ONE thing that can be said with certainty at this stage: growth in 2008 will be well below last year’s out-turn.
Every report over the past six to nine months has been revised downwards to date as concern grows that the economy might be dragged into recession by the credit crisis.
One of the difficulties in trying to stay positive about what’s in store for us is that all of the news looks to be getting that bit grimmer with each passing day.
Unconfirmed reports of workers having to quit rural Ireland for England to find work, as house building dries up, are starting to filter through.
Deepening worries too about where the housing market is headed overall is starting to cause concern.
Construction employment was down 11% at the end of February year-on-year and the level of unemployment continues to rise.
Inflation is a worry too and the hopes of an ECB cut in borrowing rates were dashed yesterday as ECB President Jean Claude Trichet warned inflation remains a serious threat in the months ahead.
For economists close to the ECB that is code for no cut in ECB rates until the second half of 2008, and even the more optimistic are now saying there will be no rate reduction until September at the earliest.
If the banks cut rates earlier than expected that policy reversal by the European Central Bank is not all positive for this economy.
If the ECB sees it way to lowering rates it means the eurozone economy is starting to slow as the impact of the US is felt on this side of the Atlantic.
What’s worrying is that the amount of wriggle room on the economy for those of us looking to stay up beat is slowly evaporating.
Each time the latest reports on the economy hit the streets, housing and its decline is the core factor causing the authors of the reports to lower their respective forecasts.
Having grown by over 5% last year, the last reports on average now have the growth figure down as low as 2% or less.
We seem to be reaching the stage where any sense of certainty that this economy is going to deliver growth again in 2008 is looking less certain.
In Dublin, news of relatively senior people losing jobs in financial services companies are filtering through also.
Mortgages are not being written and even the fall in house prices is not having the material impact on the market some had hoped.
There is one ray of hope. Services exports grew by 15% last year and showed no evidence of any slowdown in the sector in the final quarter of the year.
That provides some optimism that this momentum continued into 2008 and in fact most analysts believe that to be the case.
However, one of the biggest concerns is the failure of the Irish stock market to recover value since investors started to pull out of the market last year.
The loss of confidence in the Irish market has been palpable.
Some have suggested a conspiracy has been in action against Irish shares with big hedge funds trying to undermine the value of Irish banks and construction companies.
The more hard nosed have argued, however, that the banks here have been on a gravy train for several years and have been partly responsible for feeding the property frenzy that saw house prices quadruple.
Arguments have been made that now is the time to get back into the market even with prices falling.
Common sense suggests that people wait further to see just where the price of houses head before deciding to get back in.
And if the dramatic fall in Irish stock market prices is a measure of the true state of the Irish property market, then the growing fear is that much worse is to come.