Archive for July 3rd, 2011

Welcome to the last in the current GreekWatch series, a feature launched in May when our media singularly failed to report the departure of the IMF/EU review mission from Athens when it apocalyptically declared Greece was not making sufficient progress to secure the next tranche of its first bailout. That event had the potential to plunge the EuroZone into chaos and at the very least seemed very relevant toIreland’s economic fortunes. Since then, domestic media coverage has improved to the extent that it seemed to me there was over-coverage of theGreece crisis and a few riots and petrol bombs were blown out of all proportion as RTE took the latest correspondent’s report from anAthens portrayed as being ablaze. Well, I suppose the drama increased audiences and sold news papers. The odd thing is that the media coverage has died away just at the point that we start navigating unfamiliar waters.

So where are we? As predicted here last week, the austerity and privatisation programme passed through the various stages in the Greek parliament in the past week without a great deal of drama despite the world’s media trying to ratchet up the suspense. Outside there were noisy protests and the odd fire bomb. But it seemed that this austerity plan was always going to pass –Greece is just too weak and doesn’t have enough options to resist. And yesterday evening there was a Eurogroup conference call amongst the EuroZone finance ministers including our own Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan and whilst a single minister might theoretically have vetoed the release of the next tranche of the Greek bailout, that didn’t happen. So no real drama there but that might be set to change in the next week.

The EU has effectively agreed to the release of the next tranche of the bailout. But the IMF hasn’t yet. And it was the IMF that was seeking assurances that Greece could repay its other maturing debt over the next 12 months, that was causing such problems in the past month, at least between the bailout partners. What has changed? Arguably nothing, and it might be that the IMF waits for the second Greek bailout to be agreed before releasing its €3.5bn contribution to  the €12bn tranche. It might also demand a “personal guarantee” from the EU that if Greece doesn’t repay maturing debt, then the EU will meet any shortfall. All of this is unclear, but the impression emerging is that whatever it takes to avoid a Greek default now will be done by the EU. And if that means the EU meets the entire €12bn funding of the next tranche, so be it.

And what about the second bailout? Again, as noted on here last week, it is puzzling that there hasn’t been more noise. The initial plan was that the second bailout would total €120bn which would comprise €30bn of a contribution from Greece by way of additional privatisation, €30bn from private sector bondholders who might be persuaded to extent maturing Greek debt and the remainder from the EU and possibly the IMF. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with that? Almost all of it, because Greece  might not readily agree to a 60% increase in its privatisation programme, private sector bondholders won’t give a cent of debt rollover unless coerced and many nations in the EU don’t believe Greece has a snowball’s chance in Tartarus of meeting the existing plan and dealing with a 160% debt:GDP. The only thing that seems certain is that Greece will need a second bailout.

In terms of the French plan for getting private sector involvement in rolling over debt, I recommend you take a look at  Megan Greene’s (formerly of The Economist) assessment of the plan. Personally I cannot see how the plan cannot result in a default decision by the ratings agencies unless the debt is guaranteed by the EU. So during the coming week, expect some fireworks as the IMF is set to debate at board level the release of the next tranche. Don’t be surprised if additional guarantees are sought and given by the EU. But in all likelihood the €12bn tranche will be released by 15th July whenGreece is due to start repaying maturing debt. There will definitely be some fireworks to mark the negotiations of the 2nd Greek bailout. But for now at least it seems that the Greek crisis has receded. The IMF/EU will be back inAthens in September 2011 when this might all start again.

Meantime, it might be time to start a SpainWatch series as that country has €660bn of maturing debt in the next 24 months. New EU stress tests due in the coming weeks are expected to fail a number of Spanish banks (five of the seven last year that failed the discredited CEBS tests were Spanish) and it seems that Spanish residential property prices are beginning to decline at more realistic rates with a 5% decline in Q1 of 2011. Spanish 10-year bond yields touched 5.8% during the past week before falling back significantly to finish at 5.38%. Can Spanish banks that appear to hold €450bn of land and development loans with provisions for losses of 10% escape the fate of Ireland where ultimately 60% losses were assessed by NAMA? As noted on here a fortnight ago, we may well be approaching the citadel to the EuroZone’s ability to bailout struggling euro economies.


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The preliminary Irish census results for April 2011 which were released during the week focussed attention on greater than expected overall population growth – the actual population is 100,000 up on estimates of population just 12 months before and the expectation was that growth would be flat as natural increases were expected to have been offset by emigration. But the focus on here is generally housing and the most interesting factoid to emerge was that Irish households have shrunk in size from 2.82 per household in 2006 to 2.68 in 2011. Now on the face of it, that is a tiny change but it has a major impact on housing. In fact between 2006 and 2011, we needed an extra 85,627 dwellings to accommodate the reality of smaller household sizes; yes, a tiny 0.14 change in household size equates to 85,627 dwellings in just five years, or just over 17,000 per annum. This entry examines why our households are shrinking.

The shrinkage in Irish household sizes is to be expected and furthermore is in line with realities in the rest of Europe. According to Eurostat, in 2009 the average EU household size was 2.4. This hides a large variation with Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta having 2.9 and at the other end of the spectrum Germany, Denmark and Sweden with just 2.0. Eurostat reported that we had a 2.7 average size here in 2009. It seems though that the long term trend for all countries is average household size is reducing. In 1971 in the UK there were 2.9 people per household with one person households accounting for 18% of households. In 2009 that had fallen to 2.4 per household and one person households accounted for 29% of households. And as forIreland, here’s a table setting out our population, number of households, household size and % of households having a single occupant since the first census in the State in 1926.

The trend from the above is obvious, on average each year household sizes drop by 0.025 which equates to 15,552 new dwellings required based on our present population of 4.6m. But in the past 25 years it has been dropping by 0.04 which equates to 25,356 new dwellings required each year. In fact over the past five years we needed 121,072 dwellings to accommodate population growth (population growth 2006-2011 divided by household size in 2006) which equates to 24,214 new dwellings a year. So in modern times, we apparently need dwellings more for the shrinkage in household size than population growth. Told you this was interesting!

So the key question. Why are household sizes shrinking? The answer requires a sociologist’s input so please forgive this amateur’s views.

Lower birth rate?

Irelandis close to the top of the league of developed countries for producing babies on a birth rate basis with 15.5 births per 1,000 head of population per year. That compares with 12 and below for our EU neighbours. On a fertility rate basis, average number of babies per woman we are also close to the top of the developed world league with 1.96 babies per woman. That compares with 1.82 in theUK for example. So in terms of the developed world, we’re doing our bit to ensure there will be an adequate supply of Irish into the future, though our birth and fertility rates are significantly below those in the undeveloped world. However, from the point of view of shrinking household size, we’re not interested in our world rankings today but in changes to Irish birth rates. Oddly enough our birthrates have been holding up remarkably and although we are no longer at 22 per 1000 that we had between the 50s and 70s, we are up from the lows of 14s in the 1990s.

Now this conclusion is a little unsettling because, in younger days, I can certainly remember families with 14 children, which might be considered a bit of a freak show today because the norm seems to be for smaller sized families. And if we look at the size of households from 1926 onwards, it seems that households with 1-4 members has increased whilst 5+ has declined.

So my tuppence worth at this stage, which might be interesting to research, is that the overall birth rate has held up despite family sizes reducing because there are more families. There are more marriages and co-habiting couples as a proportion of total family units than previously. So fewer bachelors and spinsters, but that theory needs more research. What I can say here is that our marriage rate has stayed the same since the 1960s as revealed in these Eurostat numbers, and we still have 5-6 marriages per 1000 of population per year (5.2 in 2009, 5.5 in 1960) but I can’t find figures on co-habiting couples which might have been frowned upon in the 1960s but seems quite acceptable today, and figures from 2009 suggested that 33.3% of all births were outside wedlock which was most certainly frowned upon in decades past. In Greece just 7% of births are outside wedlock though in Iceland it is 65%, the EU average is 37%.

Marriage break-ups and divorces

It wasn’t until after the referendum in 1995 that divorce was finally recognised in Ireland, so it is perhaps not surprising that we still have the lowest divorce rate in the EU with just 0.8 divorces per 1,000 per annum, that’s about 3,500 in total each year. And presumably each of these gives rise to the need for a new dwelling. We’ve always had annulment and separation of course and it might be that these are now seeking divorces instead. The EU average divorce rate is 2.1 per 1,000 andBelgium has the highest rate of 3.0 per 1,000 per year.

Living longer

Not only does Irelandhave one of the highest birth rates in the developed world but we also have one of the lowest death rates with 7 per 1,000 compared to 9 in France, 10 in the UK and 11 in Germany. Paradoxically we have just  average life expectancy rates in the EU at 77 for men and 82 for women (compared to the EU average of 75 and 82, the best Iceland 80 for men and France 85 for women and the worst Estonia 66 for men and Bulgaria 77 for women). The paradox resolves itself with understanding that Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe. We are definitely living longer in Ireland today than in previous generations, in 1960 the average life expectancy for a man was 68 and woman 72. I have not seen statistics on healthy life expectancy which is generally defined as life expectancy before a serious illness or condition impairs life to a serious extent but I would expect that this also has increased inIreland. And whereas in times past, the aging parents would live in the family home of the children these days it seems that elderly people are wealthy and healthy enough to live by themselves.

Co-habitation instead of marriage

In the good old days, folks lived with their parents or possibly by themselves before marriage. These days co-habitation before marriage is almost a pre-requisite. So instead of two dwellings belonging to two families, we might now need three dwellings for the two families and the co-habiting couple. I have not seen statistics on the number of households inIrelandcomprising co-habiting couples but if one third of all babies are born outside marriage, it is likely to be significant.

Marrying later in life

In 2006 the average age for a first marriage in Ireland was 32 for men and 30 for women. Outside Scandanavia, Irish women are the oldest in Europe to get married. Irish men get married at about the European average and certainly below Germany (33) Italy (32.8). How does that compare with times past? In 1996 the average age for men was 30.2 and women 28.4. And looking back as far as the 1960s, the average age of marriage today for women is considerably higher than the 24-27 range that applied previously.

The role of women

It’s been many years now since it was frowned upon for  women to venture forth beyond the family home without directly entering the married home. Education and career opportunities are undoubted better than in times past. And with that independence from family and spouse comes housing needs.

The single life

It certainly seems to be a trend in western Europe that there are more singletons living alone. I’m not sure that has changed much in Ireland, but whereas in times past, the bachelor son or spinster daughter might remain in the parental home, these days it is not unusual for them to have their own place.

So there you have an amateur’s view on why we have smaller household size. There might well be other headings such as criminality and prison population and patterns associated with migration. The main point of this entry has been to emphasise household size is shrinking and to discuss possible reasons. And finally, what for the future, will our average household size decline further from 2.68? Difficult to say but you might expect divorces to increase and we are very much out of line with the rest of Europe. Our life expectancy should also increase in terms of better medical care and diet though obesity and less exercise might offset those gains. We will probably increase our standards of living so that we can afford to live independently when we age or between the parental home and co-habitation/marriage. The birth rate seems to be holding up remarkably well in Irelandthough it is down from 50 years ago, has it stabilised? So overall difficult to say what will happen in the future but the trend in the past 85 years has overwhelmingly been towards smaller household sizes.

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