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    Grafton reports strong sales despite currency hit

    Builders merchanting firm Grafton Group has reported sales of €1.07bn for the first six months of the year, despite taking a hit on weaker sterling-euro currency translation in the period.

    In an interim management statement issued by the company this morning, Grafton said that weaker sterling crimped reported revenue to the tune of €26m. The company generates about three-quarters of its revenue and profit in the UK.

    Shares in the Woodies DIY and Atlantic Homecare owner fell as much as 2pc this morning however, even after it said that revenue at its Irish merchanting arm, which includes Chadwicks and Heatons, grew in the first half of 2013 for the first time since 2007.

    The group, headed by chief executive Gavin Slark, said that its UK merchanting business experienced stronger demand in May and June, with like-for-like revenue 1.7pc ahead in the first six months compared to the first half of 2013.

    At its DIY outlets in Ireland, Grafton said that revenue was flat.

    John Mulligan, Irish Independent



    ESRI’s three scenarios for 2013-20


    Under the best ESRI scenario growth in gross national product will reach 3.6 per cent a year in the second half of the decade as problems in the Irish financial sector are tackled effectively and the European economy normalises.

    While full employment would not be reached by 2020 even in this best-case scenario, the level of unemployment would be more than halved to around 6 per cent.

    Such an outcome would of itself play a major role in restoring the public finances to a sustainable path. This would allow a shift to a more neutral fiscal stance from 2015 onwards that would be much more supportive of growth.

    In this scenario the EU economy returns to a “reasonable” rate of growth over the rest of the decade. It is also assumed that the export sector of the economy would see its markets grow, resulting in increases in output and employment.

    In turn, growth in foreign demand would help produce a turnaround in domestic demand. As firms increase their sales and their profitability they would need to invest to continue growing.

    Demographic pressures would mean that more dwellings would need to be built later in the decade and a recovery in household circumstances would suggest that this investment could, in theory at least, be financed.


    GNP growth in the second half of the decade reaches 3.2 per cent a year.

    In this ESRI scenario, the EU economy recovers but domestic policy fails to resolve problems, such as those in the Irish financial system and the labour market.

    Such a scenario could see the economy “seriously underperform its potential”.

    In this scenario, the ESRI warns of a danger that the skills and experience of the long-term unemployed could be impaired by their time out of work. The result might be that they might not benefit from a return to employment growth.

    This would cause the unemployment rate to remain in double digits for most of the decade.

    The institute urges the development of “a suite of labour market policies to ensure that, in the event of a recovery, the long-term unemployed find their way back into employment”.

    The delayed recovery scenario, in turn, would mean that fiscal policy could not be relaxed until much later in the decade.

    As a result, the 2015 and 2016 budgets would have to take more money out of the economy. 


    GNP grows at 1 per cent a year out to 2020. This stagnation scenario by the ESRI is based on circumstances where the EU economy does not return to growth in the near future.

    The result would be a “zombie” decade for the EU and this would have serious consequences for Ireland.

    With no growth in the EU, the Irish economy, even if managed effectively, would do well to grow over the second half of the decade.

    The unemployment rate in 2020 would remain where it is today, while emigration would be expected to run at 22,000 a year for the foreseeable future.

    The failure of growth would have serious implications for the public finances.

    In order to keep borrowing under control, continuing tough budgets would be needed until the end of the decade.

    In spite of this very tough fiscal stance, the burden of debt would remain very high.

    This would leave the economy very vulnerable to new shocks.

    Any attempt to use fiscal policy to stimulate domestic demand would rapidly run into twin constraints: the need to keep the government debt sustainable and the need to maintain broad balance on the current account of the balance of payments.

    Dan O'Brien, Irish Times


    Irish manufacturing shrinks at fastest rate in 19 months

    Deteriorating economic conditions weaken orders for goods at home and abroad

    Irish manufacturing shrank at its fastest rate in 19 months in April as sluggish orders both at home and from abroad led to the sharpest contraction in output since August 2009, a survey has shown.

    The NCB Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, which fell below the 50 line dividing growth from contraction for the first time in more than a year in March, dropped further to 48.0 in April from 48.6 in the previous month.

    The poor PMI data adds to the less positive tone of recent data releases as the recession hitting much of the rest of Europe eats into export growth and a still-struggling domestic economy hurts retail sales.

    “On the evidence of today’s report, Q2 has gotten off to an uninspiring start for the Irish manufacturing sector,” said Philip O’Sullivan, chief economist at NCB Stockbrokers.

    “Panellists cited weakening market demand, fuelled by deteriorating economic conditions in Ireland and across Europe, as a key factor behind this softer reading. The sluggish new orders, new export orders and stocks of purchases readings suggest that a near-term recovery in output is unlikely.”

    The Government expects the economy to grow modestly for the third year in a row this year, but trimmed its forecast for growth yesterday after the economy contracted in the third quarter of 2012 and was flat in the fourth.

    Manufacturing accounts for about a quarter of Ireland’s gross domestic product, according to World Bank figures.

    The sub-index measuring output, which stood at 54.4 just six months ago, fell to 46.5 in April from 48.1 in March. It was the lowest reading since August 2009, more than a year before Ireland was forced to seek an €85 billion bailout.



    Banks will not be allowed 'micro-manage' finances insists new insolvency service

    Minimum income guidelines not set 'anywhere close' to subsistence level

    Minimum income guidelines for people entering the State’s new insolvency process have not been set in stone or at “subsistence level living or anywhere close to that”, the head of the agency overseeing the process has said.

    Lorcan O’Connor of the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI) said the new guidelines would be flexible and would not see people’s finances being “micro-managed” by banks or new Personal Insolvency Practitioners (PIPS) but he admitted many people would be forced to give up private health insurance, cars and holidays.

    The guidelines on a “reasonable standard of living” for insolvent debtors and “reasonable living expenses” are central to the insolvency regime as they set out how much money people will be allowed to spend within any deal which is agreed with their creditors.

    It include limits on expenditure on items such as food and basic medicine.

    Under the guidelines a single adult with no car will be permitted expenditure of €898.96 in set cost over and above any mortgage or rent payments. The set costs will rise to €1,030 if that adult has a a car. They will be given €126 a month – or €29 a week to cover social inclusion. An allowance of €204.88 is to made for each child of primary school going age.

    The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter unveiled details of how the new insolvency process would work this afternoon in Government Buildings as the service launched an information campaign. Guides to debt settlements have been published along with a website and an information line for queries.

    Mr O’Connor told The Irish Times that childcare costs would come under the microscope but he denied that people would forced to give up work if their earnings were less than the cost of that childcare.

    He said PIPs would have to “ensure that the child care costs are reasonable” but expressed the view that “it would be completely counter intuitive to ask anyone to give up a job. It makes sense for people to remain in their jobs and while there may be some people who have childcare costs in excess of their income there may be reasons for this.”

    He said some of the guidelines including those referring to childcare costs had been redrafted in recent weeks to make it clearer that people would not be forced to give up work.

    He said such a redraft was needed because he felt that the flexibility “which is so enshrined” in the ISI’s intentions had not been sufficiently outlined in early drafts. While the wording of the guidelines had changed in recent weeks, he said the numbers had not, Mr O’Connor said.

    The ISI has relied heavily on work carried out by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice on income guidelines and have been “sense-checked” with both the CSO and theCentral Bank as well as the personal insolvency service in the UK counterparts. Mr O’Connor said the VP study had been done “in a very scientific way” and its figures were “based on needs rather than wants. I certainly wouldn’t describe the Vincentians as being pro-bank”.

    The UK does not makes its spending guidelines available to the public but they are known with the industry and according to Mr O’Connor the levels of expenditure in the Republic will be higher than in the UK. “That is not to say we are being more generous because the cost of living here is higher but it does give us comfort that our figures are not off the wall.

    “I could have said that an adult had a spending limit of €1,000 a month but the guidelines – which are for information purposes only – are trying to bring transparency to the process. This is a stepping stone to get unsustainable debt written off and it is hugely positive. But again these are just guidelines and it will be for the PIPs to use them as a starting point. Debtors have been signing up to arrangement with their banks which have set expenditure too low.”

    He said that as a starting point “health insurance is not included” and claimed that this “was not an easy decision to make”. However he said there would be flexibility . “If you have a pre-existing condition that requires ongoing health care then that will be looked at or if you are of an age where getting insurance after allowing it to lapse would be difficult you will be allowed to retain it.”

    Mr O’Connor said the figures included allowances for “social inclusion” to help people remain part of society. That has been set at €125.97 a month for an adult or €28.97 a week. There is a provision for a basic television subscriptions but Mr O’Connor denied that people would be forced to surrender premium television subscriptions such as Sky Sports as part of any arrangement and he said there would be “no micro-management of finances”

    People could see the amounts they are allowed spend each month increase as the process goes on and according to Mr O’Connor PIPs will be given the flexibility to allow people an additional €100 in the second year of the process and a further €100 in the third year.

    He said that “there are very few people in Ireland who could claim to be experts in personal insolvency” and he highlighted that PIPs would have to a legal or financial background and would also require “the intangible which are the negotiating skills needed to bring opposing sides together”.

    Those with a financial or legal background who have successfully completed an approved insolvency course will be able to apply to become a PIP. “We need this to happen by June and we have been talking to various professional bodies for several months.” The Law Society will start a course which has been signed off on by the ISI tomorrow while another course for accountants will begin in May.


    Conor Pope, Irish Times


    Construction sector free-fall gathers pace

    The construction sector's woes are getting worse and worse.

    The sector endured it sharpest decline in activity so far this year in March, according to the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers' Index. Last month's drop was the 70th straight fall.

    The latest index shows the rate of decline is accelerating, with activity, new orders and employment all decreasing at faster rates. The index fell to 43.1 in March from 45.3 in February.

    "Conditions deteriorated across the housing, commercial and civil engineering sub-sectors," Ulster Bank economist Simon Barry said.

    The steepest decline was again seen in the civil engineering sector. Housing activity also fell markedly, but continued to post the weakest reduction in activity of the three sectors.

    Anecdotal evidence suggested that falling new orders had contributed to the drop in activity, Ulster Bank said. In turn, a lack of available projects led new business to decrease. New orders fell at the sharpest pace in three months.

    Construction firms responded to lower workloads by reducing employment for the 71st successive month.

    Thomas Molloy, Irish Independent

    Irish Liquidations