When I think about global stock markets these days, the image that springs to mind is the final scene of The Italian Job – the iconic 1969 original, not the tacky 2003 remake. “Hang on a minute, lads,” says Charlie Crocker, Michael Caine’s heistmaster-in-chief, as he and his rogue brethren balance precariously in a bus loaded with gold on the edge of an Alpine cliff. “I’ve got a great idea”.
The film ends ambiguously, of course. As the credits roll, viewers are left guessing as to whether the gang gets the loot and to safety, or plunges into the depths of a rocky ravine. Well, I’m similarly ambiguous about the state of global markets and the related prospects for the world’s large economies, not least the UK. It strikes me, in fact, that the whole economic shebang is balanced on a knife-edge.
After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, few Western nations suffered more than Ireland. Following more than a decade of being lauded as “the Celtic Tiger”, the economy of the Irish Republic contracted by an eye-watering 6.4pc in 2009. It has continued to struggle, registering several years of sluggish or non-existent growth. Ireland pulled out of recession only in the second quarter of 2013 and has since failed to stage a convincing recovery.
Perhaps, that is, until now. The Irish economy surged during the first quarter of this year, according to official figures published on Friday. National income rose 2.7pc during the first three months of 2014, expanding at an annual rate of 5.1pc. Unemployment has subsequently come down, hitting 11.6pc in June. Still well above the UK’s 6.6pc jobless share, it’s Ireland’s lowest unemployment level since April 2009.