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    Monsoon Accessorize to close 10 stores

    Retail chain’s UK parent to provide financial support

    The women’s clothing and accessories chain, Monsoon Accessorize, needs to close at least 10 of its 18 stores if it is to have a reasonable prospect of survival , the High Courthas been told. The company has 269 employees, of whom 60 are full time.

    Mr Justice Brian McGovern yesterday appointed Declan McDonald of PricewaterhouseCoopers as examiner to Monsoon Accessorize Ireland Ltd to enable implementation of a restructuring plan aimed at securing its future.

    The court was told all vouchers and store credits would be honoured during examinership and its UK parent company, Monsoon Accessorize Ltd, would provide funds to ensure the Irish company could continue to trade until August 2014, when it was expected to return to profit if certain conditions were met.

    Among those conditions are the closure of a minimum of 10 stores and the securing of rent reductions in the remaining outlets, an independent accountant has said in a report.

    The accountant has also recommended a corresponding reduction in employment, a renegotiation of royalties payable to the parent company, the writing down of liabilities of certain creditors and the redirecting of sales generated online in Ireland back to the Irish business.

    Company director and examinership petitioner Brian Walsh said in an affidavit that the company believed each of these conditions and assumptions were capable of being satisfied. Commitments in relation to online sales and the renegotiation of the royalty payments had already been obtained, he added.

    Bernard Dunleavy, for the company, said while there would have to be a writedown of liabilities, the biggest creditor was the UK parent, which had undertaken to continue funding the Irish company until August 2014 when it was expected to return to profitability.

    Mr Dunleavy said the company would seek a repudiation of leases from certain stores but it would be more sophisticated than the usual repudiation sought in examinership matters It also had the resources to meet any claim for damages arising out of such repudiations.

    The Monsoon Accessorize business in Ireland was set up with seven stores 18 years ago, eventually rising to 21 outlets but its fortunes changed in 2009 due to a collapse in consumer spending.

    Irish Times


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    IBRC liquidation is good for the State but was it fair to employees?

    A lot of work remains to be done before the wind-down of the IBRC's loan book is complete

    On Monday representatives from the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA) met with the special liquidators of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation to press their case for staff at the failed bank who were told on February 7th that they would be made redundant with only statutory entitlements.

    A lot of work remains to be done before the wind-down of IBRC’s loan book is completed, and the IBOA is campaigning to retain some roles while also securing improved exit terms (they want staff to get four weeks per year of service) for those now facing compulsory redundancy.

    They are in a weak position given the powerful legislation enacted to see through IBRC’s liquidation and the fact that the Government can’t be seen to give preferential treatment to one set of creditors over another.

    Given IBRC’s toxic history – it combined the former Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide – few tears were shed for the staff who are set to be laid off as a result of the dramatic liquidation of the bank last month. This was understandable given that IBRC will have cost the taxpayer something north of ¤25 billion when all the calculations are complete on its wind up. There was also little sympathy for the highly-paid cadre of senior executives parachuted in to run the bank post-nationalisation, including former chief executive Mike Aynsley who received ¤866,000 in 2011.

    There might also be little sympathy for other staff members, especially following the revelation yesterday that the 563 “continuing employees” (staff who were working for the predecessor banks in 2008) earned average total remuneration of ¤92,200 in 2012.

    This included an average salary of ¤71,300, which is 16 per cent higher than what they were earning in 2008, the year it all began to unravel for Anglo and Irish Nationwide. Compare IBRC’s total remuneration to the average at AIB of ¤60,400 or Bank of Ireland at ¤61,900.

    According to Mercer’s report, half of the staff who remain from 2008 have not received an increase in remuneration since at least January 2009, when Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised.

    Why should we care about the staff who are set to be made redundant?

    A few days ago I received an email from someone who has worked at IBRC/Anglo since 1997. “I loved my job and I loved the bank,” it said.

    This all changed in 2008 when the various scandals began to emerge and we realised that Sean FitzpatrickDavid Drumm and Willie McAteer had feet of clay.

    The person who wrote to me, and who asked that their name not be used, initially defended “Seanie” and “Drummer” on the basis that there was surely a reasonable explanation. “I don’t expect any sympathy for the financial loss I suffered as a result. I have sought forgiveness from my family and friends who I recommended the shares to, and mostly I think they accept that I didn’t know, but mostly we’re trying not to talk about it.”

    Since then this person made a “conscious decision” to do what they could to repair the damage and return value to the taxpayer. “I did not expect to be rewarded for doing this . .. but I did not expect to be punished for it.”

    The redundancy package agreed previously with the department of finance (six weeks per year of service) was “compensation for losing my job, compensation for possibly not having a job for many months to come, and is money I need to pay my mortgage and feed my family”.

    Now they will get nothing.

    This person makes the point that the existing staff at IBRC are critical to the task of sorting out the ¤16 billion loan book which will be either sold to investors or transferred in August to Nama. Somebody has got to do it, and who better than those who understand the details of the loans?

    “It hurts me greatly to know that those who were most responsible for the disaster within Anglo/Irish Nationwide were able to manipulate the system right to the end to ensure they received huge payoffs to walk away. Those who gave up and deserted us like the proverbial rats were also rewarded. This is not justice.

    “There is nothing morally or commercially right about the treatment of the remaining staff at IBRC.”

    It will be interesting to see if the IBOA chooses to test the constitutionality of the Government’s decision in the courts.


    Ciaran Hancock, Irish Times


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    ESB to pay exchequer €78 million dividend

    Energy group reports profits of €194 million for last year

    Energy group ESB today reported profits of €194 million for last year, saying it intended to pay a €78 million dividend to the exchequer.

    In its annual report, ESB said it had invested €765 million in infrastructure projects during 2012 .

    The investments included a €466 million upgrade of Ireland ’s transmission and distribution network designed to accommodate increases in wind generation and maintain the resilience of the network.

    During the year, ESB said it raised €1.1 billion through the issue of bonds, predominantly to European investors, which will support its ongoing infrastructure investment programme.

    A total of ¤600 million in project finance facilities were raised to fund the construction ofCarrington power station in the UK.

    The company also noted that two prominent credit rating agencies Standard & Poorsand Fitch had both recently upgraded their outlook rating for the ESB from negative to stable.

    “This reflects ESB’s successful funding and robust financial performance, as well as Ireland’s overall progress,” it said.

    Electric Ireland, ESB’s energy retail business, returned to profitability last year while customer numbers have increased by 80,000 between electricity and gas.

    ESB chairman Lochlann Quinn said a financially strong ESB could ensure “continued investment in important infrastructure in Ireland.”

    Chief executive Pat O'Doherty said: “Many of our customers are experiencing considerable hardship and we continue to work sensitively with them to help them manage their bills, there was a reduction of 33 per cent in disconnections over the last two years.”

    “The group business strategy positions ESB as Ireland’s foremost energy company competing successfully in the converging Ireland/Great Britain electricity market,” he said.

    Eoin Burke-Kennedy, Irish Times


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    Survey shows half of SME loan bids still thrown out

    IT is as hard as ever for a small business to get a loan, and the Government isn't doing enough to ease conditions.

    That was the message from the latest 'Quarterly Bank Watch' survey from small firms' lobby group ISME.

    According to the report, 52pc of companies who applied for funding in the last three months were refused credit by their banks, little changed from the previous quarter.

    Despite the Government's much heralded aids to small business lending, such as the loan guarantee scheme and the mandated lending targets of €3.5bn each for the AIB and Bank of Ireland, companies who took part in the survey were almost unanimous in their belief that the Government was not doing enough.

    Some 95pc of them claimed the Government was having either a negative or no impact on SME lending.

    The length of time a business had been a customer of a particular bank seemed to have little effect on whether their application would be approved or not.

    Nearly 90pc of those who took part in the report were with their bank for at least five years, while 45pc of them had a relationship dating back more than 20 years.

    Demand for credit appears to be slowing once again. Only 35pc of companies sought a loan during the quarter, down from 39pc over the previous three months, while as many as 12pc of firm did not apply for credit despite claiming to need it.

    ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said the report demonstrated how tough things were for his members, and criticised claims from the banks that they were "open for business".

    "The truth of the matter is that banks are deleveraging through curtailing SME lending, thereby sabotaging the economic recovery through pure self-interest," he claimed.

    "The experiment of 'leaving the banks to their own devices' and expecting voluntary codes to solve the problems must now cease. Government must take a much more hands-on approach or bankers will continue to distort statistics, delay reform and feel free to terrorise small and medium businesses in their never-ending drive to maximise their own profits," he added.


    PETER FLANAGAN, Irish Independent


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    Central Bank figures show slowing arrears

    The number of people falling behind on their mortgages seems to be slowing, according to the Central Bank.

    The number of mortgages that have not been paid for more than three months rose to 9,426, or 11.9 per cent, of all home mortgages, said the bank. The comparable figure in for last September was 11.5 per cent. However the increase in the last three months was the smallest seen in more than three years.

    The data also shows home loans that were less than 90 days in arrears fell by more than 1 per cent, giving rise to fresh optimism that the situation may be easing.

    The number of people who are over two years behind on their mortgages is 23,500, according to the bank The number of restructured loans fell to 79,852 cases from 81,634. Those whose terms have been eased permanently rose 13 per cent to 23,432 during the quarter, the bank said.

    “While, at first glance, the overall stock of restructured mortgages has fallen, we note that this masks a double-digit increase in the number of permanent restructures, which are a more sustainable way of addressing troubled loans,” said Philip O’Sullivan, chief economist at NCB Stockbrokers in Dublin.

    More permanent solutions 

    Banks are turning to more permanent solutions, including term extensions, permanent interest-rate reductions and split mortgages, where some of the loan is hived off until a borrower’s circumstances improve. About 30 per cent of modified loans were now permanently restructured, the Central Bank said.

    The most popular form of forbearance is allowing borrowers to only pay interest, at 37 per cent of restructured loans, it said. Extending the loan terms accounts for 17 per cent and split mortgages 0.01 per cent at the end of December.

    Buy-to-let arrears rose to 18.9 per cent of such loans from 17.9 per cent at the end of September. The number of restructured investment loans fell to 21,800 to 22,182 on the quarter. The number of buy-to-let properties in banks’ possession rose to 454 at the end of December, from 408 at the beginning of the quarter. Lenders repossessed 88 such units in the quarter, while selling 42.

    The Irish Banking Federation welcomed the evidence of a continued slowdown in the pace of arrears, but it noted the continued rise in the overall level of arrears.

    “This should come as no surprise given the difficult economic conditions faced by a sizeable number of customers,” the federation said.

    “Nor is it unexpected that the number of accounts in long-term arrears over 720 days has increased, as increases in new mortgage arrears in previous periods will be followed some time later by a deterioration in the level of longer-term arrears.”

    Mortgage accounts 

    There are 792,096 private residential mortgage accounts in Ireland with a value of €110.8 billion, with 150,344 residential mortgage accounts for buy-to-let properties worth €31.1 billion.

    However, repossessions of properties in arrears were still “unsustainably low”, Davy analysts said. “The most effective measures in dealing with mortgages in arrears, repossession and debt write-downs, remain negligible,” Conal Mac Coille and David McNamara wrote.

    Legal proceedings were issued on 238 mortgages in the last quarter of the year.


    CIARA O'BRIEN, Irish Times


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