The Irish Independent reports that
the Competition Authority said it investigated both the National Asset
Management Agency and RTE last year as it seeks to bolster competition and stamp
Both organisations were found to be operating inside the law although RTE was
forced to change the way it sells ads the previous year. The probe into NAMA
followed several complaints over the past three years alleging that it abused
its dominant position in the hotel and golf course sectors. The complaints were
Recently appointed chairwoman Isolde Goggin said yesterday that the authority is
looking forward to more success this year now that it has more staff and a
permanent boss. The troika has repeatedly complained that the authority does not
have enough manpower and forced the Government to boost the number of experts at
The authority made the comments as it unveiled a report on last year's
activities which also included the successful prosecution of 18 people linked to
an oil cartel.
The final prosecution in the long-running case was secured with the conviction
of Pat Hegarty in the Galway Circuit Court last May.
The authority also hailed the decision to prevent the acquisition of book
wholesaler Argosy by Eason.
The authority received 233 complaints last year including 13 new complaints of
alleged criminal-cartel behaviour.
The Irish Independent also reports that Finance Minister Michael Noonan said six staff at the agency shared bonus
payments of €43,000 last year. That compares to €62,610 paid out in bonuses
to five staff at the NTMA in 2011, and €1.9m shared by 258 NTMA staff in
None of the six staff who received bonuses last year work at the National
Asset Management Agency, which operates under the NTMA umbrella.
Mr Noonan added that 1,088 individual employees and four groups of staff
at the Revenue Commissioners shared €165,077 in "exceptional performance
awards" last year, while a further group of around 1,000 people received an
average of around €4,000 each for overtime and the like.
In a written Dail response to Independent TD Thomas Pringle, Mr Noonan
said 59 staff at the NTMA received additional payments of €140,500. The
agency paid €170,364 to 74 employees in 2011.
"These payments were to employees on lower salaries who contributed
significant additional work hours," said Mr Noonan.
"The NTMA does not have formal overtime payment arrangements in place for
NTMA boss John Corrigan was paid €446,100 made up of €416,500 in basic
salary and taxable benefits of €29,600. NAMA boss Brendan McDonagh got
€388,164 made up of €365,500 and taxable benefits of €22,664. They agreed to
waive 15pc of their salaries and have not got a bonus in three years.
The NTMA falls outside public sector pay grades, where a €200,000 pay cap
Mr Noonan also said that the chief executive of the National Development
Finance Agency (NDFA), Brian Murphy, received €324,762 that included a basic
salary of €297,000 and taxable benefits of €27,762.
The Irish Times reports that European Commission president José Manuel Barroso expressed confidence that
Ireland could return to the financial markets by the end of the year during a
visit to Dublin yesterday.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore held talks in Government
Buildings yesterday with the president of the European Parliament Martin Schultz
and Mr Barroso.
Mr Barroso said he was not suggesting things were easy for people or
pretending that all problems had been settled.
‘Turned a corner’
“I keep to my confidence that Ireland will be able to have a full coming back
to the markets before the end of this year. It is in this sense that I believe
that Ireland has turned a corner,” he said.
“We are very well aware of the huge difficulties that are still faced by many
Irish citizens and we have the greatest respect for those sacrifices that were
“In Ireland and in other parts of Europe without these kind of measures we
could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s fair to say that
now regarding Ireland we can see light at the end of the tunnel.” He said
Ireland had been recovering in confidence and confidence was critically
important for growth.
Mr Schultz said European colleagues had to show solidarity with Ireland and
“stick to the promises” made previously.
“I think the Europeans should not forget that the Irish people avoided – with
a lot of burdens they put at the end on their shoulders here – a crash of the
whole European banking system,” he said.
However, it emerged yesterday that a decision by euro zone finance ministers
on Ireland’s request for an extension of the maturities of some of its bailout
loans has been delayed.
Finance ministers from the 17 euro zone member states had been expected to
deliver their verdict on a request by Ireland and Portugal to extend the
maturity of their loans at next Monday’s meeting of finance ministers.
However, an EU source confirmed that a final decision will not be made, and
the discussion is still “preliminary”.
“As the exit from [their] programmes is still quite quite far away, I have no
reason to believe that there will a final discussion or decision on any possible
changes to the loan maturities,” he said, adding that it was “a bit early” to
say what the economic and market situation will be at the end of the programmes.
Ireland has been hoping that an agreement to lengthen some of the loans that
constitute its bailout programme will help to lower its borrowing requirements,
and ease its exit from the bailout. But the delay indicates that the proposal is
meeting some resistance from member states, including Germany. While an
agreement is still expected to be reached in some form, the scope of any
arrangement is now under discussion.
Ireland’s €67 billion bailout programme comprises €17.7billion from the
European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) which is controlled by the 17-member
A further €22.5 billion comes from the European Financial Stability
Mechanism, which falls under the control of the 27-strong European Union.
Discussion is under way to seek profiling of both portions of the debt,
though a final decision is likely to be predicated on the response of euro zone
The IMF is not expected to agree to a lengthening of the maturities of its
loans, worth about €22.5 billion.
The Irish Times also reports that
a sharp decline in department store sales led to another fall in retail sales
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show the volume of retail
sales fell by 1.7 per cent in January compared with the previous month.
The figures indicated sales declined by 1.2 per cent on an annual basis in
January, the second largest fall in six months.
When motor sales are factored out, the volume of retail sales fell by 1.3 per
cent in January compared with the previous month but rose by 0.7 per cent on an
Department stores saw sales plummet by more than 15 per cent during the
month, while bar sales fell 8.1 per cent, with motor sales down by 3.6 per cent.
Total retail sales have now fallen by more than 25 per cent since the start
of the recession.
The CSO noted that car sales were down 23.1 per cent in January compared with
the same month last year.
The biggest monthly increase in the retail sector was in the furniture and
lighting division which saw sales rise 6.6 per cent.
Sales were also up in the fuel sector (+1.6 per cent) and for non-specalised
stores (+0.2 per cent).
The CSO’S figures show the value of retail sales fell by 1.7 per cent in
January when compared with the previous month but increased 1 per cent in annual
If motor trades are excluded, there was a decrease in the value of retail
sales in January of 0.5 per cent and an annual increase of 0.9 per cent.
Goodbody economist Juliet Tennent described the figures as “somewhat
However, she said six of the 13 CSO retail categories were showing annual
increases in the volume of sales, with electrical goods and department stores
“leading the way”.
Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, said when
motor trades were excluded, the annual figures were positive but that the sector
was “a long way from a sustained recovery”.
Director Stephen Lynam said: “There was a sharp retraction in sales in the
first quarter of last year, after initial hope that the worst was over.
“To ensure this is not repeated, it is vital that Government take steps to
boost consumer confidence and reduce retailer costs.”
‘Lack of vision’
But Mark Fielding of Isme, which represents small and medium-sized
businesses, criticised the “lack of vision and ambition” for the retail sector
contained in the Government’s recent action plan for jobs.
“It is obvious that little or no thought has been put into addressing the
retail problem in the current plan,” he said.
The Irish Examiner reports that
Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown has firmly ruled out debt forgiveness
in the range of options it will offer customers to solve the mortgage arrears
crisis."We do not support debt forgiveness,” he told the Irish Examiner following the
release of the bank’s 2012 results.
“We are very confident that we can put in place an arrangement that meets the
customers’ needs. We will work with customers on a case-by-case basis. We have a
range of options and we will work with customers to resolve the issue, but debt
forgiveness is not one of those options.”
Mr Brown said the average duration of a mortgage was between 20 and 25 years.
The bank’s aim was to keep the mortgage holder in the family home. However,
repossessions will inevitably go up among all the banks, he added. He would like
to see a credit bureau set up that provided comprehensive details of every
distressed mortgage holder’s total debt. Secured lending such as mortgages
should be given priority in repayment schedules, he said.
He also welcomed the introduction of the personal insolvency legislation.
Moreover, he would like the Government to look at the landmark Dunne case. This
refers to a Jul 2011 ruling by Justice Elizabeth Dunne that prevented GE Capital
repossessing a home on the grounds of mortgage arrears because of a loophole in
Ulster Bank has 13,500 customers who are in receipt of some forbearance
measures. Mr Brown says “mortgage arrears have peaked or are close to peaking.”
He expects the pace of losses to gradually reduce over 2013. However, he
declined to put a timeframe on when the bank is likely to return to
The bank has an €11bn tracker mortgage book. This book is burning capital
because the margins do not cover arrears or the elevated cost of funding.
Ulster does not plan to hive off the tracker mortgage book into a special
purpose vehicle. “What we have to do is reduce the losses and reduce our cost
base.” However, if there was an industry-wide solution for tracker mortgages,
then Ulster would be interested in taking a look. “But there is nothing in place
at the moment.”
The bank’s net interest margin averaged 1.8% over 2012. The chief executive
would like to see the net interest margin eventually reach 2.5%. The cost of
deposits are still at a premium to what they should be and products are still
not priced appropriately for the level of risk, he said.
The loan to deposit ratio is 130% and the aim is to reduce this to 100% through
the continued divestment of non-core assets. The core tier one capital ratio is
The current headcount is 6,000 but this will fall to 5,500 at the end of the
year on the back of restructuring plans announced in 2012.
Its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, has pumped over £15bn (€17.5bn) into Ulster
since 2008 to shore up losses — which has in the past prompted speculation that
it could be sold on or closed down. Mr Brown dismisses such speculation. “Ulster
Bank remains a core part of RBS.”
The bank had a very high-profile technical glitch last summer that affected
payment services to 600,000 customers over a five-week period. Its IT system is
now fit for purpose though there will be investment to make it more robust, said
the New Zealand-born CEO.
Mr Brown declined to comment about the property developer Seán Dunne. Ulster
recently got permission to serve bankruptcy proceedings against him on foot of
an outstanding €164m debt.
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