Business review 2018: House prices soar, Ryanair and bank shares fall but food exports surge

Irish citizens faced challenges including rampant house prices, while Ryanair and Irish bank shares hit turbulence. But there were upbeat stories too as Irish food and drink exports surged, writes John Daly in his review of the year

JANUARY

The Irish Ferries ship WB Yeats arrives into Dublin Port, after news emerged the company was likely to drop its Rosslare-France service.

The new year began much as the old year ended, with Brexit and housing dominating the headlines. Average house prices across the State climbed by 8.4% in 2017, following a hefty rise in the previous year. Dublin led the way but other cities were not that far behind. Galway, Cork, and Limerick posted price gains of 8.4%, 7.3%, and 7.4%.

A strengthening economy, strong employment growth, and demographic pressures were in play, but the chronic lack of house-building of all types of homes for the previous 10 years would continue to push prices higher.

“This is most notable in the established housing markets of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway, where the supply side pressures are most apparent,” said Sherry FitzGerald group chief economist Marian Finnegan. She predicted that the market will continue to experience above trend price growth in 2018.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May was warned that UK business chiefs’ patience over Brexit was wearing thin and Westminster must get to grips with the challenge. British Chambers of Commerce head Adam Marshall said firms wanted clarity from the British government and said industry was dismayed by the “division and disorganisation” across Westminster.

Some very big decisions lie ahead, he said, and “getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency, and clarity”, he said. It wasn’t the last time we were to hear about the chaos among British politicians.

Airlines and ferry companies laid out plans to raise the frequency and number of craft and vessels serving Irish airports and seaports, paving the way for increased economic activity and tourism. Dublin would benefit most from more links with the US, while Gulf airlines added frequency to their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

ICG’s Irish Ferries said it was increasing its capacity, offering exporters and importers a wider range of choice. But by the summer, its passengers were badly hit by the late delivery of a new ship from a north German shipyard.

ICG was later in the year to shock the south-east with its announcement that it was likely to drop a service from Rosslare to France in 2019.

The UK, as Ireland’s largest trading market, will continue to be a valuable partner, regardless of the Brexit outcome. But economic data over the previous three months suggested consumer sentiment was sagging in the UK and only rising modestly on this side of the Irish Sea, because of Brexit.

Cork’s commercial property market outlook across all sectors was predicted to be on the upturn in 2018. But Dublin continued to dominate: The trend of US-owned tech companies taking small spaces and expanding rapidly was underlined by Facebook and Google. Facebook acquired office space of only 2,000 sq metres in its first year in Dublin, in 2009. Within eight years, it operated out of offfices of 39,000 sq mertres. Google started with only 460 sq metre, in 2003, and, by the end of 2017, had committed to offices of 73,000 sq metres.

FEBRUARY

The transition period for the UK’s departure from the EU was too short, warned the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

Its president Eoin O’Neill said talks on the future relationship would need to be completed during the transition phase if negotiators wanted to avoid a “cliff-edge” outcome.

Business issued their first warnings about the tight deadline. Both the transition agreement and the full withdrawal agreement would need to be agreed by October to allow time for ratification by the EU and in Westminster, Mr O’Neill said, making clear that the nature of the future relationship would not be discussed in detail until after the UK has left the EU in March 2019. Mr O’Neill told an Oireachtas committee that the lack of clarity and certainty over trade was causing concern for small businesses across the UK and Ireland.

“The big problem at the moment is the unknown,” he declared.

Convincing international investors to consider locations outside of Dublin and other large urban areas remains a challenge, the IDA admitted. However, the Government agency insisted it was making every effort to showcase regional Ireland abroad as it faced criticism that rural towns were not seeing enough of the record foreign direct investment coming into the State.

Its chief executive Martin Shanahan said he was “acutely aware” of the need for jobs from foreign companies in rural towns, but it was “a challenge to convince international investors to consider locations outside of Dublin and the larger urban areas”.

Almost 20 investment sites in Cork city and county were vacant, including a site in Fermoy that has lain idle for nearly two decades.

The former Amgen site in Carrigtwohill has been idle for more than a decade after the pharmaceutical giant pulled out of a plan to invest €1bn that would have created more than 1,000 jobs.

Economists at the ECB said President Donald Trump’s US corporate tax cuts would boost the world’s largest economy in the short term but warned it could erode the tax base in European countries by intensifying global tax competition.

The ECB economists said the cut in business taxes would provide a significant fiscal stimulus to economic growth in the US in the short term, but added that the long-term effects were less clear, especially if the cut led to even larger US budget deficits.

Effects on eurozone are “highly uncertain and complex” but could include an erosion of the tax base if countries around the world compete by lowering their tax rates to attract businesses. “Prior to the reform, the US corporate tax rate stood above the rates of all large euro area countries, while, after the reform, it is close to the lower end of rates in those countries,” the central bank said.

The Government’s Enterprise Ireland invested €31m in Irish start-ups in 2017 and supported a total of 181 start-up companies, it said.

Joe Healy, manager of the agency’s High Potential Start-Up Division said: “Crucially, 55% of these companies are based in regions outside of Dublin, in line with our strategic objective of driving growth at a regional level. Over one third were female-led start-ups, continuing our emphasis on supporting start-ups in under-represented sectors.”

Some 166 entrepreneurs participated in the nationwide New Frontiers programme and included 18 investments in overseas entrepreneurs who have moved to Ireland to establish their businesses.

MARCH

In March, the Central Bank expressed its growing exasperation with Irish banks and hinted at imposing individual fines and claw backing pay of top Irish bank chiefs if they fail to come into line.

Ireland’s low tax rates for companies were the subject of criticism from the Luxembourg prime minister who demanded fair tax competition within the EU. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel took aim at the “unlevel playing field in tax rates in some EU countries” though without directly referencing Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate.

“The fact is, competition is good but it must be fair,” he said. “It is important to have a level playing field and an international level playing field. This is the most important topic. How should I explain to someone working eight hours a day paying 45% in tax at the end of the month when another company is paying no taxes,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said any solution to the major tax avoidance by large companies must be dealt with at a global level.

Future trends in construction could see homes here built by robots. It is estimated that over 35,000 new homes a year are required to meet shortages. Tech experts discussed the practical aspects of new building techniques at the Digital Construction Summit.

It was supposed to be the era of cheap money. But official surveys for long had shown that Irish households and SMEs face the highest rates in the eurozone to borrow money The ease with which Irish businesses can access funding was also under the spotlight by more than 250 business owners and managers.

Meanwhile, the Central Bank expressed its growing exasperation with Irish banks and hinted at imposing individual fines and claw backing pay of top Irish bank chiefs if they fail to come into line following their handling of the €1bn tracker mortgage overcharging scandal.

The director general of financial conduct at the Central Bank, Derville Rowland, called in colleagues from the Dutch central bank to conduct an audit on the “behaviour and culture” of five Irish banks.

It said it would weigh bringing in tougher personal controls over individual bank chiefs if their conduct dis not improve. Such controls would be similar to those faced by bank bosses in the UK, which the Central Bank here believes will close remaining loopholes. “Depending on what we uncover, we may require certain mitigating actions at our lending institutions.

These could include, for example, requiring the lenders to conduct an annual internal audit of culture; requiring the boards of the lenders to set up ethics sub-committees; and linking incentivisation to appropriate behaviours,” the regulator declared.

True to its word, the Central Bank reported later in the year on the culture of Irish banks but many wondered whether its “get tough” threats would simply be ignored.

APRIL

In April, Debenhams saw its half-year profits in the UK plunge nearly 85% after the earlier ‘Beast from the East’ storm gouged earnings.

The €18.6bn debut trading day for Spotify, the music streaming service, helped lighten the gloom for embattled technology shares and gave European stock markets. Global stock markets had been gripped by fears that the slide in technology shares, made worse by the data privacy breaches surrounding Facebook, could be the start of a major sell-off. Analysts said several warning signals indicated that the top of the investment cycle was drawing to a close for technology.

The flow of money into the US technology stocks was still running at the highest rate since the early 2000s. Spotify’s debut brought the sky-high valuation of technology stocks into the open.

Direct flights to Asia provided Irish tourism with a burgeoning middle class to exploit, according to Fáilte Ireland chairman Michael Cawley. The introduction of flights between Dublin and Hong Kong by Cathay Pacific and China’s Hainan Airlines between Beijing and Dublin was a potential boon to tourism, helping spread visits and spend around the country. He said the business tourism market was also a lucrative one: “People who come here on business come back as tourists. Once we get them into the country, then we can move them around the country.” Overseas tourist spend was up 65% since 2012, with overseas numbers up 43%.

Debenhams saw its half-year profits in the UK plunge nearly 85% after the earlier “Beast from the East” storm gouged earnings. The retailer said its pre-tax profits slid after it was forced to temporarily close around 100 stores. Debenhams also blamed a disappointing Christmas season for increasing competitor discounting and ultimately hitting underlying earnings for the UK. It was only the start of the financial problems facing the retailer.

UK spending in Cork hotels and restaurants had fallen sharply due to exposure to the slump in the value of sterling following the UK’s Brexit vote, according to an AIB report. But the upswing in North American visitors helped cushion the effects of lower spending by UK visitors.

Sterling had slumped by 15% against the euro since the UK voted in summer 2016 to leave the EU. Hotels in the Cork region generate only 17% from home residents and are “significantly more reliant” on tourism than pubs or restaurants. Cork is also the most “pubbed” in the country, with 955 pubs, compared with 722 in Dublin. UK spending accounted for 3.5% of the total pub revenues in Cork in 2017, and 4% of total restaurant revenues, and 11% of total hotel revenues.

MAY

In May, the vast majority of chartered surveyors expected construction activity to increase, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) and PwC said. However the report also found that skills shortages and planning and regulatory challenges were the main constraints on building houses.

The vast majority of chartered surveyors expected construction activity to increase, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) and PwC said. However the report also found that skills shortages and planning and regulatory challenges were the main constraints on building houses. The report found that the majority of chartered surveyors reported increased construction activity in the previous six months. Kevin James, at the SCSI, said the increase in construction activity outside of Dublin was particularly welcome: “While 4% more Dublin surveyors say they have experienced an increase in activity in the last six months the figure outside the capital is 11%. This is very heartening as it shows the recovery in the construction sector is gaining pace around the country.”

More than half of women on maternity leave feel anxious and nervous about returning to work, according to a survey from New Ireland Assurance, with three-quarters concerned about work-life balance and childcare arrangements. Over 25% said they had no support at all from their employer in getting back to work, while more than 80% say more flexible working arrangements would help. The reasons for their anxiety varied from the need for part-time arrangements and people looking for flexibility on their return to work.

A number of banks cut their mortgage rates and tried to claim that there was a mortgage rate war underway.

Former Anglo Irish Bank chief David Drumm, engaged with others in a massive billion euro “con”, the prosecutor told a jury as his trial for conspiracy to defraud and false accounting in 2008 entered its closing stages. Mary Rose Gearty SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the €7.2bn transactions at the centre of the case were reported to the market in December 2008 as “a massive con” and that the accounting scheme used was fraudulent and dishonest. Referencing the expression “putting on your best suit”, meaning to put out the best balance sheet possible at year end, Ms Gearty said: “In this case Anglo’s family snapshot contained a stranger, who was wearing a really nice suit.”

JUNE

In June, Port of Cork CEO Brendan Keating (far left) warned that the country faced a significant risk of isolation following Brexit.

Irish food and drink exports rose 11% to a record €12.5bn last year, according to figures from Bord Bia, marking the eighth consecutive year of growth in 180 overseas markets.

Bord Bia attributed the boost of an additional €1.2bn in sales to increased output in a number of areas. There was, it said, rising demand in some markets, and new markets for exports had opened. The strongest performer was in dairy, which accounted for a third of all export sales, followed by seafood, pig meat, sheep meat, and live animals. The value of exports of dairy products and ingredients rose 19% to just over €4bn — with sales of butter up 60% to almost €900m.

European regulators cleared Comcast’s €25bn bid for Sky, helping fuel a bidding war with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The European Commission gave unconditional approval to Comcast’s proposed acquisition of the UK broadcaster, concluding that it would “raise no competition concerns in Europe”, adding that “the proposed transaction would lead to only a limited increase in Sky’s existing share of the markets for the acquisition of TV content, as well as in the market for the wholesale supply of TV channels in the relevant Member States.”

The approval helped fuel a bidding war with 21st Century Fox, which had launched its own €13.3bn takeover bid for the 61% of Sky it does not already own.

UK regulators subsequently took up the baton in ruling over the terms of the Sky bidding war.

More union and shares troubles were still to come, but Ryanair hailed carrying over 128 million customers in 2017. Those figures compared with EasyJet’s 77 million, Lufthansa’s 60 million, and the 44 million carried by British Airways. By the end of the year

Brexit will have an enormous negative impact on the Irish marine industry, with four out of five firms bracing for disruption, delays, compliance, and additional costs, according to a report by PwC and the Irish Marine Institute. PwC customs and international trade partner John O’Loughlin was advising businesses to plan for a potential hard Brexit.

“For the marine sector, which is highly export-orientated, planning is essential, particularly where the UK is the end-market. A review of supply contracts will be critical when determining who is responsible for fulfilling all relevant customs obligations on import and export. There are opportunities and market diversification is essential,” he said.

Port of Cork chief executive Brendan Keating warned that the country faced a significant risk of isolation following Brexit, and said the country would need EU funding to help establish new direct sea routes to the continent.

Brexit fears return to haunt Irish business

JULY

An Post’s drone, christened Postman Padraig, which delivered a package to Clare Island from Roonagh Pier in Co Mayo in July. The 5,561m journey took 11 minutes and 20 seconds.

An Post hailed Ireland’s first ever parcel delivery via drone. The inaugural autonomous parcel delivery involved it delivering a parcel from Roonagh Pier in Co Mayo to Clare Island by drone.

The 5,561m journey took approximately 11 minutes and 20 seconds. An Post shared the news of their landmark delivery on social media, and responding to a tweet which had dubbed the delivery mechanism “Pilot Pat”, the company quipped: “His biography is titled ‘From Rothar to Rotor’”.

Cork people are warm, welcoming and deliver “a quite magic experience” — making it a top destination of choice for niche high-end, high-spend business tourism, said a visiting French tourism industry leader. Céline Gicquel, the owner of Celaprod, a French ‘incentive buyer’ company which guides corporations on their destinations for one-off trips to reward their top-performing staff.

“After this visit, I think we’ll propose Cork to our clients as a choice along with Italian cities like Turin or Milan, or like Ile de Provence or Lyon in France. We’d recommend Cork for a real authentic experience. The Irish sunshine on this visit was an unexpected surprise, but we know that people don’t come to Ireland for the climate,” she said.

Creaking IT systems pose a serious threat to Irish banks, which could fold “like a house of cards” with a serious cyber-attack. Ronan Murphy, chief executive of Smarttech247, said the lack of investment in IT by the major banks since 2008 poses a major challenge for the years ahead.

Central Bank governor Philip Lane had acknowledged that many banks’ IT systems were substandard, saying they became less of a focus following the financial crash.

“The legacy issues of the banking IT system mean it only needs something very small to go wrong before it turns into a major issue. It is much more difficult to be safe from cyber-attacks with such systems,” the governor said.

Moreover, the IT industry in Ireland faces a huge skills shortage, tens of thousands of staff wil be needed in the coming years, the industry said.

A report from the Oireachtas has shown that Ireland’s main airports contribute €10.2bn to the economy and have seen numbers grow by almost 50% since 2012.

In Dublin, numbers have grown 54% to 29.4 million and it had its busiest year in its 78-year history in 2017. The report said that 85% of all passengers come through Dublin Airport, making it the 19th “most connected” airport in Europe.

In Cork, however, passengers number fell 1.4% to 2.3 million since 2012. Cork accounts for 6.7% of passengers and provides a €727m to the economy.

AUGUST

The Jameson Distillery in Bow Street welcomed more than 350,000 visitors in the 12 months since it re-opened in 2017, making it the most-visited whiskey experience in the world.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland released figures showing there were 2.5 million visitors to the 17 brewery and distillery tourist attractions in Ireland in 2017, up 6% from 2016.

Irish whiskey is currently undergoing a renaissance, with 13 whiskey distilleries in the country and 814,000 visitors sampling their attarctions last year

The Jameson Distillery in Dublin’s Bow Street welcomed more than 350,000 visitors in the 12 months since it re-opened in 2017, making it the most-visited whiskey experience in the world.

The growing interest in Irish gin is also having a knock-on effect with a number of distilleries now including both gin and whiskey as part of their visitor experience.

Apple became the first $1 trillion publicly listed US company, crowning a decade-long rise fuelled by its ubiquitous iPhone that transformed it from a niche player in personal computers into a global powerhouse spanning entertainment and communications.

Started in the garage of co-founder Steve Jobs in 1976, Apple earns more in revenues that the annual economic output of economies like Portugal and New Zealand.

Apple’s stock market value back in August was greater than the combined capitalisation of Exxon Mobil, Procter & Gamble and AT&T and accounted for 4% of the S&P-500 Index in the US. Such valuations raised many alarm bells as sage market watchers voiced concerns about the potential for a return of stock market sell-offs should the valuations of tech stocks come under question. Many of those concerns were to play out at the end of the year.

Airbnb revealed that the summer had been its busiest in Ireland, with approximately 640,000 guests projected to use the travel site. Users of the site were soon to attract the attention of Revenue. The Irish figures marked Airbnb’s global 10-year anniversary. A typical home host will earn €2,000 over the summer hosting Airbnb guests, and which will contribute €57 million to the Irish economy, it said. The US accounts for the majority of Irish Airbnb users, followed by domestic Irish travellers, the UK and France. Dublin and Galway are the top two most travelled hotspots, followed by Killarney, Cork, and Dingle, as tourists follow the Wild Atlantic Way.

Giant pension firm Pimco saw a 70% chance of the world economy entering a recession over the next three to five years, as the era of low-interest rates in the US and Europe came to a halt. Pimco chief investment officer warned investors should expect increased volatility as monetary easing turns into monetary tightening. “Quantitative easing was a tide that lifted all boats. If we were trying to look for historic analogues to the current environment in terms of monetary policy and possible unwind in the period to come, there are none,” it bluntly said. The comments came as the US economy headed for its best growth since 2005, buoyed by robust domestic demand and the effect of January’s tax cuts.

SEPTEMBER

SIRO CEO Sean Atkinson with then-Minister for Communications Denis Naughten as it was announced that Cork will become the ‘broadband capital of Ireland’.

Irish house prices will rise at the fastest rate in Europe for the next four years, even as the pace of increases slows from the double-digit rise of last year, S&P Global Ratings forecast. The ratings firm said house prices will rise 9.5% this year, the highest level along with Portugal in Europe, following the near 12% surge in 2017, adding that Irish house prices will then continue to increase at the fastest rate in Europe, including the countries that make up the eurozone, the UK, and Switzerland, to 2021. Home prices will rise 8% next year; by 7% in 2020; and increase by 6% in 2021, as the pickup in supply of new homes lags rising demand driven by an expanding economy. With employment levels rising, the fundamentals of the economy and continuing shortages will continue to drive price increases even as the ECB weighs its decision to start to increase interest rates late next year, it predicted.

The Government “needs to show its teeth” and call banks to task on mortgage rates, which remain among the highest in the eurozone, according to website bonkers.ie. The average interest rate issued on a new mortgage in July was 3.21%, which compares to an average rate of just 1.77% across Europe. This means a typical first-time buyer borrowing €250,000 over 30 years will pay an extra €190 a month, or over €68,000 extra over the life of the mortgage.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told delegates at the Data Summit 2018 that Ireland was on its way to becoming the tech capital of Europe and, despite Brexit, will continue to offer a stable and strong corporation tax regime for tech companies.

“From being an inward-looking country at the edge of Europe, Ireland has become a multicultural and globalised country, a melting pot of nationalities, proud to engage with the world,” he claimed.

He added that 2018 is a time when globalisation, free trade, and multilateralism are seen negatively in some parts of the world, while Ireland has become a beacon for liberal western democratic values.

Cork will become the “broadband capital of Ireland”, assisting the region “compete with anywhere in Europe” following a €60m investment.

That was the claim by Siro, a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, saying it would bring the Republic’s fastest broadband available to over 75,000 homes and businesses in Cork city and towns.

The city centre and suburbs will be joined by Little Island and Ballincollig, as well as Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Blarney, Tower and Charleville as the new “gigabit towns”. Chinese giant Huawei was appointed to help build out the infrastructure for 65,000 homes and businesses in the city, with TLI Group servicing 10,000 premises in the five towns.

Meanwhile, the National Broadband Plan, the Government’s bid bring essential broadband services to rural Ireland was about to be mired in more controversy. The furore over meetings with the last bidder standing in the contract would later cost Denis Naughten his job as Communications Minister.

OCTOBER

Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe at the announcement in Octorber of Budget 2019 in the Courtyard of the Department of the Taoiseach, Government Buildings, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe pulled a political stroke out of his budget hat. In a move that was widely attacked by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and every other independent economist, Minister Donohoe decided to ply a huge €700m health budget spending hole in 2018 by tapping the surge in corporation tax receipts. The stroke was done on the Friday night a few days before the official budget was dubbed as “the €1bn down the back of the sofa” budget by the Irish Examiner. This one measure had the effect of lifting all spending and doubled his budget package beyond the level recommended by the fiscal watchdog. Many economists said that the Government had lost control over health spending. Independent economists welcomed the increase of the Vat tourism and hospitality tax back up to 13.5% from the special low rate of 9%. Hotels and restaurants had strongly campaigned against the measure. There were few other significant business measures announced in the budget.

Research conducted among undergraduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (Stem) at the University of Limerick revealed that almost one-third of students were not aware of the opportunities they could secure upon graduating.

In an effort to address this issue, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said that the programme of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design would expand to University College Cork.

It is backed by global partnerships with academic institutions in the US, Japan and South America. Mark Devine at J&J said the programme focuses on increasing representation of girls and women in Stem areas across all life stages. “This is achieved through our youth programme at primary and secondary level, and at the professional stage where identification and implementation of best practices for attracting and retaining female talent remain a top priority,” he said.

Over 5,000 employees in 4,000 firms will be trained in cybersecurity as part of a Government-backed strategy to combat the burgeoning cyber crime industry. The Cybersecurity Skills Initiative involves 18 agencies, including Skillnet Ireland, the IDA, National Cyber Security Centre and the Garda Cyber Crime Bureau.

Europol, the EU-wide police network, has warned that the global impact of cybercrime has risen to €2.5 trillion, making it “more profitable than the global trade in marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined”. A survey last year by British IT research firm Juniper found criminal data breaches will cost businesses €7 trillion over the next five years, due to higher levels of internet connectivity and inadequate enterprise-wide security. It found that SMEs were particularly at risk from cyber attacks.

Major entertainment acts like U2, Hozier and Christy Moore shared in a royalty payout bonanza of over €28m made by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (Imro) last year. Chief executive Vincent Finn said Imro achieved its highest ever distribution to its members and affiliates in 2017, and that new “over the top online services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime were providing new opportunities for Imro members”. Its revenues increased 6% to €33.3m with public performance, online and overseas revenue contributing largely to this increase. Singer and chairwoman of Imro, Eleanor McEvoy said: “It is only fair that the people who create that music are justly compensated for their endeavours and are given a voice at all levels of government both here and abroad”.

Profits at Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown’s Boys firm last year totalled €673,250. Accounts show that O’Carroll and his wife, Jennifer Gibney - who plays Cathy in the hit series - accumulated €276,899 in dividends from the company last year, bringing to €4.4m the pair have received in dividends from the two firms over the past three years.

NOVEMBER

Golden Discs opened three stores in November owing to ‘the Vinyl Renaissance’.

Golden Discs opened three new stores this month, sayins that “the Vinyl Renaissance” has brought a sales growth of 60% at the company for the year to date. The openings in Dublin, Kilkenny and Limerick will bring their shop numbers up to 19 and add 30 employees to their staff. “What started as a niche format for hardcore music fans is more and more becoming mainstream as music lovers use streaming services for convenience and purchase physical product for tangibility,” the company said.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has warned of “a catastrophe” if the UK crashes out of the EU, while the Government’s National Treasury Management Agency said Irish bonds have already been affected by concerns over a no deal Brexit. Ictu’s governing executive said it supported the Brexit draft withdrawal agreement struck between the UK and the EU because a no deal “would be catastrophic”.

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also warned about “a disorderly” Brexit. It was also worried about the huge increase in house prices. Any a spike in property prices could “lay the foundation for another boom-and-bust cycle” in the Irish economy that is growing robustly, the OECD said.

The rising cost of rents and property in Dublin is driving business executives out of Ireland, according to executive search firm Ardlinn. The firm highlighted recent research which shows that in places such as Blackrock in the capital, workers need to be earning around €165,000 a year just to buy the typically priced house in that area. Its director, Áine Brolly, said the cost of living in Dublin will create significant lack of workplace talent within five years. With Dublin property prices rising by more than 12% in the last year, Ireland’s capital was now rated in the top 14% of the world’s most expensive cities.

DECEMBER

Theresa May’s bid to get the backing of the UK parliament for her Brexit withdrawal agreement appeared doomed. Picture: PA

With UK politics consuming itself, the risks of a hard Brexit loomed ever larger. Theresa May’s bid appeared doomed in getting the backing of the UK parliament for her withdrawal agreement. That meant the EU and the Government issued their contingency plans should the UK crash out of the EU in March without an exit deal. Experts said the consequences of a no deal would include pressure on Dublin policing the Irish border as if it was an EU frontier between Poland and Russia.

Global stock markets ended the year in bad shape. In Europe, Brexit and other political concerns weighed on shares, while in the US, tech shares, including Apple, tumbled on fears of a sharp slowdown in growth in the US and China next year.

While the supply of new homes built this year is estimated at 35,000 units, it is unlikely to satisfy the pent-up demand created since the downturn of the house building industry.

According to a report from the Banking and Payments Federation, a growth rate of 25% per annum of completions would take until 2021 for supply to meet the estimated demand. As long as the construction sector does not hit any significant blockages in terms of staff requirements, completion numbers are likely to be around 22,000 units in 2019. The report also highlighted the large increase in the price of new homes, which have doubled to a median €330,000 in recent years. That compares with only a 40% increase in the price of existing homes, to €217,000, over the same period.

The increasingly familiar use of Hawk-Eye at sporting fixtures saw pre-tax profits in its company increase last year by 31% to €6.5m. With the technology having become an integral part of the big GAA match occasions at Croke Park and Semple Stadium over the last number of years, the company’s deal with the GAA has contributed to revenues increasing by 44% to €35.5m in the 12 months to the end of March this year.

US tobacco farmers may now be looking at a more secure future in growing cannabis, underlined by Altria, the US maker of Marlboro cigarettes, having made a €1.58bn investment in a Canadian firm well established in this emerging industry. Amid pressure to find new growth areas as US smoking rates decline, the partnership may see the firm’s US tobacco suppliers switch to cannabis if the drug is legalised.

Irish retailers suffered last month as shoppers chose to avoid bricks and mortar stores in favour of online shopping on Black Friday. According to Visa’s Irish Consumer Spending Index, face-to-face spending was down 4.3% year-on-year. That was the first reduction since August 2017 and the sharpest decrease since the surveys began in 2014. In contrast, there was a rise in the rate of eCommerce spending during the month - a cause for concern for bricks and mortar retailers in the run-up to Christmas, with only a short window to encourage shoppers back into their stores during the crucial festive period.


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