ENGINEERING GIANT KENTZ CONSIDERS SALE - Global engineering group Kentz is considering a sale after receiving interest from potential buyers, according to industry insiders writes the Irish Times. Kentz received approaches from companies including Amec, a UK engineering firm for energy projects, the sources said. SNC-Lavalin Group, Canada’s largest engineering company, has also shown interest. MandW Group of Germany is also a contender, according to reports. The company, which provides engineering, construction and technical support services to the oil and gas, mining, nuclear and renewable energy sectors and was formed in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, in 1919, has gained 23% to 475.90 pence a share in London trading so far this year, valuing the company at £561 million (€657.7 million). The company’s shares have risen to the highest level since April 2012, helped by winning contracts in southern Africa. Amec, which also provides engineering services to the oil and gas and mining industries, has a market value of £3.22 billion. The company has “ample opportunity” to make acquisitions, chief executive Samir Brikho said earlier this month.
WATCHDOG FEARS BANK REVIEW WILL LEAD TO HIKE IN FEES - The Consumers' Association has expressed concerns about a Government-backed review of the regulation of bank charges amid fears fees could be hiked at will. The reported review comes after the latest IMF report on Ireland highlighted the State's "restrictive fee approval process" and stated that a review of how other countries regulate fees will be completed by the end of the year, says the Irish Independent. Under current laws, the State's banks have to make a submission to the Central Bank if they want to increase charges. Altering current legislation could make it easier for the banks to increase charges. The Consumers' Association of Ireland said banks have already significantly cut back on face-to-face interaction between customers and staff, and pushed costs on to consumers. "Any suggestion that further charges be introduced, you have to be asked for what," said Dermott Jewell, Consumers' Association chief executive. "Where is the value and where is the benefit to the customer? Whatever the IMF is thinking, I think they need to rethink it,'' he added.
LOSSES AT TOLL ROAD COMPANY RISE 63% - Pre-tax losses at the firm that operates the tolled €810m Limerick tunnel last year rose 63% to €8.3m. According to accounts just filed with the Companies Office, Directroute (Limerick) Ltd sustained the €8.3m pre-tax loss after revenues dropped by 10% from €23.1m to €20.6m, reports the Irish Examiner. The directors’ report says: “Revenue is generated by toll charges and payments from the NRA [National Roads Authority]. The largest expense remains the project funding mainly in the form of loans and bonds. Traffic guarantee payments have in increased in line with the contract and providing a necessary contribution to project funding.” Recently, Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, conceded over €30m could be spent in the next three years compensating toll operators on the Clonee-Kells M3 motorway and Limerick tunnel. The NRA has estimated the cost in 2013, 2014, and 2015 of the “traffic guarantee” based on no traffic growth at €31.96m for both schemes. If traffic grew by 1% the figure would be reduced to €30.05m and down to €28.13m if growth was 2%. The system was put in place due to the high cost of the route and due to it being a challenging project to deliver.
FRENCH VINEYARD SALES LEAVE BITTER TASTE AMID LAUNDERING FEARS - French anti-money laundering authorities have raised the alarm over recent acquisitions of vineyards by Russian and Chinese investors, writes the Financial Times. The use of multiple holding companies based in tax havens to buy French wine estates has pushed Tracfin - whose mandate is to uncover money laundering and terrorism funding schemes - to issue a warning in its 2012 report published this month. “Given the complexity of legal structures used to buy wine estates, the ultimate beneficiary and the origins of the funds can be difficult to determine,” it said in the report. “These pieces of evidence, coupled with the sizeable amounts at stake to acquire estates that often have large operating losses, require . . . stronger vigilance.” Tracfin, which relies on notaries, bankers and lawyers to track down money laundering activity, said it received alerts related to Russian, Chinese and Ukrainian investors. In particular, it describes, without giving names, the suspicious purchase of a vineyard by a Cyprus-based company owned by a vehicle located in another unspecified low-tax jurisdiction and whose ultimate owner is a Russian citizen. The agency, which does not have the power to conduct full investigations, would typically inform relevant courts when it detects signs of possible money laundering. It declined to comment on specific cases. The warning comes as soaring exports of wine and cognac to markets such as China and Russia in the past decade have fuelled demand for French vineyards from a new kind of cash-rich buyer.