Join me over Christmas, I'll be burning a paper effigy of 2009, burying the remains in the back garden and celebrating its demise with a hot whiskey. The only people who escaped getting mugged by this crisis are in the ground. While much of the focus has understandably been on income lost from unemployment, from huge cuts in pay and pernicious levies, truly gargantuan losses were made in asset values as rising debt met plummeting asset values, wiping out much middle class wealth. Across the board, balance sheets are in tatters from the halving of property values, banks foreclosing on associated debts and the pounding which pension funds have taken. Nobody has been immune and I include myself in that, having faced a wipe out in a central Europe development and a sharp fall in many other assets. Guru my eye. Throughout 2009 anyone who took investment risk in previous years on just about anything went through a meat grinder of fear, lost sleep and bouts of despair that tested even the stoutest heart.
But at least the poxy year is nearly over and next year holds the promise of a bright recovery. It has been an extraordinary turnaround. Remember this time one year ago, with the world economy in ICU, we had just began to realise how much of a mess Ahern's tribe of regulators and bankers had left us. Roll forward a year and the math is still staggering; toxic development debt €54 billion, a current account deficit barrelling towards €100 billion and a large chunk of the €150 billion in private sector credit going south as unemployment and universal falls in income take their toll. Add the public sector pension liabilities of €108 billion to the butcher's bill and ask yourself just how long the Irish economy will be paying off these debts into the future?
Still at least we're no longer in freefall. At the 11th hour a vacillating Government found the will to act. Having scared us with a year of denial, bluff and spin, it should come as no surprise that Irish consumer confidence bounced after the budget – certainty breeds confidence. While the domestic economy as measured by GNP continued to slip at the twilight of the year, the overall economy as measured by GDP that includes foreign firms based here, grew. Meanwhile the USA, Germany, France and many other OECD economies have been registering growth for some months now and the Asian regional economy has taken off. For Ireland, which is hugely leveraged to exports, these turnarounds are of vital importance. But a return to sustained export growth won't solve the permanent deficit created by Ahern's daft economics. At best the next global upturn will eliminate a third of our deficit but the rest is up to us and that means more cuts over coming budgets.
Next year the big unknown is whether the recovery, sparked by massive government stimulus packages and borrowing programmes, will work. Essentially all the toxic debt that crippled banks has been hovered up by Governments and passed through to taxpayers in the hope that future growth in tax revenues from economic recovery will repay what's owed. That's a really big ask and we really won't know until well into 2010 and maybe into 2011 if the global recovery is real or artificial, -that's when consumers pay down excessive debt and come out spending again.
Since the low on March 6th when stock markets hit the floor, the values of quoted companies have been flying back and by year end were up 60% . Watch markets because any second leg down into another global recession will be heralded by a precipitous fall in stock markets, cooking the Irish goose completely. So enjoy the Christmas dinner and let's pray 2010 will be the year the economic pessimists miscalled. Next week, my top tips for the new year.