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Rating Action:

Moody's affirms Ireland's A2 rating; maintains stable outlook

14 Feb 2020

Paris, February 14, 2020 -- Moody's Investors Service, ("Moody's") has today affirmed Government of Ireland's long-term issuer rating of A2. Ireland's senior unsecured bond, programme and commercial paper ratings have also been affirmed at A2, (P)A2 and Prime-1, respectively. The outlook on the ratings remains stable.

The key drivers of this rating affirmation are:

1. Ireland's high wealth levels and rapid growth, which are balanced against growth volatility and vulnerability to external risks;

2. Ireland's return to a fiscal surplus, though debt levels remain high relative to peers and revenue concentration risks persist; and

3. Irish banking sector risk has largely receded, though it continues to drive susceptibility to event risk together with political risk and external vulnerability risk.

Concurrently, Moody's has also affirmed the National Asset Management Agency's (NAMA) A2 backed issuer rating and its short-term issuer and commercial paper Prime-1 ratings. NAMA's ratings are aligned with those of the Irish sovereign, given that NAMA's debt obligations are explicitly guaranteed by the Republic of Ireland. The outlook on the ratings remains at stable.

Ireland's long-term local and foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at Aaa. The short-term foreign currency bond and deposit ceilings are also unaffected by this rating action and remain at P-1.

RATINGS RATIONALE

RATIONALE FOR AFFIRMATION OF RATING AND MAINTENANCE OF OUTLOOK

FIRST DRIVER: WEALTH LEVELS AND RAPID GROWTH, BALANCED AGAINST GROWTH VOLATILITY AND VULNERABILITY TO EXTERNAL RISKS

The first driver relates to Ireland's strong economic performance and high competitiveness, balanced against high growth volatility and exposure to external risks, including Brexit and shifts in global taxation rules. The Irish economy has expanded at a very rapid pace over the past five years, posting the highest growth rate in the EU three out of the five years between 2014 and 2018. In the first nine months of 2019, real GDP growth came in at 5.9% year-on-year. Strong growth in 2019 was underpinned by a surge in fixed capital formation, offsetting a sharp drop in net exports. Although Moody's cautions that GDP figures are inflated by the large presence of multinational corporations in the country, underlying domestic fundamentals remain strong, too.

The Irish economy is highly competitive, which has enabled the country to attract sizeable foreign investment over the past five years. Multinational corporations accounted for 42.4% of Ireland's gross value-added in 2018, up from 25.4% in 2013. Ireland benefits from a favourable business environment, as illustrated by its 24th position out of 190 economies in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index for 2020, closely behind Germany (Aaa stable) and Canada (Aaa stable). The country's attractiveness to multinational companies stems from its low corporate tax rate of 12.5%, a highly skilled, English-speaking and flexible labour force, and easy access to European markets. Ireland's status as a preferred destination for US multinational corporations in Europe also stems from the relative proximity with the US and a smaller time difference compared with most other parts of Western Europe.

Although the large presence of multinational corporations in Ireland reflects the country's high competitiveness, it has also translated into elevated volatility. Over the past five years, growth rates have been inflated by the large presence of multinational corporations in the country. Increasing offshore production for exports (so-called "contract manufacturing") and their large investments in intangible assets over the past few years, have translated into GDP distortions making them unreliable indicators of the country's underlying economic performance. Between 2014 and 2018, modified gross national income -- or so-called GNI*, which excludes the retained earnings of redomiciled multinational companies, the depreciation of R&D-related IP imports and depreciation on aircraft related to leasing activities -- grew by an average 7.6% in nominal terms, compared with 13.0% for nominal GDP.

The very open nature of the Irish economy also exposes the country to various external risks. Although not likely, a no-trade deal Brexit at the end of the transition period this year is the largest single risk to Ireland's economic outlook, given strong trade and supply chain links. The UK is a main destination for Irish exports, accounting for 11% of total goods exports in 2018, albeit slightly down from 14% in 2015. Therefore, the re-introduction of tariffs would weigh on Irish goods exports. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland effectively remains in the Single Market but also is in the UK customs zone and there is an intent to have trade flowing over the Irish border as smoothly as possible. However, this relies on a complicated set of trade arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that must be agreed in any final arrangement (and that will rely on as-yet unbuilt IT systems). Supply chains are deeply integrated and would therefore face heavy disruption under a no-deal scenario at the end of the transition period which is scheduled for the end of this year.

The other risk to Ireland's positive economic performance arises from potential changes in the global taxation environment, given the importance of multinational corporations to the country's economic model. Changes in global taxation rules would undermine Ireland's attractiveness for multinational corporations. Ongoing discussions at the OECD levels to harmonise taxation rules are a key risk. In November 2019, the OECD released the Global Anti-Base Erosion Proposal ("GloBE"), which recommends a global minimum tax rate on corporate profits, and a tax on eroding payments. However, agreeing on and implementing these new rules could be a lengthy process and it is far from clear that changes would be dramatic given the OECD's desire to avoid "big winners and big losers" coming out of any final agreement. Moody's does not expect that shifts in global taxation rules would materially weaken the existing stock of foreign direct investment in Ireland. Many multinationals have long-established businesses in Ireland and will likely continue to use the country as their base for exports to European and other markets. However, flows of new foreign direct investments could materially decline.

SECOND DRIVER: A RETURN TO FISCAL SURPLUS, THOUGH DEBT LEVELS REMAIN HIGH AND REVENUE CONCENTRATION RISKS PERSIST

Ireland's fiscal and debt metrics have improved steadily in recent years, but much of this improvement is due to very favourable economic tailwinds. The Irish Fiscal Council estimates that the Irish government accounts have benefited from €10-14 billion in fiscal tailwinds (largely made up of extraordinary corporate income tax revenues, falling interest costs, and a cyclical increase in revenues more generally); of this €10-14 billion in fiscal tailwinds, just €3 billion in improvements in the deficit have materialized, reflecting the authorities' spending priorities.

The budget balance returned to a small surplus in 2018, while general government debt declined to an estimated 59.6% of GDP in 2019, down from 63.6% in 2018 and from a peak of nearly 120% in 2012. The last of NAMA's subordinated debt will be repaid in 2020, which will allow a tranche of the estimated €4 billion surplus (roughly 1% of GDP) to be transferred to the Treasury. Debt affordability has also improved steadily, as Ireland benefited from the low interest rate environment -- a trend which Moody's expects to continue over the coming years. Combined with the lengthening of the maturity profile, any vulnerability to rising interest rates would be very manageable.

Despite the rapid increase in public investment, Moody's expects that the budget balance will remain in small surplus over the coming years, as sustained growth in revenue and contained current spending allow for a robust increase in capital expenditure. Small budget surpluses in the coming years would allow for a continued decline in the debt burden. While the composition of the future government is uncertain, our base case is that the next government will not embark on a major shift in fiscal policy that would reverse declines in the debt trajectory.

Despite the positive trend in public finances, debt remains material, especially when using alternative debt ratios. On a cumulative basis, nominal GDP has risen 85% between 2012 and 2018. Given the distortions in Ireland's GDP and GNP figures, the government debt-to-GDP ratio does not give a reliable indication of the state's true repayment capacity. When measured against GNI*, debt was much higher, at 104.3% in 2018. On a per capita basis, Ireland has the third highest government debt globally, behind Japan and the US. As measured as a share of revenue (250% of revenue in 2018), Ireland's debt is higher than all A-rated sovereigns with the exception of Japan and Malaysia. As a share of GNI*, Ireland's debt level is higher than all A-rated peers except Japan. The authorities only expect that debt/GNI* will fall to 85% by 2025, so the debt burden will remain high throughout the first half of this decade.

Meanwhile, revenue concentration remains a key downside risk for the public finances. Revenue is more volatile than in other countries due to the large presence of multinational corporations, and the government has done little to address the growing reliance on corporate income tax. Net revenue from corporate income taxes accounted for around 18.4% of tax revenue in 2019 according to Exchequer data, significantly higher than the 11.4% recorded in the EU in 2018, and that the 10.3% recorded in Ireland in 2011. According to the Irish Revenue Commissioners, 77% of this revenue source came from foreign-owned multinational corporations in 2018, while 10 largest corporate taxpayers accounting for 45% of all corporate tax revenue in 2018, compared to an average of 35% over 2009-2012.

Outperforming corporate tax receipts have enabled the Irish authorities to increase (unplanned) non-interest spending in recent years. Health overruns have been the main driver of sustained increases in the expenditure ceiling since 2016. In 2019, health spending was 4% higher than what was included in the 2019 budget despite a large increase in planned expenditure. This issue stems from both overly optimistic forecasting at the start of the year, and weak monitoring of spending throughout the year. Public sector wages will be another source of pressure, as pay reductions undertaken between 2009 and 2015 are being reversed.

THIRD DRIVER: BANKING SECTOR RISK, AND TO A LESSER EXTENT POLITICAL RISK, DRIVE IRELAND'S SUSCEPTIBLITY TO EVENT RISK

Banking sector risk, albeit receding, and to a lesser extent political risk amid uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit are driving Ireland's susceptibility to event risk together with external vulnerability risk.

Domestic banks have strengthened their capitalisation levels and reduced their levels of impaired assets since 2014, but sector vulnerabilities persist. The asset-weighted average baseline credit assessment for the banks now stands at baa2, compared to ba3 five years ago. The Irish banking sector is now much smaller compared with the crisis-era, with domestic sector assets accounting for 103% of GDP at end-2018, down from 474% in 2009. This reflects a transformation of Irish banks following the financial crisis, as well as denominator effects given that GDP growth has been very strong over the past five years. This has reduced the sector's exposure to market turbulence. Nevertheless, the sector remains concentrated in the two main banks.

Problem loans at Irish banks rated by Moody's have declined to 6.3% of gross loans at end-June 2019, from 17.5% at end-2015, but remain significantly above the euro area average of 4.5%. Moody's expect banks to continue reducing their NPL exposure through loan sales, and as economic growth supports borrowers' finances. However, many NPLs will be difficult to address, and asset quality will likely remain a source of vulnerability.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING—UP/DOWN

A positive outlook or upgrade of Ireland's rating would require further progress in eliminating the remaining crisis-era imbalances, in particular a further material reduction in the public debt ratio, ideally supported by a reduction of revenue concentration risk. Clarity on post-Brexit trading arrangements would potentially also remove a source of uncertainty and increase positive credit pressures.

Downward pressure on the rating would emerge if the course of fiscal policy changed, putting at risk the downward trend in the debt ratio. Although not anticipated, a material adverse impact of Brexit or global corporate tax reform on Ireland's growth performance in coming years would also be rating negative.

ESG CONSIDERATIONS

Moody's takes account of the impact of environmental (E), social (S), and governance (G) factors when assessing sovereign issuers' economic, institutional, and fiscal strength and their susceptibility to event risk. In the case of Ireland, the materiality of ESG to the credit profile is as follows:

Environmental considerations are not material to Ireland's rating.

Social considerations inform our assessment of Ireland's credit profile but are not material to the rating. Some of the most relevant social factors relate to spending pressures on healthcare and public sector salaries, especially after the latter suffered drastic cuts during the crisis-era. In comparison to many other EU countries, though, Irish demographics are favourable and so ageing costs are a less of a drag on credit quality.

Governance factors are a material driver of the rating. Ireland's institutions are strong, and supportive of the A2 rating. Ireland scores very high on institutional factors, as captured in the Worldwide Governance Indicators, reflecting strong policy effectiveness and rule of law. Policymakers' effectiveness in addressing the crisis through successive administrations, and in preparing for Brexit despite high uncertainty, further underpins our assessment.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 79,617 (2018 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): 8.2% (2018 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 0.8% (2018 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: 0.1% (2018 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: 10.6% (2018 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

External debt/GDP: [not available]

Economic resiliency: a1

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1983.

On 11 February 2020, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Ireland, Government of. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's institutions and governance strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially changed. The issuer's susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed.

The principal methodology used in these ratings was Sovereign Ratings Methodology published in November 2019. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this credit rating action, if applicable.

LIST OF AFFECTED RATINGS

Affirmations:

..Issuer: Ireland, Government of

....LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A2

....Commercial Paper, Affirmed P-1

....Senior Unsecured Medium-Term Note Program , Affirmed (P)A2

....Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Affirmed A2

..Issuer: NAMA (National Asset Management Agency)

.... Backed LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A2

.... Backed ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1

....Backed Commercial Paper, Affirmed P-1

Outlook Actions:

..Issuer: Ireland, Government of

....Outlook, Remains Stable

..Issuer: NAMA (National Asset Management Agency)

....Outlook, Remains Stable

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series, category/class of debt or security this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series, category/class of debt, security or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this credit rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this credit rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

Sarah Carlson, CFA
Senior Vice President
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's France SAS
96 Boulevard Haussmann
Paris 75008
France
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

Yves Lemay
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

Releasing Office:
Moody's France SAS
96 Boulevard Haussmann
Paris 75008
France
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

No Related Data.
© 2020 Moody's Corporation, Moody's Investors Service, Inc., Moody's Analytics, Inc. and/or their licensors and affiliates (collectively, "MOODY'S"). All rights reserved.

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