Ireland’s economic performance in the first quarter of the year was marked by a dichotomy between domestic spending and exports; the former fell, no doubt impacted by the acceleration in inflation, while the latter grew strongly. The net impact was a double digit rise in GDP,which also implies that the consensus growth figure for the full year, currently around 4%, is too low.
The monthly data on industrial production and Irish trade had implied a strong quarterly reading in exports, although the national accounts figure also includes output manufactured offshore, largely in China, so adding a degree of uncertainty given the Lockdowns there. In the event the outsourcing component was lower than of late but not enough to prevent a 5.2% quarterly rise in the volume of exports. which boosted GDP by 7.5 percentage points. There was also an unusually large contribution from stock building of 3.8 percentage points and these two components largely explain the 10.8% surge in q1 GDP.
The consensus view this year envisages strong growth in consumer spending, in part fuelled by a big fall in the savings ratio, although we are skeptical on that issue. The upside surprise in inflation may also be having an impact though, and personal consumption actually fell in volume terms in q1, by 0.7%, following a 0.5% decline in the final quarter of last year. Government consumption also contracted in volume terms, by 0.4%, while the other component of domestic demand, capital formation, plunged by 39.5%, driven by another large fall in spending on Intangibles . This component is extremely volatile on an annual let alone quarterly basis but is broadly GDP neutral as most of it is also captured as a service import (which reduces GDP) . Consequently that component fell sharply in q1 , by 19%, with total imports falling by 12%.
The annual growth rate of GDP picked up to 11% in the first quarter, from 9.6% , and as such means that Ireland would have to record a recession in the coming quarters to leave the average for the year anywhere near the 4% consensus. GDP growth forecasts will therefore probably be revised up in the near term, although domestic demand projections are likely to be revised down, notable consumer spending.