EURO ZONE RISKS TRYING ON MOOD OF CONFIDENCE- Until very recently it would have been seen as a smug if not rather overconfident prediction. Standing in the epicentre of Europe’s four-year-old economic crisis, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, declared on Wednesday that 2014 would be the year the euro zone finally put the worst behind it. “Programmes work,” he said in Athens, referring to the austerity-laden euro zone bailout programmes imposed on five of the single currency’s members. If the last 48 hours are any indication, he just might be right, writes the Financial Times. On Tuesday Ireland held its first bond auction since exiting its bailout in December and raised €3.75 billion at its lowest borrowing costs in nearly a decade. On Wednesday markets continued to rally after Portugal said it would issue additional 5-year debt as soon as Thursday and Greece’s finance minister suggested even Athens could test the bond market waters in the second half the year. All that came at the same time Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, announced euro zone retail sales in November unexpectedly spiked 1.4%, and Berlin said factory orders in Germany jumped 2.1%. The euro zone has seen false dawns before during the crisis and there were signs of caution even amid the market euphoria. Euro zone unemployment remained stubbornly at 12.1%, a record high, and Greek politicians, despite highly scripted efforts to paint a sunny future at the launch of their EU presidency, could not hide their anger at their bailout lenders - and each other.
NAMA DEFENDS TIMING OF UK PROPERTY SALES - The National Asset Management Agency has defended itself from criticism that it should have delayed UK property sales to benefit from recent price spikes in London, writes the Irish Independent. Battersea Power Station was sold by NAMA and other investors for £400m (€483m) 18 months ago, but the site has since been named repeatedly as an asset that has gone up sharply in value since. It is now being developed into a high-profile area for apartments and offices. NAMA, which was created by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in 2009, began selling property in the UK long before it sold property here. That strategy meant that NAMA could begin making some money but profits could have been higher if the agency had waited until the recent hikes in prices in the English capital. London property prices are now far above their levels before the 2008 crash and, much like Dublin, prices there bear little resemblance to the rest of the country. "In some ways NAMA had its hand forced in London because during 2011 in particular the Irish market was frozen," one property agent said. "That meant if NAMA wanted to start selling, London was the obvious place," said the agent. London was named earlier this week as the most desirable city in the world for property investments, and Savills estimates that foreign buyers pumped more than £7 billion into the city's housing market last year.
PROFITS UP BY 14% AT BOOTS IRELAND - The Irish arm of UK pharmaceutical retail giant Boots increased its pretax profits by 14% to €20.43 million last year, writes the Irish Times. Accounts filed with the Companies Office show that Boots Retail (Ireland) Ltd recorded the increase in profits after revenues grew by 3.4% from €275.7 million to €285 million in the 12 months to the end of March 31st last. The business increased its operating profit by 15% to €20.5 million during the year. In a report accompanying the numbers, the company’s directors noted that “dispensing and total revenue increased ahead of the market despite difficult trading conditions which continued to impact consumer spending”. The directors stated that five new stores were added during the year and two closed, “reflecting our strategy to expand our presence”. A spokeswoman for Boots Ireland said yesterday that two new stores at Bandon and Donaghmede in Dublin have opened since the end of last March, bringing the total number to 76. The first Boots store opened in Ireland in 1996.
GATWICK CHIEF'S PAY TOPS £1m AS CHRISTMAS EVE PASSENGERS FUME - The chief of Gatwick Airport, where thousands of passengers were left stranded over Christmas, earned pay and pensions of more than £1m last year while the company paid no tax at all, says the London Independent. Stewart Wingate, believed to be the "highest paid director" at Gatwick Airport Limited, scooped a pay and bonus of £1m plus pension contributions of £31,000 for the year to 31 March, accounts revealed last night. The previous year he received £950,000. News of his huge pay at the loss-making airport was bound to anger passengers, for whom Mr Wingate admitted this week that a lot more "could and should" have been done following the power cut and flood that created chaos at the airport on Christmas Eve. He admitted to MPs on the House of Commons Transport Committee this week that the actions of executives "fell short" and that Gatwick's reputation would be damaged. Company sources said the remuneration committee would decide in March whether he should give back some of this year's bonus.