Morning business news - February 27

Thursday 27 February 2014 10.38
Morning business news with Brian Finn
Morning business news with Brian Finn

Ulster Bank has reported an overall operating loss of £1.457 billion for last year, an increase on the loss of £1.04 billion in 2012. That was accounted for by very high impairment charges of over £1.77 billion.

Jim Brown, chief executive of Ulster Bank, said the underlying performance had improved significantly from increases in revenue to reductions in provisions.

"We took an extra provision in the fourth quarter to enable to us to accelerate the wind-down of our real estate issues. Most of the increases related to that. We're looking to have moved those completely out of Ulster by the end of three years. That provision enables us to do that," Mr Brown stated.

Ulster Bank said it is committed to staying in Ireland as part of its strategic review. "No doubt we need to become a more agile bank that provides better services to our customers. That process of cost reviews is ongoing. We want to be a challenger to the main pillar banks," its CEO said.

Jim Brown said the bank would have fewer jobs in three years but he would not be drawn on the number of further job losses on top of the 1,950 announced since 2010. "I do expect that the bank will be a smaller bank in terms of numbers, but it's too early to say how many."

Asked about further branch closures, Jim Brown said he expected branches would "continue to evolve". "Traditional branches play a really important role in banking but we're seeing a change in customer behaviour. In the fourth quarter only 16% of customers processed transactions through the branch," Mr Brown said.

On bonuses, Jim Brown said they would amount to about 2% of the bank's payroll. He said he had not been advised as to whether he personally would be offered one.

***
MORNING BRIEFS - Permanent TSB is expected to announce a new initiative today that will allow homeowners on a tracker mortgage to move the loan to a new property and pay a slight premium on the tracker rate. Bank of Ireland has a similar product and it charges 1% over the tracker rate - which is still significantly lower than a standard variable rate, which averages in the market at around 4%. Bank of Ireland only allows the offer for a five year period, and there is speculation that PTSB will offer it for a longer period.

*** Investment holding company TVC has announced a partial sale of its 18% stake in UTV Media for €22.1m. 
The move will see TVC recover the full cost of its investment in UTV.  After the deal, TVC still retains a 10% shareholding in the broadcaster, valued at over €29 million. 

*** Euro zone business confidence figures are due out today. After a 19-month run of negative outlooks, the past three months have suggested new confidence in production and order books.  Forecasts suggest January will remain positive, albeit not as upbeat as during the Christmas season. All of this data will be closely watched over the next week when the ECB meets and takes a decision on whether it needs to take any more action like cutting rates.

*** Australian airline Qantas is to cut 5,000 jobs across its operations.  The airline, which will phase out one in seven jobs over the next three years, is trying to convince the Australian government it deserves more help to compete against its main rival, Virgin Australia. It claims it is at a disadvantage because domestic Virgin Australia is largely owned by three government-backed operators - Air New Zealand, Etihad and Singapore Airlines. Qantas posted a loss of $250m (€160m), in the first half of its fiscal year. The airline also plans to cut its fleet by more than 50 aircraft.