Business sentiment rises for third month in a row – Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse

Business sentiment rose for the third consecutive month in December, while consumer sentiment remained steady, the latest Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse shows. 

The Bank of Ireland Economic Pulse, which combines the results of the Consumer and Business Pulses, showed a reading of 83 in December. 

This was up 2.3 on November’s reading but 5.4 lower than a year ago. 

The latest Economic Pulse shows that the majority of firms do not expect to change their selling prices in the months ahead, even though two in five reported a rise in non-labour input costs. 

On the consumer front, three in four households said they are likely to put money aside over the coming year and there was greater confidence across all regions for future house price gains.

Dr Loretta O’Sullivan, Group Chief Economist for Bank of Ireland, said that while sentiment rose in December, the Economic Pulse ended the year below where it started it. 

“2019 has been a year of intense Brexit drama and political events across the Irish Sea were to the fore again this month, with the UK in the midst of a general election campaign as the December survey was being carried out,” Dr O’Sullivan said. 

“Business sentiment rose for the third month in a row, while consumer sentiment moved sideways, as households remain cautious,” she added.

Bank of Ireland said its Business Pulse stood at 84.6 in December, up 2.8 on last month but down 3.5 on a year ago. 

It said that while the headline index rose for a third month in a row, the picture was mixed across the sectors with the services and construction sectors posted firmer readings and the industry sector eased back along with the retail sector. 

Bank of Ireland said that Brexit developments will continue to be important for business investment, which has been impacted by uncertainty. 

Meanwhile, the consumer element of the survey was more or less flat on the month but down 12.9 on a year ago.

Bank of Ireland said that households’ assessment of the general economic situation and their personal finances was little changed in December as they waited to see where the Brexit process goes next. 

The buying and savings climate also held steady, with three in ten considering it a good time to purchase big ticket items such as furniture and electrical goods.

74% of consumers also indicated that they are likely to put some money aside over the coming year.

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Minimum wage set to increase by 30 cent an hour from February

The National Minimum wage will increase to €10.10 in February, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has announced.

That represents an increase of 30 cent on the current rate of €9.80 per hour.

It is estimated that over 127,000 workers would benefit from the increase.

Minister Regina Doherty said the Government had decided to increase the minimum wage due to the strong growth in earnings across the economy.

She said that the added clarity from the UK regarding Brexit was another factor in the decision.

The increase is in line with that recommended by the Low Pay Commission, the independent body tasked with examining the appropriate rate of the statutory minimum wage.

“With this most recent increase in the National Minimum Wage, an employee on minimum wage who works a full 39-hour week will now receive an additional €11.70 per week, or an extra €608.40 gross per year,” Minister Doherty said.

“All types of work should pay well and it is my determination that a job should really lift people out of poverty. The ongoing increases in the minimum wage help to ensure that happens,” she added.

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25% of Irish companies may not be GDPR-compliant – Equinix

A new survey today reveals that 25% of Irish IT decision-makers worry that their organisation is not  General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliant. 

The survey, from data centre operator Equinix, found that 76% of IT decision-makers said that complying with data protection regulations is a top priority for their company’s technology strategy.

44% also said that changing regulatory requirements around data privacy are a threat to their company.

To strengthen its own GDPR compliance and to help customers navigate GDPR, Equinix completed the  process of achieving Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) approval by European Union regulators. 

In doing so, it said it has become the first company to have its BCRs approved by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) set up under the new GDPR regime.

BCRs allow multinational companies to transfer personal data from the European Economic Area (EEA) to their affiliates located outside of the EEA, while adhering to the highest standards, as demanded by EU regulators.

Equinix said that securing BCRs compliance ensures that the personal data flows that it adopts to operate its global enterprise and support its global customer base are GDPR compliant.

Maurice Mortell, Managing Director for Ireland at Equinix, said that given the importance of regulatory compliance in the business environment today, gaining BCRs approval is a significant achievement for the company. 

Mr Mortell said that as global and Irish business communities strive to become more compliant, they are choosing interconnection – or private connectivity – to mitigate many of the risks associated with being a digital enterprise today. 

“The fact that a quarter of Irish enterprises might be exposing themselves – and their customers – to data infringements is very worrying. It highlights the need for businesses here to seize responsibility and ensure they are taking all of the necessary steps to be truly compliant,” he cautioned. 

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Signs of rent stabilisation in Dublin and Cork – RTB

Average monthly rents across the country rose by 8.2% during the third quarter of this year.

According to the latest quarterly rent index by the Residential Tenancies Board and the ESRI, the average monthly cost of rent nationally is now over €1,200.

The report shows that although the average rent for Dublin is up more than 6.5% on the same time last year, the market has stabilised in comparison to other counties.

The increase of 6.6% in rental costs for new tenancies across Dublin was the lowest annual increase since the end of 2017.

A similar trend was seen in Cork city, where the lowest rate of rental inflation was recorded since 2015.

Outside of Dublin, the average rent for the last quarter was still considerably lower than in the capital at €947, up €42 from the previous quarter.

Commenting on the rise in costs, the RTB said that affordability continues to be an issue in the rental sector, despite the increase in housing completions.

However, since the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Bill on 1 July, the board has increased powers to investigate and sanction breaches of rental law.

There are almost 50 investigations in progress under the new bill, according to the RTB.

The report comes on the same day that four Local Electoral Areas in Wicklow, Cork, Kilkenny and Sligo are to be designated as Rent Pressure Zones.

RTB Director Rosalind Carroll said the only glimmer of hope was that the rate of rent increase was slowing down.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said any increase was difficult for tenants, but the levels of inflation were slowing down in the last three quarters.

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Work permit changes to alleviate staff shortages in sectors

More chefs from outside the country will be eligible for employment permits allowing them to work in Ireland, as a result of changes announced by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys today.

The move, which follows a review of labour market requirements, is aimed at addressing staff shortages in the hospitality sector.

Other modifications to the system are also being made to increase the supply of workers from outside Ireland coming to work in construction, health and road haulage.

“A strong economy and full employment present their own challenges as labour shortages in certain sectors demonstrate,” said Ms Humphreys.

“I am pleased to announce these changes, which will fill immediate gaps in businesses across a range of sectors.”

At present, in order for workers from outside the European Economic Area to work legally here, they must have employment permits.

These occupational permits are managed through lists that both define critical skills and rule out certain occupations as ineligible.

Twice a year, the Government reviews these lists by reviewing evidence and submissions from interested parties, before adding and removing occupations as labour market supply and demand dynamics require it.

The latest review, which comes into effect from 1 January next, has proposed changes to address immediate labour shortages in key sectors of growth, including health, construction, hospitality and road haulage.

Chefs will no longer have a quota of 650 permits and all grades including commis chefs, who had previously been restricted, will be eligible for permits.

The move will provide a boost to the hospitality sector, which employs 152,000 people, and is struggling to attract and retain sufficient numbers of kitchen staff.

All nurses, not just those with a degree, will also be able to qualify for a Critical Skills Employment Permit.

This system allows permit holders the right to immediately bring their family with them and gives them a right to work.

It also offers a fast-track route to long-term residency after two years.

Until now, nurses from outside the EEA with a diploma rather than a degree could only access a General Employment Permit, which carries fewer benefits.

The Government has also decided to add further professional occupations in the construction sector to the Critical Skills Employment Permit list, and remove roles such as foreman, architectural technician and construction safety officer from the ineligible list.

A further 200 permits will also be made available for heavy goods vehicle drivers, to address shortages in the transport and logistics sectors.

“The sectors involved have had to prove that they are making every effort to recruit staff domestically and train up workers,” Ms Humphreys said.

“Ultimately this is the primary way of dealing with labour shortages in the longer term.”

The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland has welcomed the moves by Ms Humphreys.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Adrian Cummins said it was a good news story for the hospitality industry and that the RAI has been lobbying for it for some time.

He said around 5,000 chefs are needed each year but only around 1,800 are trained in Ireland each year, so there is a shortfall.

He said a cap on two work permits per premises was lifted which was welcome.

The RAI would now turn their attention, Mr Cummins said, to addressing a shortage of front-of-house staff, as an overall skills shortage still remained.

He said it wanted to address the fact that not enough young people are interested in going into work in the hospitality sector.

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Planning permissions for apartments soar over 80% – CSO

New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that planning permissions for apartments jumped by 80.2% in the third quarter of this year compared to the same time last year.

The CSO said the number of planning permissions granted for homes in the third quarter stood 10,590 – 5,656 of these were for apartments and 4,934 were for houses – an increase of 1.1%.

Today’s figures show that one-off houses accounted for 30.7% of all new homes granted planning permission in the three months from July to September. 

They also show that 340 planning permissions were granted for new buildings for agricultural purposes, down from 364 the same time last year.

Meanwhile, total floor area planned for commercial buildings reached 364,000 square metres in the third quarter of 2019, an annual increase of over 73%.

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European new car registrations up 4.5% in November – ACEA

European passenger car registrations rose 4.5% in November, marking the third consecutive month of growth this year, thanks to robust demand in Germany and France and a rebound in demand for VW, Audi and Porsche. 

Registrations rose to 1,210,860 million cars in the countries of the European Union and the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), statistics published by the European Auto industry association ACEA showed. 

Carmakers recovered lost ground from November last year, when registrations were depressed by the introduction of tough anti-emission rules, known as the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).

These new rules forced some brands to re-certify their vehicles. 

As a result Volkswagen Group saw registrations of the VW brand jump 9.3%, outpacing rivals Opel/Vauxhall which saw sales fall 22.1% and Peugeot, which saw registrations drop 1.2% in the same period. 

November registrations of Renault branded cars were up 11.3% with Fiat registrations increasing by 3.1%, ACEA statistics showed. 

Among the premium brands, demand for Audi increased by 39.4% and Porsche’s new registrations jumped 282.9%, ACEA said. 

A 9.7% overall rise in Germany and an 0.7% increase in France helped to outweigh a 1.3% drop in registrations in Britain, ACEA statistics showed.

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European new car registrations up 4.5% in November – ACEA

European passenger car registrations rose 4.5% in November, marking the third consecutive month of growth this year, thanks to robust demand in Germany and France and a rebound in demand for VW, Audi and Porsche. 

Registrations rose to 1,210,860 million cars in the countries of the European Union and the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), statistics published by the European Auto industry association ACEA showed. 

Carmakers recovered lost ground from November last year, when registrations were depressed by the introduction of tough anti-emission rules, known as the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).

These new rules forced some brands to re-certify their vehicles. 

As a result Volkswagen Group saw registrations of the VW brand jump 9.3%, outpacing rivals Opel/Vauxhall which saw sales fall 22.1% and Peugeot, which saw registrations drop 1.2% in the same period. 

November registrations of Renault branded cars were up 11.3% with Fiat registrations increasing by 3.1%, ACEA statistics showed. 

Among the premium brands, demand for Audi increased by 39.4% and Porsche’s new registrations jumped 282.9%, ACEA said. 

A 9.7% overall rise in Germany and an 0.7% increase in France helped to outweigh a 1.3% drop in registrations in Britain, ACEA statistics showed.

€6 billion of land sales recorded in the last decade

New figures from property consultants CBRE Ireland show that a total of 73 land sales were completed here during 2019.

Those 73 sales totalled more than €1.2 billion.

This was down on last year’s record result of almost €1.5 billion from 125 deals.

CBRE said the 2019 figures still represented a strong result for the property market, especially given the fact that land prices have stabilised during the last 12 months. 

CBRE said its research shows that almost €6 billion of land sales have been completed in the Irish market in the last decade.

45% of these occurred in the last two-year period alone.

Peter Garrigan, Director in the Development Land team at CBRE, said that activity in the development land market during 2019 has been steady with a number of large sales having completed in the last quarter bringing total spend during the year to more than €1.2 billion. 

He also said that a number of land sales will now not complete until the New Year, meaning there will be a carryover into 2020. 

“We continue to witness strong demand for well-located sites although there have been clear signs of stabilisation emerging in terms of land prices during the last year,” he added.

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Credit unions facing challenges despite strong reserves

A new report on credit unions show that they continue to face financial challenges in terms of income generation and return on assets due to the low interest rate environment and high cost metrics. 

But the report from the Central Bank said that on a positive note, the credit union sector continues to demonstrate a strong overall reserves position. 

The report shows that credit unions’ total investments increased by 58% from 2011 to 2019 to €12.5 billion, mainly due to increased member savings. 

But average returns on investments have been in steady decline, decreasing from 3.1% in September 2012 to 0.9% by September 2019.

The number of credit unions overall has reduced since 2011, falling from 406 to 241 this year.

The Central Bank said that according to credit union sourced data, combined membership totals about 3.4 million. 

The credit unions’ total assets also continue to expand, growing by 31% from €14 billion in 2011 to €18.3 billion this year. 

Today’s report also shows signs of a change in loan portfolio profiles, with increased levels of longer-term lending and a net increase in the total value of new loans advanced since late 2015. 

It noted that the current sector loan to asset (LTA) ratio averages 28%, while the sector’s cost-income ratio has risen from 46% to 86% between 2011 and 2019.

Registrar of Credit Unions Patrick Casey said the trends highlighted in the Central Bank’s latest financial conditions statistical release reflect the significant challenges that credit unions have faced over the 2011 to 2019 period, due to a changing nature of retail financial services and the low interest rate environment. 

“Going forward, as those challenges will likely persist, credit unions need to take greater ownership of their business model development in order to achieve sustainability for members,” Mr Casey said. 

“Irish credit unions continue to enjoy the loyal trust of members. This trust, coupled with the sector’s co-operative member-centric ethos, remains a competitive difference upon which to evolve business models and meet ongoing commercial and competitive challenges,” he added.

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