Category Archives: Irish construction

13/10/17: Debt Glut and Building Dublin


Just back from Ireland, a fast, work-filled trip, with some amazing meetings and discussions, largely unrelated to what is in the 'official' newsflow. Some blogposts and articles ahead to be shared.

One thing that jumps out is the continued frenzy in building activity in Dublin, predominantly (exclusively) in the commercial space (offices). Not much finished. Lots being built. For now, Irish builders (mostly strange new players backed by vultures and private equity) are still in the stage where buildings shells are being erected. The cheap stage of construction. Very few are entering the fit-out stages - the costly, skills-intensive works stage. And according to several sector specialists I spoke to, not many fit-out crews are in the market, as skilled builders have not been returning to the island, yet, from their exiles to the U.S., Canada, Australia, UAE, and further afield.

Which should make for a very interesting period ahead: with so many construction sites nearing the fit-out stages, building costs will sky rocket, just as supply glut of new offices will start hitting the letting markets. In the mean time, many multinationals - aka the only clients worth signing - have already signed leases and/or bought own buildings on the cheap. Google owns its own real estate (hello BEPS tax reforms that stress tangible activity over imaginary revenue shifting); Twitter has a refurbished home; Facebook is quite committed to a lease (although it too might take a jump into buying); and so on. Tax inversion have slowed down and Trump Administration just re-committed to Obama-era restrictions on these, while Trump tax plan aims to take a massive chunk out of this pie away from Ireland. So demand... demand is nowhere to be seen.

Will this spell a twin squeeze on office blocks currently hanging around in a pre-weather tight conditions?

The market timing for a lot of this real estate investment is looking shaky. Globally and across Europe, corporates are doing relatively well. But, despite this, there is no investment cycle on the horizon. And revenues growth rates have been sustained by a massive glut of legacy credit sloshing in the international monetary system. Courtesy of Daniel Lacalle @dlacalle_IA, here is a Deutsche Bank chart illustrating what the past monetary excesses have produced:
Three lessons are to be extracted from the above:

  1. Lags in corporate investment activity imply that the current level of demand for hard assets worldwide is driven by the 2016 ultra low borrowing rates; 
  2. Forward corporate investment activity is starting to show the pressure of rising rates and reduced (or even negative) assets purchases by the Central Bankers, with negative rates share of the total debt market shrinking from over USD12 trillion at the end of 2016 to USD8 trillion now; and
  3. The glut of debt continues to rise through 2017, albeit at a slightly slower rate than in 2016.
These points suggest that, barring a new miracle of monetary variety, forward debt financed investment and growth is bound to slow. And the cost of debt carry is bound to rise. Which should be bad news for the European and U.S. debt-funded real estate activity. 

And it will be an even tougher pill to swallow for the crop of new (Nama-linked) Irish developers who were quick in raising hundreds of millions in funding in form of cheap (ultra cheap) debt and frothy equity. Many of these lads have nearly zero experience in building, some are backed by 'experts' from Nama's top cohorts of 'specialists' - the cohorts that were dominated by the pre-bust advisers, not developers. 

The bust is still unlikely at this stage, as majority of current sites that are in mid-stage development have a low acquisition cost, thanks to the fire sales by Nama, and still enjoy a couple of years of cheap debt carry costs. 

But inflation in construction costs will sap whatever wind the housing building sub-sector might have had in it (which is not much, as housing construction is still sitting well behind offices activity). Planning permissions for new housing are languishing sub 1,500 per quarter, comparable to 2010 levels. Planning permissions for ex-residential are at late 2007- early 2008 levels, aka stronger.


In other words, the upcoming cost squeeze is likely to do two things to the Irish market:
  • Cost inflation at fit-outs will probably dent future development activity, instead of creating a large-scale bust; and
  • Commercial development sector will continue pressuring house building, driving up rents and residential property prices.

6/1/16: Irish Manufacturing, Services & Construction PMIs: 4Q 2015


Time to update Irish quarterly PMI readings for 4Q 2015. Please note: the following refer to average PMI readings per quarter as supplied by Markit.

Irish Manufacturing PMI averaged 53.7 in 4Q 2015, down slightly on 54.7 in 3Q 2015 and the lowest quarterly reading since 4Q 2013 (jointly tied for that honour with 1Q 2014). The quarterly average has now declined in every quarter since the period peak in 4Q 2014.  Still, at 53.7 we have rather solid growth signal as is. On y/y basis, Manufacturing PMI is now down 5.1% after falling 2.6% in 3Q 2015 and rising 0.7% in 2Q 2015. 4Q 2015 marks tenth consecutive quarter of above 50.0 readings for the sector, with all of these readings being statistically above 50.0 as well. The trend in growth is down.

Irish Services PMI slipped from 62.6 in 3Q 2015 to 61.8 in 4Q 2015, down 1.3% q/q after posting a 1.4% rise q/q in 3Q 2015. On annual basis, the PMI fell 0.11% having previously risen 0.91% in 3Q 2015 and falling 0.48% in 2Q 2015. This marks 20th consecutive quarter of above 50.0 readings in the sector. In level terms, 61.8 signals robust growth in the sector, so it is a positive signal, albeit over time consistent with quite a bit of volatility and no strongly defined trend.

Irish Construction sector PMI (through November 2015) for 4Q 2015 stood at 55.9, down from, 57.1 in 3Q 2015 and marking the second consecutive quarter of index declines. Q/Q index was down 7.95% in 3Q 2015 and it was also down 2.16% in 4Q 2015. Y/Y, index was up 1.42% in 2Q 2015, down 7.6% in 3Q 2015 and down 12.4% in 4Q 2015. Volatile movements in the series still indicate downward trend in growth in the sector.


Chart above summarises the sub-trends, with Services trending very sluggishly up, while Manufacturing and Construction trending down.

As shown in the chart above, my estimated Composite measure, relating to PMIs (using sectoral weights in quarterly GDP figures) posted moderation in growth rate in 4Q 2015.  Composite Index including construction sector stood at 54.4 in 4Q 2015, down from 55.5 in 3Q 2015, hitting the lowest reading since 3Q 2013. This marks second consecutive quarter of declining Composite Index. Index is now down 1.9% q/q having previously fallen 3.8% q/q in 3Q 2015. In y/y terms, Composite Index was up 0.8% y/y in 2Q 2015, down 3.5% y/y in 3Q 2015 and down 6.52% y/y in 4Q 2015. While levels of Index suggest relatively robust growth in the economy across three key sectors, there is a downward trend in the growth rate over time.

So in the nutshell, Irish PMIs continue to signal robust growth, albeit the rate of growth appears to be slowing down along the new sub-trend present from 1Q 2015 on.


Two charts to highlight relationship between PMI signals and GDP and GNP growth rates (data through 3Q 2015).




10/9/15: Building & Construction: 2Q 2015 y/y & historical compratives


Having looked at the relationship between PMI and actual activity in Irish Building and Construction sector in the previous post, now, let's take a closer look at the CSO series for actual activity in the sector.

As a starter, consider the current consensus view of the ongoing strong recovery in the sector.

All data not seasonally adjusted, so we are looking at y/y changes here.

First in terms of Volume of Production (excluding inflationary effects):

  • Total volume index for production in Building & Construction sector in Ireland was at 106.0 in 2Q 2015. This represents a rise of 8.72% y/y, second strongest increase in last 4 quarters. Compared to 1H 2011 the index is up 39.47%, seemingly confirming the overall story of strong recovery. However, the problem is that this recovery has been off horrific lows. Compared to series peak, activity in the sector was still 72.9% lower in 2Q 2015, and current levels of Building & Construction volumes are 53.7% below their 2Q 2000 levels. For the sake of another comparative, today's reading of 106 compares to 2000-2001 average reading of 234.6.
  • Residential Construction volume index stood at 112.6 in 2Q 2015, up massive 45.7% y/y, and up 58.9% on 1H 2011. Again, levels of activity are still weak: the index is still down 88% on pre-crisis peak and is 77.7% below 2Q 2000 reading.
  • Non-residential building volume index reached 113.3 in 2Q 2015, up 7.9% y/y and 26% ahead of 1H 2011. The index is still down 41.4% on pre-crisis peak and activity in non-residential building sub-sector is 33.4% below 2Q 2000 reading.
  • Civil engineering is the only sub-sector of the Building & Construction sector that is posting activity above 2000 levels. Current index at 92.6 for 2Q 2015 is, however, marking a decline in activity compared to 2Q 2014 (down 14% y/y). Compared to peak activity, the index is 43.9% lower today, but it is 16.2% ahead of activity registered in 2Q 2000.
Now, in terms of Value of Production (including inflation):
  • Total value index for production in Building & Construction sector stood at 107.1 in 2Q 2015, up 9.85% y/y, marking, once again the second highest rate of growth in the last 4 quarters. The index is still 71.3% below its peak reading, and is down 34.6% on 2Q 2000. Current reading of 107.1 is well below 2000-2001 average of 177.2.
Chart to illustrate:

Conclusions: overall, the recovery rates in the sector have been driven (to-date) by the low base from which the recovery is taking place. Double-digits growth is hardly inspiring when it happens in an environment where actual levels of activity are massively below where they were 15 years ago. That said, growth is better than contraction. 

10/7/15: Irish Quarterly PMIs: Manufacturing, Services & Construction


Irish PMI for June, released earlier this month by Markit (co-branded by Investec) give us a chance to look at quarterly activity. Given volatility in both Manufacturing and Services activity in the monthly data, this provides a slightly better potential insight into what is going on in the economy (see caveat at the bottom of the post).

Q2 2015 average PMI for Manufacturing sector reads 55.8 - the lowest for any quarter since Q2 2014, but still solidly in an expansion range. Q2 2015 marks second consecutive quarter of declining manufacturing PMI readings. However, on a positive side, Q2 2015 was the 8th consecutive quarter of readings above 50. Year on year, growth in the sector remained largely unchanged and growth de-accelerated on a quarterly basis.

Q2 2015 average PMI for Services rose marginally to 61.8 from 61.6 in 1Q 2015 and is below 62.1 average for Q2 2014. Q2 2015 marks 18th consecutive quarterly reading above 50 for the Services sector. Year on year, growth slowed down in the Services sector and quarter on quarter it remained largely static.

Construction sector PMI (co-branded with Ulster Bank) posted quarterly average of 60.3 in Q2 2015, well above 54.0 average for Q1 2015, but below 61.2 average for Q2 2014. Thus, year on year growth fell in the Construction sector, but there was a significant acceleration in quarter on quarter growth. Q2 2015 marks 8th consecutive quarter with average PMI above 50.0.


Composite PMI (subject to future revisions due to sectoral weights changes once we have Q1 and Q2 national accounts) posted a reading of 60.4 in Q2 2015, up on 59.0 in Q1 2015 and marginally higher than 60.2 reading in Q2 2014. Year on year, composite PMI signalled basically static performance, while quarterly growth improved somewhat in Q2 2015.


Caveat: Irish PMI readings have very low direct correlation to actual growth in the economy, measured by either GDP or GNP. Historically, PMIs levels and changes explain at most ca 10.6 percent of variations in GNP and at most 8.8 percent of variations in GDP. In other words, booming PMIs, on average, do not translate into booming economy. 

18/6/15: Tripling Permissions… and Where’s That Construction Boom?


CSO released Planning Permissions figures for Q1 2015 with the following summary:


Which certainly conveys a sense of a veritable boom going on in the construction sector future activity pipeline. Yes, tripling of the apartments permissions and doubling of total dwelling permissions.

But here are the numbers in their more sober presentation. Please, mind - these are numbers from CSO itself.

  • Total number of planning permissions granted in Ireland in 1Q 2015 stood at 3,895. which is 11.2% higher than in 4Q 2014, but only up 1.62% y/y. In 1Q 2014, the same rose 17.04% which is much faster than in 1Q 2015. So the boom is getting less boomier.
  • Current level of planning permissions granted is 77.5% lower than at the peak while at absolute minimum of the crisis it was 81.1% lower. In other words, we are not that far from the crisis trough.
  • Current level of planning permissions granted is 10.27% below the absolute minimum achieved in 1975-1999 period.
  • The record busting quarter of 1Q 2015 is actually 13.76% below the quarterly average between 1Q 2011 and today.
  • Dwellings saw planning permissions granted rise to 1,065 in 1Q 2015 which is 21.3% ahead of 4Q 2014 (remember - seasonal variation not accounted for). 1Q 2015 number is 19.5% ahead of 1Q 2014, so there is nice growth here y/y.
  • Still, 1Q 2015 reading for dwellings permissions granted was 85.9% lower than pre-crisis peak, 26.9% lower than 1975-1999 period lowest recorded number and is 35.4% lower than the quarterly average for the period from 1Q 2011 through 1Q 2015.
  • In Sq. Footage terms: total volume of planning permissions granted in 1Q 2015 came in at 952,000 sq.m. which is 28% ahead of 1Q 2014, but 85.8% below pre-crisis peak. Things are getting healthier here, but still off very low levels.
You can judge the trends for yourself in the following charts:

Boom here?

Or boom here?

Or maybe a boom here?

Ah, at last, a boom here?

Oh dear... gotta be next time...