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Ireland recovering strongly but weak productivity and Brexit cloud outlook

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The Irish economy is recovering robustly. Business investment by local firms has picked up, household consumption is reviving while the boost to jobs and a rapidly declining unemployment rate have led to strong wage growth in a number of sectors, says a new OECD report.

In its latest Economic Survey of Ireland, the OECD says the expansion is projected to continue over the next two years – albeit at a more sustainable pace (forecast at 2.9% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019) – but it warns that Brexit poses a serious risk to the outlook. It estimates that a trade arrangement between Britain and the EU governed by the WTO’s Most Favoured Nation rules could reduce Irish exports by 20% in sectors such as agriculture and food.

Such uncertainty makes it vital to further improve public finances to create scope for policies to support the economy in the event of a shock and ensure that the benefits of growth reach everyone.

Presenting the survey in Dublin, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Ireland’s economic performance over recent years has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround that owes much to government efforts to restore dynamism and address the legacies of the crisis, particularly unemployment. But much remains to be done. Reviving productivity in Ireland’s business sector is the key to boosting future output and wages. Efforts also need to ensure that growth is inclusive and sustainable, improving people’s well-being without leaving segments of the population behind.

Among its many recommendations, the survey highlights that reviving productivity will be crucial to ensure Ireland’s future economic dynamism and to maintain high living standards. Local firms compare poorly with foreign-owned multinationals active in Ireland, with productivity gaps between them widening. The report argues that unblocking the productivity potential of Irish firms will require improving the business environment and encouraging the benefits of new ideas and technology in high performing foreign companies to spill over to local firms.

Creating the right environment will require reducing regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship. Rules surrounding commercial property and legal services are too costly while access to finance for young firms needs to improve. The OECD also recommends improving infrastructure to alleviate emerging bottlenecks. Careful evaluation through a more systematic collection of information is required in order to identify investment projects which would have the highest returns in terms of well-being and economic growth.

While the survey highlights the improvement in public finances and the reduction of fiscal deficits, it suggests that public debt could be further reduced by broadening the tax base, including by eliminating exemptions and preferential VAT rates and raising the property tax yield through more regular revaluations. It also calls attention to the need to continue strengthening the financial sector: despite the fact that non-performing loans (NPL) on bank balance sheets have now declined by around 60% from their peak, incentives are needed for banks to further reduce their NPL stock.

The survey also notes that life satisfaction is relatively high in Ireland, but well-being is lower than in many other OECD countries in the areas of housing, health and jobs among young people with low qualifications. House prices and rents are rising strongly. Because supply is not keeping up with demand, local councils should be encouraged to rezone underutilised sites for residential use. To promote the efficient use of such land, a broad-based land tax should be introduced. Building more social housing would also help tackle the high cost of accommodation and protect those with high debts from falling into poverty.

Ireland does not have universal coverage for primary healthcare which leads to high costs for those without private insurance. The survey recommends laying out a clear path to the provision of universal access to health and social services.

To help tackle low labour market participation among vulnerable groups, the OECD argues for making all social benefits conditional on earnings and not employment status and for withdrawing them more gradually as earnings rise.

The OECD and the Irish government will this month begin working together on a one-year project to review policies for small and medium-sized enterprises in Ireland. It will look in detail at issues such as raising the productivity of local firms, enhancing linkages with foreign multinationals in Ireland and rebalancing activity between Dublin and the regions.

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Private markets forecast to grow to $4.9tn globally by 2025 and make up 10% of global AuM

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Assets under management (AuM) in private markets to expand by between $4.2 trillion and $5.5 trillion in the years up to 2025 in worst/best case scenarios for economic recovery, according to new analysis from PwC.

The report, Prime time for private markets: The new value creation playbook, examines prospects for four primarily illiquid asset classes of private equity (including venture capital), infrastructure, real estate and private credit across a range of scenarios for 2019-2025. 

The report projects significant growth for the value of private markets of $5.5tn (best case), $4.9tn (base case) and $4.2tn (worst case) depending on how global economic conditions respond to the disruption caused by Covid-19.

Will Jackson-Moore, global leader for private equity, real assets and sovereign funds at PwC says,‘The report highlights the continued emergence of private markets as a fast growing and highly impactful portion of global capital markets. Investors continue to look to the sector to deliver the yields that lower risk and more liquid asset classes struggle to match. 

‘Yet this is also an opportunity for private markets to take a lead on ESG and net zero commitments and demonstrate the impact they can make in public perception beyond public markets.’

Opportunities across asset classes

Even in the worst case scenario of a prolonged recession, the projections look ahead to growth of almost 50%  up to 2025.

While private equity is very much “the asset class of the moment” there is evidence that there are significant opportunities for growth and returns in areas such as real estate, infrastructure and private credit.

Will Jackson-Moore says,‘While opportunities for growth are out there, it is important to emphasise that returns will be harder to find and be more aggressively fought for. Managers will need to be innovative in their approach to value creation and respond swiftly to changing investors and governmental expectations as economies recover from the effects of the crisis.’

ESG and going beyond financial return

Will Jackson-Moore says,‘Our research highlights the extent to which financial return is no longer the sole driver of private markets growth. ESG and Net Zero commitments now represent a significant source of value preservation and creation. 

‘Private market managers need to respond by looking at how to apply an ESG lens to investment strategy and product development. Whether it is in impact turnaround initiatives in which ‘dirty’ production facilities are turned green, or building strong commitment to diversity and inclusion at your organisation, these matters are no longer an overlay.’

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Key Reforms Needed to Grow Albania’s E-commerce Sector

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A new World Bank Albania E-Commerce Diagnostic highlights key reforms needed to better leverage digital trade as opportunity for economic development.

E-commerce can be an important asset for Albania. Online sales channels allow businesses to reach more customers, at home and abroad. Customers gain from greater convenience and more choice. Sectors enabling e-commerce can create new jobs, including in technology companies, logistics and online payments.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online markets are playing a particularly important role by allowing economic life to continue despite social distancing. The 2020 World Bank Enterprise Survey reveals that almost 20 percent of Albanian firms surveyed reported having either started or increased online business activity during the crisis.

To help Albania seize the digital trade opportunity, this new diagnostic identifies a roadmap of critical reforms in logistics and customs;  digital connectivity; online payments; private sector capabilities and skills; and the e-commerce regulatory framework.

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Digitalizing the Maritime Sector Set To Boost the Competitiveness of Global Trade

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A new report launched today by the World Bank and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) shows that better digital collaboration between private and public entities across the maritime supply chain will result in significant efficiency gains, safer and more resilient supply chains, and lower emissions.

Maritime transport carries over 90% of global merchandise trade, totaling some 11 billion tons of cargo per year. Digitalizing the sector would bring wide-ranging economic benefits and contribute to a stronger, more sustainable recovery.

Accelerating Digitalization: Critical Actions to Strengthen the Resilience of the Maritime Supply Chain describes how collaborative use of digital technology can help streamline all aspects of maritime transport, from cross-border processes and documentation to communications between ship and shore, with a special focus on ports.

The COVID-19 crisis has evidenced a key benefit of digitizing waterborne and landside operations: meeting the urgent needs to minimize human interaction and enhance the resilience of supply chains against future crises.

“In many of our client countries, inefficiencies in the maritime sector result in delays and higher logistics costs, with an adverse impact on the entire economy. Digitization gives us a unique chance to address this issue,” noted Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure. “Beyond immediate benefits to the maritime sector, digitalization will help countries participate more fully in the global economy, and will lead to better development outcomes.”

IAPH Managing Director of Policy and Strategy, Dr Patrick Verhoeven, added: “the report’s short and medium term measures to accelerate digitalization have the proven potential to improve supply chain resilience and efficiency whilst addressing potential risks related to cybersecurity. However, necessary policy reform is also vital. Digitalization is not just a matter of technology but, more importantly, of change management, data collaboration, and political commitment.”

Although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made it mandatory for all its member countries to exchange key data electronically (the FAL convention), a recent IAPH survey reveals that only a third of over 100 responding ports comply with that requirement. The main barriers to digitalize cited by the ports were the legal framework in their countries or regions and persuading the multiple private-public stakeholders to collaborate, not the technology.

The report analyzes numerous technologies applied already by some from the world’s leading port and maritime communities, including big data, the internet of things (IoT), fifth-generation technology (5G), blockchain solutions, wearable devices, unmanned aircraft systems, and other smart technology-based methods to improve performance and economic competitiveness.

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