-investment-difference-from-4-quarter-moving-average

Overall, I think that 2016Q4 investment developments constitute a set of outliers and will not have a large impact of 2017 GDP movements. Although I do not share the government’s optimism about a large 2017 growth, I do not think that today’s revision for Q4 growth will change this year’s dynamics considerably.

One of the main targets of recent adjustment projects throughout the Euro periphery have always been the reorientation of production towards exports and an export-led recovery. Yet when analysing trade and external balance developments one must always pay attention on using the correct metric. A large contraction of domestic demand will almost surely lead to a fall of imports and an improvement of the current account balance. An increase of external demand even with a constant export income elasticity of demand will mechanically lead to an increase in exports. Yet none of the above suggest a rebalancing of production towards exports or a structural improvement of cost/quality competitiveness.

One metric that can avoid some of the above problems is the share of world exports. If that remains stable yet exports increase then this fact points to an increase of external demand, not of export penetration. On the other hand, an increase in export share will mean that a country is able to increase its exports more than the change in total world exports and gain competitiveness compared to other countries (whether this is a zero sum game is another story).

Looking into Euro exports through these lens makes it clear that no country (except Ireland and only for 2015) has been able to materially increase its (goods) export share compared to 2010:

  Euro share of world exports 2010 - 2015.jpg

As a result, the 20-30% rebound in real exports compared to 2010 is most probably a function of movements in external demand than of any structural changes in product quality, prices or mix:

euro-real-goods-exports-2010-2015-base-2010

Taking a more long-term view one can examine how the export share evolved since the introduction of the Euro. A small caveat is that export shares precision is two digits so they are not able to catch small movements in the case of countries such as Greece and Portugal with exports shares around 0.17 or .40.

euro-share-of-world-good-exports-base-2002

and

euro-share-of-world-services-exports-base-2002

Starting with goods exports share the data show that only Germany and Greece managed to maintain or increase their share until the Great Recession. Even Ireland saw a large decrease of its share during that period. During and after the Great Recession no country managed to increase its 2008 share (I am disregarding the Irish exceptional data point of 2015). This suggests a structural deterioration which was clearly not alleviated by the adjustment programs undertaken since 2011.

Regarding services exports share we observe a clear, stable upward trend for Ireland which managed to increase its share by 53% until 2015, a development which is surely closely correlated with its role as a tax avoidance hub. Germany, Greece and Portugal all managed to roughly maintain their 2002 share until 2008 while the rest witnessed a strong decline.

During and after the Great Recession we witness a substantial decrease in shares for most countries with the most pronounced decline being the one for Greece. The Greek services exports share managed to fall almost at half its 2008 level by 2015, a development that is most probably related to the large drop in shipping revenues during the corresponding period.

Overall, export share data do not suggest any actual structural adjustment in periphery countries in favor of exporting industries. On the contrary, services exports (with the exception of Ireland) have clearly deteriorated while goods exports only marginally maintained their shares. Any exports gains seem to have only been a function of autonomous external demand movements rather than structural in nature.

One of the classical narratives in the Greek (tragedy) story is how Greece is the outlier in an otherwise successful implementation of austerity and adjustment programs throughout Europe. Other European countries thoroughly introduced and implemented austerity policies, liberated their labor and product markets, adjusted their economies towards an export and investment-led growth model and are now enjoying the benefits of their efforts.

In this short essay I would like to point at two important problems for this story. The first one is that the periphery experienced large and persistent output gaps during the European crisis since 2011. Spain had a negative output gap of 8.5% in 2013 while Italy and Portugal registered gaps more than 4% of potential product. All number were significantly larger than the relevant numbers at the start of the crisis during 2011.

periphery-output-gap

An increase in the output gap is consistent with a rebound in economic growth in the immediate years during which the gap closes. Obviously this does not mark a policy of increasing output gaps and inflicting recessions as «successful», nor is a rebound not expected as soon as fiscal and monetary policy are relaxed. This is made clear from economic growth projections for 2017-18 period during which the closing of output gaps will lead to a significant decrease of output growth compared to 2015-16.

periphery-output-growth

The second point is the fact that a clear indicator of success for an adjustment policy is not economic growth during the period when output gap closes but rather if the adjustment has permanent positive effects on potential output. An adjustment program which is supposed to increase productivity, efficiency, growth prospects and lower macroeconomic imbalances would be assumed to lead to a corresponding increase of potential output.

Yet recent research suggests that austerity policies implemented during the Eurocrisis have had permanent negative effects on potential output which actually increase overtime:

The results show a coefficient close to one for 2014 and around 1.6-1.7 for 2019. This suggests that every 1% fiscal-policy-induced decline in GDP during the years 2010-11 translated into a 1% decline in potential output by 2014 and even more for 2019. The results are significant for both samples and the coefficient is similar for the Europe and Euro.

permanent-effects-on-potential-output-from-fiscal-consolidation-2sls-europe

If one takes a look at potential output for various European countries (base = 2011) the results are that crisis countries had a serious blow on their economic potential. Only Spain will achieve a level equal to 2011 by 2018, while Italy and Portugal will still be quite lower than their 2011 levels. At the Euro-12 level, potential product will be only 6% higher than 2011, a result driven to a large extent by the positive dynamics of the German economy (an increase close to 11%). If Germany is excluded from Euro-12, growth falls to 4% with half the increase occurring during 2017-18 (the 2016 level is only 2% higher than 2011).

periphery-potential-output

Obviously there are other structural factors playing a role in these developments (such as labor force growth dynamics), yet these results, especially compared to the German outcome, clearly suggest that adjustment programs did not provide a medium term boost to potential product. Claiming to return countries on a path of sustainable, strong growth yet keeping potential at 2011 levels for almost a decade can hardly be regarded as a sign of success.

BoG recently released its 2016 financial statement, posting a total of €1.09bn in profits with close to €1.5bn in net interest income, slightly lower than the relevant figures during 2015. In light of this I would like to take a quick look into the annual developments in the major components of its balance sheet.

During 2016, total lending to Greek banks (defined as the sum of MROs, LTROs and Other Claims) dropped from €107.5bn in December 2015 to €66.6bn at the end of 2016, a fall of roughly €41bn (a figure close to 25% of GDP or equal to annual goods imports for the Greek economy). Other Claims (ELA) played a significant role with an annual decrease of €25.2bn.

total-lending-and-other-claims-2016

The fall was driven to a large part by a fall in liabilities towards the Eurosystem, both for Target2 liabilities and extra banknotes:

target2-and-extra-banknotes-2016

Yet the total fall in Eurosystem liabilities was much lower than the decrease in bank lending, an adjustment of €28.4bn:

total-lending-and-eurosystem-liabilities-base-2016

The main reason was the significant increase in securities held for monetary purposes which increased from €20.7bn at the end of 2015 to a total of €42.5 in December 2016 (a change close to €22bn). Obviously this increase was the result of purchases by BoG in the context of the ECB QE program. As the ECB itself has acknowledged, a large part of QE securities purchases involve cross-border transactions which result in a corresponding increase of Target2 liabilities. As a result, Target2 balances cannot be used as a useful capital flight tracker anymore since they correspond to legitimate transactions in the context of QE.

Total collateral dropped from €189.2bn to €131.7bn in December, a figure still two times larger than the total debt securities held by Greek banks or roughly 2/3s of total credit claims held by the Greek banking system.

Overall, 2016 was a year of relative stabilization although the BoG balance sheet still reflects a substantial amount of stress present. The presence of capital controls acts as a first line of defence to any amount of capital flight while QE is destined to increase both BoG balance and its liabilities towards the Eurosystem. Moreover, while securities held for monetary purposes were only 22% of Target2 liabilities during December 2015, they have now climbed close to 60%. As a result, in the event of Grexit, a large part of the Target2 (negative) balance could be settled immediately with a transfer of securities and a corresponding fall of the BoG balance sheet. The amount not covered by securities is now close to €30bn and seems destined to fall in 2017 as well.

So it is more than clear that European creditors of Greece are continuing to demand long-term primary surpluses around 3.5% of GDP. One has to ask: What’s so special about this number? Why can’t it be lowered a bit and give Greece more breathing space?

The answer is quite simple:

2% interest rate x 180% debt to GDP = 3.5% of GDP/year

The 3.5% primary surplus target is the one consistent with maintaining the debt-to-GDP ratio stable when the nominal GDP growth rate is zero. This means that Greece can  withstand shocks to its nominal growth rate (negative real GDP growth or a deflationary shock) and still manage to keep its debt ratio stable. Obviously, as long as it manages to achieve positive nominal growth its debt ratio will decline each year while privatization receipts will lower debt even quicker.

From a slightly different point of view, the 3.5% target provides insurance to European creditors that any short-term failures of the Greek program will not lead to an increase of the debt ratio, only to a flatter decline path. The risk of the Greek program not achieving its ambitious targets is pushed on the back of Greece while its creditors can keep the upside of any positive shocks that will improve debt sustainability.

Yet again one observes that the Greek issue is mostly a political rather than an economic issue. It relates to the question of who provides insurance regarding the program targets. Since European creditors appear unwilling to provide such insurance my feeling is that agreeing on a lower target will prove substantially difficult, especially in the current political climate across Europe.

Όπως είναι ήδη αρκετά σαφές το ΔΝΤ θεωρεί απαραίτητη μια δημοσιονομική μεταρρύθμιση η οποία θα περιλαμβάνει την μείωση του αφορολόγητου ορίου ώστε μεγαλύτερο τμήμα του πληθυσμού να πληρώνει φόρους και την εφαρμογή του νέου πλαισίου υπολογισμού συντάξεων και για τις τρέχουσες συντάξεις ώστε να μειωθεί το έλλειμμα του συνταξιοδοτικού.Έχω ήδη κάνει ορισμένα σχόλια πάνω στις δύο αυτές προτάσεις σε προηγούμενη ανάρτηση. Στο σημερινό κείμενο θα ήθελα να κοιτάξω λίγο πιο διεξοδικά το ζήτημα του ελλείμματος του συνταξιοδοτικού.

Με βάση λοιπόν το ΔΝΤ, το έλλειμμα αυτό βρίσκεται στο 11% του ΑΕΠ σε σχέση με το 2,5% στην υπόλοιπη Ευρώπη. Ο υπολογισμός του γίνεται ως συντάξεις μείον εισφορές και άλλα έσοδα. Ένα αρχικό ζήτημα είναι το γεγονός ότι το ΔΝΤ χρησιμοποιεί στοιχεία για το 2015 σε ότι αφορά την Ελλάδα και για το 2013 σε ότι αφορά την υπόλοιπη Ευρώπη. Αποτέλεσμα είναι να μη λαμβάνονται υπόψη οι εξελίξεις από τότε σε σχέση με εισφορές, επίπεδο συντάξεων και πλήθος συνταξιούχων.

greece-state-transfers-to-pension-system

Σε κάθε περίπτωση, στα πλαίσια της τελευταίας ασφαλιστικής μεταρρύθμισης το σύνολο των συντάξεων πληρώνεται πλέον από τον Ενιαίο Φορέα Κοινωνικής Ασφάλισης. Ανάμεσα τους και οι συντάξεις του δημοσίου για τις οποίες το δημόσιο πληρώνει πλέον εργοδοτικές εισφορές ενώ το υπόλοιπο τμήμα των εξόδων εμφανίζεται ως αυξημένες μεταβιβάσεις προς τον ΕΦΚΑ αντί για κρατικές δαπάνες. Κατά συνέπεια το ποσό που εμφανίζεται στον Κοινωνικό Προϋπολογισμό του 2017 ως μεταβιβάσεις στον ΕΦΚΑ είναι και το ποσό το οποίο θα έπρεπε να χρησιμοποιηθεί σε τυχόν συγκρίσεις με άλλες χώρες.

κοινωνικός προϋπολογισμός 2017 έσοδα έξοδα επιχορηγήσεις ασφαλιστικών ταμείων.jpg

Όπως είναι σαφές το ποσό αυτό είναι ίσο με περίπου 14,7 δις €. Με βάση το ΑΕΠ του 2017 το οποίο προβλέπει το ΔΝΤ ως ποσοστό του ΑΕΠ το παραπάνω ποσό είναι ίσο με περίπου 8%. Βλέπει λοιπόν κάποιος ότι ήδη το μέγεθος το οποίο εμφανίζει το ΔΝΤ στις αναλύσεις του είναι πολύ διαφορετικό από αυτό το οποίο θα επιτευχθεί το 2017 ενώ δεν έχω δει κάπου ανάλυση για το πώς η τρέχουσα νομοθεσία θα μεταβάλει σταδιακά τις πληρωμές συντάξεων (λόγω εισόδου συνταξιούχων με συντάξεις υπολογισμένες με τη νέα νομοθεσία).

Στο προηγούμενο άρθρο είχα αναφερθεί στην επίδραση του οικονομικού κύκλου στο συνταξιοδοτικό. Θα κάνω το ίδιο και τώρα με λίγο διαφορετική μεθοδολογία. Από τα ετήσια στατιστικά στοιχεία του ΙΚΑ μπορεί να δει κάποιος ότι οι εισφορές καταποντίστηκαν από περίπου 11,5 δις € το 2010 σε 5 δις € το 2016:

%ce%ad%cf%83%ce%bf%ce%b4%ce%b1-%ce%b1%cf%80%ce%bf-%ce%b5%ce%b9%cf%83%cf%86%ce%bf%cf%81%ce%ad%cf%82-%ce%ac%ce%bb%ce%bb%ce%b1-%ce%b5%cf%80%ce%b9%cf%87%ce%bf%cf%81%ce%b7%ce%b3%ce%ae%cf%83%ce%b5%ce%b9

Μία lay man’s κυκλική προσαρμογή που μπορεί να πραγματοποιήσει κάποιος είναι:

nominal output gap * adjusted wage share * 20% εισφορά.

Με βάση αυτή τη φόρμουλα προκύπτει μία κυκλική επίδραση στις εισφορές κοντά στο 1% του ΑΕΠ. Ένα απλό τεστ για το κατά πόσο τα αποτελέσματα είναι λογικά είναι απλά να υπολογιστούν οι απώλειες σε εισφορές μεταξύ 2010 και 2016 που θα είναι περίπου ίσες με:

Μεταβολή ονομαστικού ΑΕΠ * adjusted wage share * 20% εισφορά

Με διαφορά περίπου 50 δις € σε ΑΕΠ  και adjusted wage share 50% οι απώλειες είναι κοντά 5 δις €, ένα αρκετά λογικό αποτέλεσμα.

Κοιτώντας μάλιστα κάποιος τα adjusted wage shares της Ελλάδας και της Ευρώπης θα παρατηρήσει ότι αυτό είναι 50% στην Ελλάδα αλλά 55% στην Ευρώπη, πιθανότατα λόγω της μεγαλύτερης παρουσίας αυτοαπασχολούμενων στη χώρα μας. Η απλή φόρμουλα που χρησιμοποιήθηκε πριν οδηγεί στο συμπέρασμα ότι δομικά οι εισφορές στην Ελλάδα θα πρέπει να είναι 1% του ΑΕΠ μικρότερες από την υπόλοιπη Ευρώπη, για παρόμοιους συντελεστές εισφορών.

Ένα τελευταίο ζήτημα που θα πρέπει να θιχτεί είναι το γεγονός ότι σημαντικό τμήμα της κρατικής χρηματοδότησης αφορά συγκεκριμένα τον ΟΓΑ ο οποίος παρουσιάζει μεγάλη αναντιστοιχία μεταξύ εισφορών και συντάξεων. Αναφορές στον τύπο παρουσιάζουν το επίπεδο της χρηματοδότησης στα 3,3 δις € ή κοντά 2% του ΑΕΠ. Προφανώς η προοπτική μείωσης συντάξεων στο ΙΚΑ και στον ΟΑΕΕ για να καλυφθεί η χρηματοδότηση προς τον ΟΓΑ είναι προβληματική, τουλάχιστον από πλευράς κοινωνικής δικαιοσύνης.

Συνολικά λοιπόν παρατηρούμε ότι κατ’ αρχήν το πραγματικό επίπεδο του ελλείμματος στο συνταξιοδοτικό σύστημα κινείται στα επίπεδα του 8% του ΑΕΠ και όχι 11% όπως αναφέρει το ΔΝΤ στις αναλύσεις του. Από εκεί και πέρα ένα 2% αφορά συγκεκριμένα τον ΟΓΑ ενώ πολύ απλοί υπολογισμοί υποδεικνύουν ότι 1% είναι κυκλικό (και θα πάψει να υφίσταται μόλις κλείσει το output gap της Ελληνικής οικονομίας) και 1% αποτέλεσμα της διαφορετική δομής της Ελληνικής οικονομίας. Οι αναλύσεις για το συνταξιοδοτικό λοιπόν και πολύ περισσότερο οι ενέργειες στις οποίες αυτές θα οδηγήσουν θα πρέπει να λαμβάνουν υπόψη τους αυτά τα δεδομένα.

So the IMF decided to publish its views on the size and path of Greek budget surpluses. In a nutshell, it still thinks that only a 1.5% primary surplus target is credible in the long-run and even that target must be accompanied by «growth-enhancing» budget reforms, including a lower tax-free income threshold and a reduction in pensions in order to lower state transfers to the public pension system.

Yet if Europeans and the Greek government «agree» on a higher surplus target (the 3.5% target agreed by the recent Eurogroup meeting) then the latter has to legislate measures upfront in order to make that commitment credible.

My first comment is to state the obvious fact that there really doesn’t exist any sort of «agreement» between the Greek government and its European partners. Rather, European countries would like to avoid any actual debt relief and thus will demand higher surplus targets than those that are reasonable from an economic standpoint. It is quite obvious that the Greek government is the weak side of this bargain and, as long as the IMF thinks that any target above 1.5% does not make economic sense, it should pressure the Europeans (who are the strong side in this debate) into accepting deeper debt relief, instead of standing ready to work with any surplus target they demand from the Greek side.

The IMF cannot claim to be a neutral technocratic institution and yet sign-off budget balance targets which it clearly believes to be unrealistic from a technical point of view only because they seem to be the only ones «politically acceptable».

Turning to the specific details of the IMF analysis, there are a couple of points to be made.

The IMF believes that the tax-free income threshold is quite high in the Greek case, which results in more than half of the wage earners to be exempt from income taxes (while the Eurozone average is close to 8%):

tax-free-income-threshold-in-euro-area

Its proposal is to lower that threshold significantly in order to be able to reduce the «high marginal tax rates». My objections are two-fold: First, the IMF does not insist on such a reduction in order to strengthen the revenues of the social safety net and lower the tax rates of middle-income wage earners. Rather, it would like to see the additional revenue being used in reducing the tax rates of high-income earners (which stand at more than 50% if the solidarity tax is taken into account). Thus it is actually proposing a post-tax income redistribution from the low-income earners to the top. In the IMF view such a redistribution will be «growth-enhancing» although I personally fail to understand how its effects will be anything else but contractionary, at least in the short-term, since it will by definition redistribute income from persons with a low saving rate to individuals with a higher saving rate.

Moreover, Greece displays one of the highest «risk of poverty» rates in the Eurozone which is close to 36% (and is actually even higher for people 16-54 years old) as well as a significantly high Gini index. As a result, a reduction of the income threshold, especially if it is not used to strengthen the social safety net significantly, will result in a rise of the post-tax poverty rate and income inequality with ambiguous medium/long-term growth effects.

The second point of the IMF is that Greece makes budgetary transfers to the pension system that are many times higher than the rest of Europe, at 11% of GDP compared to 2¼ for the Eurozone.

Greece - State Transfers to Pension System.jpg

Although it is difficult to deny that the Greek pension system is expensive, unequal and in need of reform, it is still true that the above analysis does not take the state of the economy into account. According to the latest Eurostat figures, Greece still posts an output gap of -10.5% compared to only -1% for the whole of the Euro area. As a result, a large part of the budget transfers to the pension system are not structural but cyclical, due to the high unemployment level (close to 25%) and the significant incidence of part-time, low-paying jobs for the individuals who are actually employed.

Based on the latest statistics for wage earners (March 2016), the part-time employment share is 29% (532 thousand persons) with an average salary of 405€ while the full-time average is 1220€ (1300 thousand persons). At the same time, the average old age monthly pension is close to 800€. It is obvious that no pension system would be able to survive without significant state transfers given the level of unemployment and under-employment present in the Greek economy.

One way to compare Greece with the rest of Europe in a cyclically-adjusted manner is to calculate old age pension expenditure as a percentage of potential product. This is exactly what I have done in the following table (nominal potential product is equal to potential output multiplied with the actual GDP deflator):

old-age-pension-expenditure-potential-product

We can see that pension expenditure actually compares quite favourably with other European countries such as France, Italy and Portugal.It is thus probable that a large part of the state transfers are the result of the large economic slack present in the Greek economy. That suggests that Greece primarily needs cyclical relief (through lower surplus targets for instance) rather than an upfront deep structural reform.