US EXPLORER KOSMOS MAY SPEND $200m ON IRISH WELLS - Ireland's oil and gas exploration sector got a further boost after New York-based firm Kosmos Energy agreed to fund a potential $200m-plus (€153m) drilling programme off the south-west coast, says the Irish Independent. Kosmos, listed on the New York Stock Exchange with a $4 billion market cap, signed a farm-in agreement with UK firm Europa Oil & Gas to fund surveys and initial drilling on two possible wells in the South Porcupine Basin, about 200km from the coast. Shares in Europa soared more than 20% in London after it confirmed the deal. The company is headed by chief executive Hugh Mackay. Kosmos also announced that it has farmed-in to an exploration licence in the Porcupine Basin controlled by Canadian firm Antrim Energy. It is acquiring a 75% stake in that licence and will undertake a 3D seismic survey there also. The US firm is also a partner with Irish exploration firm Fastnet Oil and Gas in Morocco. It has been speculated that Kosmos might also become involved in Fastnet's licensing blocks in the Celtic Sea.
AIRLINES PROFIT FROM CHARGES, SAYS DAA - Aer Lingus and Ryanair have been earning profits of up to 50% on what they present to customers as taxes and charges on some fares, Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) told competition regulators during their inquiry into the proposed merger of the two airlines, writes the Irish Times. At an inquiry into Ryanair’s bid to buy Aer Lingus, the DAA told the UK’s Competition Commission that it believed the taxes and charges passed on to customers by both airlines on routes out of Dublin airport did not reflect their actual cost. “Based on charges observed at various dates, it appeared that the airlines were earning margins of between 30 and 50% on what were presented to customers as taxes and charges,” a summary of the authority’s evidence to the commission states. The summary also says that the DAA noted that, in situations where one or other airline increased these charges, the other would follow suit shortly afterwards. Both airlines pay charges and taxes at airports and pass these on to passengers, detailing them separately when flights are booked. There is no set charge and the maximum average paid on any customer going through Dublin is said to be €10.50. However, both carriers pay different rates as they have different requirements.
ON TO A WINNER AS PRIZE BONDS HIT ALL-TIME HIGH - Cash prizes won by 438,682 Prize Bond holders last year came to €46m - marking a near 14% annual increase in prize winners - the highest amount in the scheme’s 55-year history. The latest annual report from the Prize Bond Company, issued yesterday, shows a 13.4% increase in gross sales, to €352.6m, with the fund value standing at €1.65bn - the highest on record. The value of cash prizes won by customers - €46m - was also a record high and marked a 9.6% yearly increase and the number of bond purchases rose by 8% to 365,870. According to Prize Bond Company chairman John Daly, “the enduring appeal of the scheme is evident in the sales figures”. “2012 was yet another strong year for Prize Bonds, with increased sales and prize fund value, and a record number and value of prizes won by our customers. The year saw a lower level of encashments. The enduring appeal of the scheme which has been running for 55 years is evident in the sales figures,” Mr Daly said.
UK AND IMF FACE DUST-UP ON AUSTERITY - George Osborne is to go toe-to-toe with the International Monetary Fund next month in a battle over the credibility of his Plan A on austerity for the UK, amid signs that incoming Bank of England governor Mark Carney will be a key ally in his fight. The chancellor is said by aides to be prepared to “aggressively” defend his policies when an IMF team arrives in London to make an annual assessment of the British economy, and is prepared to defy their recommendations if necessary. The Financial Tims says that Mr Osborne fears that an anti-austerity faction is winning an internal IMF power struggle and that the Fund will hand the opposition Labour party a propaganda tool by formally urging him to relax his fiscal plans. The chancellor believes that key IMF officials want to criticise his Plan A next month as part of a proxy attack on US Republicans who are forcing through a tight fiscal contraction in Washington. The IMF, which has previously provided Mr Osborne with political cover for his rolling five-year deficit reduction plan, this week said in its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook that he should consider greater “flexibility” in his deficit reduction plan.