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News : International Last Updated: Jul 3, 2013 - 11:46 AM


Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - July 03, 2013
By Finfacts Team
Jul 3, 2013 - 8:45 AM

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Irish Independent

ULSTER Bank will lay-off up to a third of its staff, close many rural branches and get tough with those in mortgage arrears.

Bank boss Jim Brown revealed the shock plan to lay off as many as 1,800 staff and close up to 40 branches.

The British-owned bank, which employs 5,800 staff on both sides of the Border, is in the process of shutting 22 branches on the island.

Now it plans a new cull of between 30 and 40, and will lay off between 1,400 and 1,800 workers.

Larry Broderick, the general secretary of bank staff union IBOA, responded angrily to the surprise announcement.

However, the bank said last night that much of the reduction in staff numbers would come from people retiring and others going to other jobs.

MORE houses and apartments are set to be bought and sold this year than last year.

New figures from the State's property regulatory site suggest that this year is already ahead of last year, and is on course for more transactions over the full 12 months.

The first five months of 2013 saw just under 8,500 transactions notified to the Property Services Regulatory Authority, of which 2,777 were in Dublin.

The number of sales and purchases is already 13pc ahead of the same period last year, according to an analysis of the authority's figures by chief economist at stockbroking firm Investec Philip O'Sullivan.

The surge in transactions is despite the fact that first-time buyers who bought last year got mortgage tax relief, which has since been withdrawn.

BANKS stand accused of targeting the more "responsible" mortgage defaulters for repossessions, ahead of those in huge arrears.

It is claimed that distressed homeowners with equity in their homes and who talk to their bank are more likely to be targeted for repossessions.

Stricken borrowers who still have value in their homes are more likely to lose their home to the bank.

But those in negative equity are more likely to be given a debt deal, according to a leading support organisation for borrowers.

The New Beginning group, which deals with 50 new repossession cases each month, claims evidence from its client base suggests this pattern of action by the banks.

MANY companies with bust pension schemes are understood to have missed Sunday's deadline to submit plans to plug their deficits.

The Pensions Board opened its offices especially on Sunday afternoon in anticipation of a large surge in restructuring plans being submitted.

A spokesman for the board would not say how many companies with holes in their defined benefit pension schemes had missed the deadline.

He would only say a "significant" number of the broken company retirement schemes had met Sunday's deadline for outlining a plan to plug their deficits.

THEY all own a mobile phone, half of them don't work during term and more than a quarter visit social media website Facebook at least 10 times a day.

A comprehensive picture of the habits, behaviours and opinions of Irish students is provided in a new survey based on 4,000 responses, from north and south of the border.

The campus.ie National Student Survey covers a wide range of matters about college and life itself, from course choices, quality of lecturers and exam cheating to sex, sexuality and smoking.

The mainly 18- to 23-year-olds are attending universities, institutes of technology and other third-level colleges as well as colleges of further education. Among the findings were that 29pc smoke, 49pc have never taken illegal drugs, 50pc have smoked marijuana and 9pc have used cocaine.

Irish Times

Announcements of further branch closures by Ulster Bank yesterday along with the loss of a call centre contract by Hewlett-Packard could lead to up to 1,000 jobs being lost over the next 18 months.

Ulster Bank, which announced the closure of 22 branches earlier this year, yesterday announced its intention to close up to 40 more in its plan to become a “smaller, lower-cost and profitable bank”.

The bank, which announced 950 job losses in January 2012, said a further 350 positions will be lost as a result of the decision to close more branches but these would be achieved through natural attrition. Other sources speculated up to 850 positions could be lost, by way of natural attrition, under the development.

Of the 900 job losses announced in January 2012 , 600 were in the Republic. The bank was not in a position yesterday to say how many of the new job losses would be in Northern Ireland, and how many in the Republic.

France aims to make budget savings of around €28 billion over the next two years to restore public finances to order, finance minister Pierre Moscovici said today.

The government is struggling to find the right balance between belt-tightening and tax increases as it seeks to rein in the public deficit without hitting the already faltering economy.

Speaking ahead of a parliamentary debate on next year’s budget, Mr Moscovici said that the government wanted savings of €14 billion in 2014.

US regulators fear that Ardagh’s €1.3 billion takeover of rival glass bottle manufacturer Verallia North America will cut competition and result in higher prices for beers and spirits if it is allowed to succeed.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is going to court to block Irish-owned Ardagh’s $1.7 billion (€1.3 billion) acquisition of Verallia, a US-based division of French manufacturer St Gobain, agreed earlier this year.

In an affidavit filed with the federal courts, the FTC warns that the deal will cut the number of big players in the market for beer and spirit bottles to two from three, making it easier for the remaining pair to co-ordinate on price and other terms “to achieve supra-competitive prices or other anti-competitive outcomes”.

The public finances were largely on target in the first half of 2013, according to the Government’s public spending and tax figures. The Department of Finance added that EU-IMF bailout targets were met for the 11th consecutive quarter.

Commenting on the end of June returns, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said that despite the on-target performance, with “borrowing in excess of €1 billion each month we must continue with our efforts to reduce the deficit to below 3 per cent of GDP by 2015.”

Irish Examiner

The ECB president Mario Draghi is highly unlikely to cut the interest rate or announce a big bazooka for SME lending at tomorrow’s monthly meeting, according to senior economist with Brussels-based ING, Carsten Brzeski.

“The question is whether the ECB is willing to give as explicit forward-guidance as the Fed by, for example, quantifying targets (or target zones) for unemployment and inflation.

“We don’t think so. In our view, Draghi will try to give ECB-style guidance on the fragility of the recovery, on full allotment until the summer of 2014, and on the ECB’s determination to do more if need be. This should push any exit speculation into the distant future,” said Mr Brzeski.

Economic growth across the eurozone remains very weak, despite the ECB lowering the main interest rate to an historically low 0.5%.

Mr Draghi has highlighted the fragmented banking system in the region. Banks, particularly in the periphery, including Ireland’s, continue to struggle with bad debts, which is putting a block on the transmission of credit.

The landmark CHQ building in the IFSC was sold by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority yesterday as it was revealed that over €100m of commercial property has changed hands in Ireland each month so far this year.

Neville Isdell, the former Coca-Cola chairman, bought the building for just over €10m. He said his team will be evaluating and developing “a number of ideas over the coming months” aimed at establishing “a new distinctive destination location for Dublin”.

“Initially our focus will be to make some demonstrable improvements within the building as we work through the plan to recreate CHQ,” he said.

The deal is one of 36 so far this year that has seen over €100m a month poured into the Irish commercial property sector.

CBRE tracked sales of units in Ireland in the first six months of the year. The total value of sales was €610m.

Europe

Presseurop: Common Agricultural Policy reforms unveiled in June have not come up to expectations, believes the head of the Slow Food movement. Member states have too much leeway and reforms fail to sufficiently promote sustainability and reduce inequalities between operators.

Carlo Petrini writes in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Are we united in diversity, or are we diverse in our unity? The Brussels negotiations on the new Common Agricultural Policy, the CAP, are wrapping up. While the agreement does introduce some interesting novelties, it comes as a disappointment to those who care about the environment and sustainable small-scale farming. Above all, though, it raises questions about Europe. It questions our perspectives – those that we share, and those that we do not.

This reform, which ought to have promoted the quality of our food, the return – possible and desirable – of new generations to the land, and the safeguarding of the environment, has missed out on an historic opportunity. It has sparked unprecedented debate and encouraged civil society and involved associations to make their demands heard with force and clarity. And for the first time, the European Parliament has stepped in to give a voice to citizens.

However, to a large extent the decisions that would put in place a greener and fairer agricultural policy, capable of pumping public funds (40 per cent of the European Union budget) into public goods such as landscapes, soil quality and human health, have not been taken, or have been left to the discretion of the member states.

Euro Topics: After media reports about spying activities of the US intelligence services in EU offices, the European Union is checking its facilities for bugging devices. The European Commission has demanded speedy explanations from the US. Some commentators say Europe should stand up to America, while others urge it to stick to the plans for a free trade agreement despite everything.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding on Monday cast doubts on the upcoming negotiations for a trade agreement between the US and the EU, saying that a free trade zone would be unthinkable if the US's spying activities continued. The liberal Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter calls for a pragmatic outlook here: "Only yesterday the new Eurostat figures on unemployment came out. The economies of both partners remain unstable; they need the boost a free trade agreement would bring. … Even if the anger of certain European countries is understandable, it would be a pity if the negotiations were broken off because of the scandal. The European Commission is aware of this so the question is whether Reding's threats are much more than empty phrases. Hopefully not. … The revelations are an unwelcome diplomatic scandal. But both partners stand to gain if the planned free trade agreement goes ahead."

Europe needs to be more resolute and self-confident in its attitude towards the US, the state-run Austrian liberal daily Wiener Zeitung demands: "Europe must insist on absolutely watertight data protection in the transatlantic trade agreement - now subject to negotiation after the most recent revelations. In a world dominated by imperial power blocks like the US, China and Russia, the countries of Europe will only be able to hold their own if they work together and stop relying on the US's military and intelligence services. Particularly since, in the Snowden affair, the US appears to have more in common with Russia than with the Europeans, preoccupied as they are about their private sphere. Europe should have offered Snowden asylum - that would have been the proper response to the attack on America's and Europe's interests."

Portugal's Finance Minister Vítor Gaspar has resigned owing to the dwindling support for his controversial austerity drive. His resignation, which was confirmed on Monday, is tantamount to a death sentence for the government, the Portuguese business daily Diário Económico writes: "His departure at this point, under these circumstances and for these reasons, is a bad omen. For he is responsible for the recovery of the country's credibility with the markets and the creditors. No one can deny him this achievement. ... Gaspar frankly admitted his inability to bring the agreement with the troika to a conclusion. He did this because he had lost all credibility and trust - even that of the troika. ... At a time when there are many doubts about the ability of the government to implement the necessary reforms, Gaspar has made it clear that he doesn't believe it will succeed. And in doing so [the government's] death certificate has been signed."

A new round of negotiations between the Greek government and representatives of the troika on the next €8.1bn instalment of the bailout has been in progress since Monday. The points under discussion include the dismissal of a large number of civil servants and the introduction of more flexible working hours. The left-liberal Greek daily Eleftherotypia criticises that the government always bows to the will of the troika: "In a country that belongs to the Eurozone, meaning it forms part of the EU's core, Bob Traa, the representative of the International Monetary Fund in Greece, wants to destroy the very foundations of Europe's labour laws. ... The problem is that in the end the troika always manages to push through its demands. One way or another any topic it puts on the table becomes Greek law. A major factor here is the government's inability to negotiate effectively and define limits that can't be overstepped.

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