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News : Irish Last Updated: Oct 15, 2012 - 9:01 AM


Monday Newspaper Review - - Irish Business News - - October 15, 2012
By Finfacts Team
Oct 15, 2012 - 7:43 AM

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The Irish Independent reports that as many as 200,000 women are facing motor insurance increases of up to €300-a-year, the Irish Independent has learned.

Insurers have already started to push up premiums for females ahead of new rules banning gender discrimination due to take effect in December. Increases of between 10pc and 45pc are being imposed on women drivers between the ages of 17 and 30, with lower rises for older women.

The trends emerged in data compiled from 16 insurers by brokers AonInsure.ie.

There are around 200,000 women with a full driving licence who are under the age of 30.

Women have traditionally paid much less for insurance than men because they are less risky drivers.

But from December an EU ruling will not allow insurers to charge different rates to men and women.

However, insurers have already started to increase premiums ahead of the new ruling taking effect.

They are raising the premiums for women, but they are not lowering men's insurance costs. This is because men are involved in a far greater number of serious and expensive accidents.

Last night the Consumers' Association accused insurers of profiteering.

Michael Kilcoyne of the consumer body said: "Insurers are profiteering here. They have a captive market because by law we all have to have car insurance."

He said the moves by insurers to push up premiums for women went against the spirit of the EU gender directive, which was supposed to ban discrimination on grounds of sex.

Instead, women were being punished, the Consumers' Association said.

Declan Cahill of AonInsure.ie, which produces an index of insurance costs, said younger female drivers were being hit hard by the changes.

He said insurers were adjusting their pricing each month so that they do not end up with one sudden rise in rates in December.

By the end of the year women under the age of 30 will end up having to pay between €200 and €300 a year more for car cover.

"We are seeing evidence that insurers are already changing their pricing month-on-month instead of in one fell swoop later in the year," Mr Cahill said.

He explained that a 21-year-old women who lives in Cork and drives a Peugeot 206 had been quoted €1,000 for insurance. A man of the same age and with the same car quoted €1,900 up to recently.

Men

Now insurers are gradually moving to a situation where the man and the women are both being quoted €1,900 -- this is a whopping 90pc rise.

Some insurers were decreasing the rates for men, but most were leaving men's premiums alone while hugely increasing women's rates.

Female drivers in Ireland, Britain and Italy were all seeing hikes in premiums, as these countries have the biggest gap in premiums between men and women. Mr Cahill attributed this to "hot-blooded male driving" in these countries.

The move to unisex insurance pricing comes at a time of a host of rises in the cost of running a car.

Motorists will be forced to pay an extra 10c in tolls from January, while all year there have been rises in the cost of petrol and diesel, and motorists have been hit with higher car tax, VAT and carbon taxes.

A ruling last year by the EU Court of Justice forced the EU to issue a directive banning gender discrimination for insurance.

The Irish Insurance Federation (IIF) admitted yesterday that insurance costs for men and women were converging, but denied there was any profiteering.

Michael Horan of the IIF said: "Insurance companies are not trying to profiteer. We did not want the EU gender ruling, but we have to adapt to what the directive says."

He said the market was highly competitive, and added that recent figures showed the average premium was €584. This was half of what was charged in Britain.

The Irish Independent also reports that the Government is warning young couples tempted to buy a house to act now -- or lose out on a €5,000-a-year "offer of a lifetime".

In last year's Budget, Finance Minister Michael Noonan announced a mortgage interest relief deal worth as much as €5,000 a year for first-time buyer couples.

However, the deal finishes at the end of this year, and a mortgage must be drawn down by December 31 for people to avail of the offer.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, junior finance minister Brian Hayes said the deal would not be extended in December's Budget, and buyers must act before the "train will have left the station".

"This is an offer of a lifetime, it won't come again," said Mr Hayes. "All our futures are based on getting the property market going again. People need to act fast to avail of it."

There have been calls to extend the scheme as the property market stabilises, but this is being firmly ruled out. The offer made little difference in the first half of the year, with only 2,858 properties sold to first-time buyers -- almost the exact same amount as the same period last year.

However, there may be an end-of-year spike, as those who were waiting for prices to drop are forced to move or lose out on the deal. But anyone tempted to buy only has weeks to go through the mortgage process, get approval and buy a house.

First-time buyers will get up to €5,000 a year for six years in mortgage interest relief if they buy this year and Mr Noonan said his scheme was aimed at breaking the "rainy-day" mentality among the under-35s.

Mr Hayes said there was evidence of increased mortgage transactions in recent months, and urged people who may already have mortgage approval to "transact" their mortgages in the coming months to avail of the offer.

"If they don't get on it now, the train will have left the station and it will be too late to act," the Dublin South West TD said. "People should be aware that it's coming to an end, and they should buy if they can."

Mr Hayes also said the banks had a role to play in ensuring that as many people as possible get their mortgages before the deadline is up.

Mr Noonan's proposals were designed at breathing some life into the property market, targeting those who were holding off buying a house.

Mortgage interest relief will not be available for anyone who buys a house from next year, and it will be fully abolished by 2018. But for those buying their first property this year, Mr Noonan increased the amount from 15pc to 25pc.

Psychological

The offer applies not just to the purchase of a house, but the "repair, development or improvement of a claimant's principal private residence".

"Even when they have a very good family income, I think the psychological effect is to save rather than invest," Mr Noonan when he unveiled the offer.

"Everybody has a rainy day mentality and I'm trying to break that."

Replying to Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath in the Dail recently, Mr Noonan also said the relief was "not confined to first-time buyers".

People who already own a property can also avail of a 15pc rate, up from 10pc, until the end of the year.

The Irish Times reports that serious misgivings have emerged about the scale of savings being achieved under the Croke Park agreement in advance of the latest EU-IMF-ECB troika visit to assess progress under the bailout.

It is understood that experts from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank are becoming increasingly frustrated with how the Coalition is implementing the bailout by cutting services to the public rather than tackling vested interests in the public service and professions.

While the troika is satisfied that overall targets for deficit reduction are being met, there is concern at the way they are being achieved, according to sources involved in the process. It is also understood that there is concern about the budget overruns in health.

Signs of growing discontent have also emerged on the Fine Gael backbenches, with several TDs becoming increasing critical of the Government’s approach to making savings in the public service pay bill.

Confirmation by chairman of the implementation body PJ Fitzpatrick to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that increments and allowances are not part of the Croke Park deal has aggravated Fine Gael TDs.

The disclosure that departments are calculating savings made through early retirement by adding 80 per cent to salary savings on the basis of non-pay economies has also created problems.

One department, Agriculture, did not claim savings in line with the norm applied by other departments on the basis that they were “excessive, relative to actual costs”.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney confirmed yesterday that his department did not claim these extra savings, saying it was “simply being accurate” by not adding massive non-pay savings. He said that while the standard calculation method for estimating savings for departing public servants involved adding a substantial non-pay element, that system had not been applied in Agriculture because those savings did not apply immediately.

“I’m not in the business of giving inaccurate figures to the Department of Public Expenditure [and Reform] and that is why my department is being run in a business-like manner and we give actual savings as they are made.”

In a report to the PAC last week Mr Fitzpatrick said that over the first two years of the Croke Park agreement savings of €810 million had been made in the pay bill, along with €678 million in non-pay savings.

Several TDs voiced concern at the PAC as to the validity of calculation about the non-pay savings.

One, Fine Gael Dublin South East TD Eoghan Murphy, queried the methodology used to calculate the savings and said it called the entire deal into question.

Mr Murphy also pointed to the admission at the PAC that allowances and increments were not covered by the agreement and suggested that a more critical analysis was needed at the way it was operating.

In a statement issued last night, the Government denied that pay bill savings set out in the implementation body report are overstated. It said pay savings from numbers reductions are based on the average pay of employees.

"Estimates of non-pay savings are calculated by departments and are not related to pay. Savings figures are not over-estimated and are an accurate reflection of the savings made," the statement, issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said.

The Government also denied that a circular was issued to departments instructing them to calculate non-pay savings by using a factor of 40 per cent of pay savings.

"Departments used their own methodologies."

Last night Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore defended the Croke Park agreement and the savings made under it. He insisted that “the sums add up”.

He also dismissed reports that the Government wanted to extend the deadline of 2015 for reducing the exchequer deficit to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. He said that the people of this State wanted to see when and where the end was and they needed to get it over with.

Mr Gilmore told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that there would be no second bailout. And he predicted that the Republic would be out of the troika programme by the end of 2013.

He was also confident the Republic would get “a very good deal” on the banking debt and said discussions were continuing with the ECB and other EU governments.

However, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg questioned the feasibility of reducing the deficit to 3 per cent by 2015 and said that a later date was now necessary. Mr Begg said the absence of growth meant that the target could not be reached by the deadline, which he suggested should be extended until 2017.

He was highly critical of the troika, describing its members as “neo-liberal zealots”. He said that he would expect to see them “sitting in sackcloth and ashes” asking for repentance for what they had done to this country.

The Irish Times also reports that the IMF’S representative in Dublin, Peter Breuer, has said it is important the commitments made by EU leaders regarding bank debt at the June summit are upheld.

Welcoming Ireland’s return to the bond markets earlier this year, Mr Breuer noted most of Ireland’s recent debt issuances occurred after the euro leaders’ summit.

“Much of this market access came shortly after this June 29th announcement by the heads of state, so it’s important then that the commitments that were made then are actually implemented so that market access will in fact manifest itself on a regular and sustainable basis,” he told delegates at the annual Dublin Economics Workshop in Galway.

EU leaders pledged at the June 29th summit to review the Irish bank bailout, but a German-Dutch-Finnish statement two weeks ago cast doubt over the scope of any intervention.

Separately, European Central Bank executive board member, Joerg Asmussen said on Saturday that Ireland and Portugal were not yet eligible for the European Central Bank’s new bond-buying programme, known as Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT). Pointing out that countries can only qualify when they regain full bond market access, Mr Asmussen said recent moves by Portugal were “not sufficient to qualify for the OMT – it is not full market access”.

Though Ireland continues to be funded by the IMF-EU programme, the NTMA began to re-enter the bond market this year, issuing T-Bills in July and more long-term amortising bonds in August.

In a speech on the euro zone economy delivered at the workshop, Mr Breuer said that, despite major policy actions, financial markets in parts of the euro area remained under stress, with unemployment a major issue across most euro zone countries.

He noted an increasing divergence between peripheral and core countries in terms of interest rates, with higher interest rates in place in the so-called peripheral countries at a time when lower rates “are needed most”.

He said that a European banking union, which would involve common deposit insurance, a common bank resolution system and common supervision, was “the first priority” for Europe, noting that stress in the banking system was a bigger issue in Europe than in the US, because financial intermediation in Europe was more dependent on banks, and there was a much stronger relationship between GDP growth and private sector credit growth in Europe.

Pointing out that the absence of a bank resolution process and an insistence on paying unsecured bank creditors had exacerbated the financial crisis, economist Colm McCarthy said the implementation of a bank resolution process was essential. Using data from the IMF, Mr McCarthy said the fiscal cost of a banking crisis for countries could sometimes be 50 per cent of GDP.

“The quickest way to go bust in a currency union is to embrace unknown bank – in other words foreign currency – liabilities,” he said, noting the Irish bailout could be one of the most costly ever.

Earlier, Prof Joe Durkan of the ESRI criticised what he described as a lack of leadership at the heart of the euro zone. In a paper that compared the approach adopted by the ECB to the financial crisis to that pursued in the US and the UK, he said Europe appeared to be floundering.

“There is no dominant economist at the helm,” he said, pointing out that the ECB’s decisions on issues such as interest rates suggested a sense of “confusion about what they should be doing”.

Ciarán O’Hagan of Société Générale said that while there had been calls for aggressive bond-buying by the ECB, any programme of official bond-buying would necessarily result in smaller holdings of Government bonds by bona fide investors.

As long as prices were held well above what were seen as market clearing, investors would sell, he said. “Shouldn’t crisis resolution mean a re-engagement with buyers of bonds . . . rather than getting them to sell?” he asked.

As regards the forthcoming OMT, he said the ECB should quantify how much it was going to purchase and over what time-frame.

The Irish Examiner reports that it is believed that one of the firms advising the Government on the sale of the state-owned Irish Life favours an initial public offering (IPO) in roughly 12 months’ time, according to a source familiar with the situation.

However, a trade sale is still the Department of Finance’s preferred option to offload the company with the sale most likely taking place in early 2014, according to another source.

The Government is in preliminary talks with a number of advisers about the future of Irish Life. It is expected that Deutsche Bank will be appointed lead adviser when the official sales process begins.

At the Irish Life results presentation last month, CEO Kevin Murphy said it would take six months of calm market conditions across the eurozone before the official divestment process begins.

The Government forked out €1.3bn to take Irish Life into the state fold. Irish Life was separated from Permanent TSB earlier this year.

The sale of Irish Life to the Canadian Great West Life insurance company collapsed at the eleventh hour in Nov 2011 amid concerns about the escalating eurozone crisis. The eurozone has since stabilised, although the future prospects for the region hinge on a series of forthcoming summits that will discuss plans for a banking and fiscal union.

Last week, Royal Bank of Scotland successfully sold its insurance arm, Direct Line, through an IPO with strong investor demand raising £790m (€980m) for the beleaguered state-controlled bank. It was the largest IPO on the London market over the past 17 months.

One of the advisers talking to the Government is taking the view that an IPO would generate more funds than a trade sale.

However, a trade sale remains the Government’s favoured option because it is much less risky than an IPO. It is believed that the Government would like to get three to four bidders "into an auction room" to ensure the best price is achieved, according to a source.

The Department of Finance and Irish Life both declined to comment.

Irish Life CEO Mr Murphy, is standing down at the end of the year. The selection process is under way for his replacement.

About four or five internal and external candidates are being interviewed for the position, but an announcement is unlikely before December, a source said.

Foreign news reviews and more comprehensive coverage of Irish news is available in our Daily News Digest in the Global category on Finfacts Premium.

Check out our subscription service, Finfacts Premium , at a low annual charge of €25 - - if you are a regular user of Finfacts, 50 euro cent a week is hardly a huge ask to support the service.


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