Morning business news - March 5

Wednesday 05 March 2014 10.33
Morning business news with Emma McNamara
Morning business news with Emma McNamara

Results from AIB this morning show a full year loss before tax of €1.7 billion for 2013, down from a €3.8 billion loss the previous year. The bank said it remains focused on sustainable growth and returning to profitability during this year. It also said that it is more optimistic for the outlook of both the bank and the Irish economy.  AIB said the pace of increase in Irish residential mortgages in arrears decreased in the second half of last year.  

AIB chief executive David Duffy said the bank's management feel that it made significant progress last year. He said the bank's operating model is in a very good position, while its capital is also very strong. "As we look at the performance of last year coupled with the prior year, we believe we have completed our restructuring and we will go to profitability in 2014," he stated. 

Acknowledging that the bank did cut some branches over the last few years, Mr Duffy pointed out that AIB still has the biggest branch network in the country and an affiliation with 1,000 post offices around the country. "We are serving our customers in that respect," the said.

Mr Duffy said the bank is aiming to make €350m in cost cuts over three years ending this year, and he said it has completed about €280m of that with the rest to come during 2014. 

On the Europe-wide stress tests, Mr Duffy said that AIB is very strongly positioned and go into those stress tests with some confidence that it will not need more capital.  

The AIB CEO said that with total impairments dropping, the bank is seeing a positive trend in its pre-arrears levels. He said that early arrears have declined significantly, and even in the 90 days past due a positive trend is also emerging. He said the bank is confident that in 2014 it will see a decline in total arrears. 

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Ireland received almost €1.1 billion from the European Investment Bank last year, a 21% increase on 2012.  European Investment Bank president Werner Hoyer said the bank's partners in Ireland are now looking forward. "For the last seven years in Europe everybody was so deeply stuck in the crisis that some people forgot the world was moving forward and we ran the risk of losing ground in international competition," he stated. 

Mr Hoyer agreed with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso's statement that Ireland has returned to normal. He said it had been a very tough time for Irish people, and that while the medicine was bitter, it is showing positive results now. 

Last week the EIB froze its activities in Ukraine and Mr Hoyer said the situation there is "severe". The EIB boss, a former minister at the German Foreign Office, said he thinks the EU can and must play a role in sorting out the crisis. "What is difficult is that the immediate liquidity needs of Ukraine seem to be enormous and we will have to co-operate mainly with the IMF," he stated.

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Grafton Group - the mostly UK and Ireland-based building materials group - has reported another year of revenue growth. Revenue was 8% higher at £1.9 billion sterling, while its profit before tax was 35% higher at £64.9m. The company said that in Ireland the economy is stabilising and there is an underlying improvement in market conditions. The group, which owns Woodies and Plumbase, saw revenue fall in its Irish retail businesses, but grow in manufacturing and merchanting. 

Grafton's chief executive Gavin Slark said that last year was a tale of two halves. He said the first six months of 2013 were tough, while revenues started to grow in the second half. That strong momentum continued into the first months of 2013, Mr Slark added. While its DIY operations are seeing a slower recovery, the Grafton CEO said that the Irish housing market is starting to show signs of growth, especially in the greater Dublin area. He said his expectation is that construction will pick up first and then DIY will follow due to the growth in housing transactions.