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    Problem mortgages cannot be dealt with in the dark

    In time-honoured fashion the Irish banks appear to have chosen to do things the hard way when it comes to facing up to the losses in their residential mortgage books.

    It is only now, with the Personal Insolvency Act hanging over them, that they seem to be showing any real enthusiasm for doing what has to be done. This week they are all scheduled to sit down with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank to agree programmes for working through non-performing residential and buy-to-let mortgages.

    To be fair, it should be pointed out that the Government and arguably the Central Bank have been somewhat complicit in the banks’ foot-dragging. It was not until sentiment towards the Irish sovereign appeared decisively to have taken a turn for the better that the Government felt confident enough to push the banks into writing down mortgages.

    The banks also deserve some slack. No bank in the world, no matter how well run, is equipped to restructure up to one-third of its mortgage book. Never mind doing it while having to deleverage its balance sheet and deal with the transfer of its commercial property loans to Nama.

    Anyway, we are where we are. Indeed, it’s arguable that the delay in addressing mortgage debt may have helped some people, particularly if the economy has finally turned the corner.

    But as we embark on this odyssey of mortgage debt restructuring it is worth bearing in mind that the interests of the banks, the Government and mortgage-holders are still not aligned. Mortgage-holders need write-downs, the banks want to preserve capital and the Government continues to have a foot in both camps.

    Informed judgments 

    It is important then that there is transparency in the process, particularly in the restructuring deals done. This is firstly to ensure the banks are dealing fairly with people and secondly to allow people make informed judgments as to whether they should take whatever deal is on offer from the bank or instead go down one of the new routes available under the insolvency Act.

    It is very unlikely that the banks will make public any sort of granular information about arrangements they are coming to with borrowers. Even if the banks were so minded, many of their customers would object as they value their privacy ahead of any common good achieved by making public the terms of their deals.

    There is, however, the option of making settlements reached under the insolvency Act public. Doing this would provide a benchmark against which people starting down the restructuring road could make informed decisions about the deal on offer from their bank and the alternative.

    Under the insolvency Act the new insolvency service is required to keep a register of agreements reached under the legislation. Fifteen thousand people are expected to avail of the Act in its first 12 months. The structure of the register and what information it contains are not specified in the legislation and will be decided by the Minister for Justice.

    If the comments of Lorcan O’Connor – the incoming director of the service – are any guide to the Minister’s thinking, the register will contain only the names of people who have reached settlements.

    Anonymised information 

    Strong competing arguments of privacy and the common good are at play. But the dangers of not making detailed information on settlements available in some fashion – anonymised is an obvious solution – are significant.

    The most obvious is that it puts mortgage-holders at a significant disadvantage to their banks in terms of knowing what is the likely outcome should they choose to reject a bank’s proposal and go down the Personal Insolvency Act route. It will also enhance the gatekeeping role of professional insolvency practitioners who, it must be remembered, are not charities.

    The Minister for Justice has to decide whose side he is on: the banks’ or that of the 100,000 people with problem mortgages who will be confronting their worst nightmare this year.

    John McManus, Irish Times

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    Ex-Dragon's Den star Niall O'Farrell's Blacktie formal wear to go into liquidation

    A liquidator is to be appointed to former Dragon's Den star Niall O'Farrell's Blacktie formal wear, which operates 11 outlets in Ireland, on 1 February.

    In a statement, the company said Mr O'Farrell personally informed all staff that a liquidator would be appointed.

    It says the business will continue to trade as usual, working to honour its commitments to customers and employees, with a view to securing a buyer for the business.

    The decline in the formal wear rental market, increased lower cost retailers from the high street, higher utility and branch operating costs and unaffordable high levels of rates were blamed for the decision.

    The business will continue to trade as usual, working to honour its commitments to customers and employees, with a view to securing a buyer for the business.

    Niall O'Farrell, who appeared on RTÉ’s Dragon Den, added: "I deeply regret having to make this decision. I spent most of my career establishing and developing Blacktie, and have done all I could to bolster its prospects.

    “I have not drawn a salary from the business for the past four years, and even invested substantial personal resources.

    “I would like to pay tribute to Blacktie's employees for their hard work, dedication and loyalty, and will ensure I am available to each and every one of them to answer personally any queries that they may have."


    Irish Times 23rd January 2013

    Irish Liquidations

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    January retail sales down by 1.7%

    Another fall in retail sales last month led by a sharp decline in department store sales shows consumer spending in Ireland remains fragile.

    Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show the volume of retail sales fell by 1.7 per cent in January compared with the previous month.

    The figures also indicated sales declined by 1.2 per cent on an annual basis in January, the second largest fall in six months.

    When motor sales are excluded, the volume of retail sales fell by 1.3 per cent in January compared with the previous month but rose by 0.7 per cent on an annual basis.

    Department stores saw sales plummet by more than 15 per cent during the month, while bar sales fell 8.1 per cent with motor sales down by 3.6 per cent.

    The CSO noted that car sales were down 23.1 per cent in January on an annual basis.

    Total retail sales have now fallen by more than 25 per cent since the start of the recession.

    The sector which showed the biggest monthly increase was furniture and lighting which saw sales rise 6.6 per cent.

    Sales were also up the fuel sector (+1.6 per cent) and for non-specalised stores (+0.2 per cent).

    The latest figures showed the value of retail sales fell by 1.7 per cent in January when compared with the previous month and there was an annual decrease of 1.0 per cent.

    If motor trades are excluded, there was a decrease in the value of retail sales in January of 0.5 per cent and an annual increase of 0.9 per cent.


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    Barroso says Irish economy is finally turning a corner

    European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said today the Irish economy was "turning a corner", citing figures released yesterday about the increase in employment here last year.

    Employment figures published yesterday give the strongest indication in half a decade that economic recovery has begun. For the first time since the recession started in 2008, the numbers at work have risen over a six month period.

    In the final quarter of the year, 1.85 million people were in jobs, a rise of 6,500 on three months earlier according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Central Statistics Office. Revisions to the third quarter data show that employment growth was also recorded in that period. Those revisions put the net increase in employment in the third quarter at 2,200.

    It is the first time since employment began to contract in 2008 that jobs growth has been recorded in two consecutive quarters.

    Mr Barroso, who was addressing an Ibec conference in Dublin this morning alongside Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said Europe faced a "moment of truth".

    "Either we recognise that business as usual will consign us to a gradual decline, to the second rank of the new global order. Or we take the bold and ambitious course of growth."

    He saluted what he described as concerted efforts being made in member states, like Ireland, to consolidate national budgets and to implement structural reforms.

    "We see in Spain, here in Ireland, and in Portugal, the progress that can be made when the political will of governments and the determination of the population come together to build a better future."

    In his speech, Mr Barosso, said: "Confidence is returning to Ireland and to Europe. The Irish economy is turning a corner. You can be part of creating that positive, growth enhancing climate."

    While the economic crisis had been triggered by events in the financial markets, he said it exposed "two very fundamental" problems.

    "The first, a generalised loss of external competitiveness. The second, latent internal competitive imbalances that left the European Union, and the euro area in particular, vulnerable to asymmetric economic shocks," he said.

    "Before the crisis there was a collective failure to address these emerging competitiveness gaps, even among those member states who shared a common currency."

    The European mechanisms which had been in place to correct the problems "were sometimes ignored, sometimes deliberately circumvented," he said.

    Mr Barroso said the single market remained "Europe's greatest asset" when it came to competitiveness as it allowed European businesses the scope to grow to a size where they can become world leaders. He said the European Union was prioritising measures to complete the opening up of core network industries such as rail and energy.

    Mr Barroso cited the example of Ireland's burgeoning export electricity market.

    "Thanks to an EU funded interconnector [a €300 million loan from the European Investment Bank and a €100 million grant from the European Union budget] Ireland's new renewable energy sources can be developed and sold into the UK market."

    While society as a whole will benefit from increasing competitiveness across the union, "it is not an option that some sectors of the population alone bear the brunt of the change whilst others cream off the profits".

    "Here in Ireland, and all around Europe, too many young people are asking if they will ever find a job or have the same quality of life as their parents," he said. Mr Barroso said member states needed to give these young people "a better prospect".

    Mr Kenny said Ireland, like many countries in Europe, had experienced an unemployment shock in the past few years "from which we have yet to recover from".

    He added: "We cannot allow economic recovery to be a jobless recovery."

    Admitting that Europe's collective response to the financial crisis had been frustratingly slow, Mr Kenny said his Government was rebuilding the economy by transitioning it from a failed model based on property speculation, banking and debt to a sustainable economy based on enterprise, innovation and exports.

    Mr Kenny said as much as 90 per cent of future global growth is set to be generated outside Europe, highlighting the importance of building on bilateral trade agreements with US, Canada, Japan and China.

    Regarding Ireland's fiscal position, he said: "It has been a tough few years for all of us, but it has been especially challenging for Ireland. I'm glad to say that significant progress has been made in dealing with the many legacy problems that were left by previous administrations."


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    Cullen challenges €29m claim by Nama

    A businessman whose properties include the Turk’s Head Bar and Paramount Hotel in Temple Bar, both in Dublin, has argued he has a defence to the National Assets Management Agency’s claim for €29 million judgment against him over outstanding development loans.

    David Cullen now lives in London and has filed for bankruptcy there, with a hearing listed for April. Mr Justice Peter Kelly ruled last month that those proceedings did not mean Irish courts could not deal with Nama’s application to recover the €29 million.

    The claim arises after Nama took over loans in 2010 that had been advanced by Bank of Ireland from 2002 to Mr Cullen.

    Mr Justice Kelly yesterday heard arguments on whether Mr Cullen was entitled to a full plenary hearing over the matter. Martin Hayden SC, for Mr Cullen, argued that National Assets Loan Management (Nalm), a Nama company, was not the correct plaintiff in the case as the loans had been transferred to Nama. While that was “a technical position”, his side were entitled to argue it. If successful, the issue of whether his client got the benefit of the loans and was obliged to repay them would not then arise, he said.

    Nama Act 

    Mr Hayden said they were also arguing whether the loans were “eligible loans” within the meaning of the Nama Act for takeover by Nama.

    Maurice Collins SC, for Nalm, said there was a compelling case for summary judgment. There appeared to be no dispute the loans were advanced and the money is due.

    Mr Justice Kelly reserved judgment.


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