BARROSO AND VAN ROMPUY BACK IRISH BANK DEBT DEAL - European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has said he is supportive of Ireland finding a solution to the promissory notes issue, echoing comments by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy yesterday. In an interview with The Irish Times on the eve of today's European Commission visit to Dublin, Mr Barroso said the commission was generally in favour of a deal, though he declined to comment on specific proposals, stressing it was in the remit of the European Central Bank. The support from the heads of two European institutions for a deal to reduce Ireland's banking debt greatly increases the momentum behind securing such a deal. With the next €3.1 billion interest payment on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note due in just over 11 weeks, the Government will be under pressure to secure a deal on interest repayments, which needs the support of the European Central Bank. Mr Barroso said Ireland's presidency of the European Council offered a great opportunity for the State to "make its case better known" regarding a potential bank debt deal, as well as showcasing the "extraordinary resilience of the Irish economy and the capacity of the Irish people". He also strongly defended the role played by the European Union in the financial crisis. "This crisis was not created by the European Union. This crisis was created by unsustainable public debt created by national governments and by irresponsible financial behaviour tolerated by national supervisors," he said. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the State would use its presidency term to push for a deal on bank debt.
O2 IS FOURTH BUSIEST ARENA AFTER GROSSING €32m - One Direction and Robbie Williams helped Dublin's O2 gross more than €32m last year and jump one place to become the world's fourth best-attended music arena. The Irish Independent says that the higher ranking came despite a 17% drop in sales as the number of visitors fell 8% to 620,555 last year. Numbers going to the best-attended arena in the world, the O2 in London, fell 18% to 1.57 million. Figures from US-based industry journal 'Pollstar' put Dublin's O2 ahead of New York's Madison Square Garden and London's Wembley Arena. The 14,500-capacity O2 is jointly owned by businessman Harry Crosbie and Los Angeles-based concert promoters Live Nation which counts U2, Madonna and the Rolling Stones among its acts. Only the Manchester Arena, the Palacio de Los Deportes in Mexico and the London O2 were ahead of the Dublin venue. The detailed figures show that an English comedian, not an international pop act, was the biggest draw at the O2 last year. Michael McIntyre entertained 35,438 fans over the course of four sold-out shows last November, with his gigs grossing €1.57m. Another English comic, John Bishop, was one of the top-grossing acts last year, generating €1.35m after 97% of tickets were sold for his four-night run. The O2 staged 87 box office gigs last year compared to 82 in 2011. The top grossing act at the venue last year was Cirque du Soleil, with ticket sales of €1.7m for seven shows.
US FEAR INDEX PLUMMETS TO A 5½-YEAR LOW - Wall Street’s “fear index” has tumbled to a fresh 5½-year low as investors turn increasingly positive on the outlook for global stock markets. The Financial Times says that the Vix index tracks investor expectations of market volatility revealed in the pricing of options that protect against violent moves on the S&P 500. As money managers typically seek protection against sharp share declines, the Vix is considered a gauge of how fearful investors are. Despite the limp economic recovery and political gridlock in the US, and the simmering European debt crisis, the Vix has continually been ground lower over the past year, and touched 13.2 points on Wednesday, the lowest since June 2007. Fund managers and strategists said the low Vix reflects the fact that central banks are seen as backstopping financial markets, lessening demand for downside protection. Signs of a tentative rotation by investors out of bonds and back into equities has further bolstered optimism. “It is a reflection of this global recovery broadening out, starting to stabilise,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management. “Market players are starting to become de-sensitized to Armageddon, end-of-the-world stories.” The Vix is not the only measure of implied volatility that currently indicates a pacific outlook. Europe’s Vstoxx stock market turbulence gauge and the CVix index, which reflects the expected choppiness of global currencies, are both near the lowest since mid-2007.
MARKS & SPENCER SALES FIGURES LEAK: COCK-UP OR CONSPIRACY - If the bookies offered odds on FTSE 100 bosses to lose their jobs this year, as they do with Premier League football managers, Marc Bolland would be near the top of the list. He's a big-money signing who is falling short of expectations. The perpetual promise that trading is about to improve at Marks & Spencer is wearing thin with shareholders, writes the Guardian. In his search for stability and authority, Bolland certainly did not need M&S's quarterly trading figures to partially leak. Cock-up or conspiracy? If it's the former, somebody's job is on the line. If it's the latter, Bolland has enemies within as well as doubters without. It would recall the early 2000s at M&S, an era of management infighting and revolving boardroom doors. At the moment, though, it's a case of more questions than answers. As for the numbers themselves, they confirmed the impression that M&S remains behind schedule. Food sales, up 0.3% on a like-for-like basis, showed the weakest rate of growth of the three quarters of the current financial year. Food is performing "very well," said Bolland. OK-ish would be closer to the mark. Clothing, though, is where investors' attention is concentrated. General merchandise's like-for-like sales have been all over the place: down 6.8% in the first quarter, down 1.8% in the second and now minus 3.8% in the third. "Not yet satisfactory," admitted Bolland.