AIB profits hit €1.7 billion - If you can hear a popping sound this morning, that will be the sound of breakfast champagne corks down at AIB headquarters in Ballsbridge in Dublin. The country's largest listed company this morning reported record pre-tax profits of €1.7 billion for last year - up from €1.3 billion in 2004 and in line with forecasts. Group operating income increased 12% from €3.2 billion to just under €3.65 billion. Profits out of its Irish operations were up 24% at €779m. That figure was exaggerated because of once-off costs in 2004 arising from investigating and compensating customers for the mistakes in the bank's foreign exchange offering which exposed in 2004. The biggest single growth area for profits growth was at the bank's capital markets division which includes corporate and investment banking. Profits there jumped 27% to €403m. The bank's cost income ratio is down 2.5% to 55.2% while the net interest margin contracted 20 basis points from 2.58% in 2004 to 2.38%. These are AIB's CEO Eugene Sheehy's first results in charge of the bank. He says the good news is down to strong customer demand.

Mr Sheehy says that the bumper profits will be shared out among the bank's workers and says that a profit sharing arrangement will be announced later today. During the year, the bank added 500 more workers.

The bank's CEO says the results are a result of the bank 'firing on all cylinders' with all its sectors performing strongly last year. He says that for the first time, more than half of the bank's profits were made overseas, with growth there faster than in its Irish operations.

Speculation surrounds value for Aussie approach to Eircom - Eircom continues to be one to watch this morning. Yesterday the company said it had received an approach from the Australian venture capitalists Babcock and Brown which may or may not lead to an offer for the company. Babcock and Brown is the second largest shareholder in Eircom holding around 14% of the stock. Crucial to any deal will be the willingness of the Employee Share Ownership Plan - which owns 21.6% of Eircom - to negotiate with the Australians. Last year the ESOP had been prepared to talk to Swisscom but that was a state controlled company. Meanwhile there is no guarantee that Babcock and Brown's approach will result in a formal offer but there is considerable speculation about what price any offer might be valued at. The Irish Independent quotes analysts talking of an offer valued at €2.30 a share, while the Irish Examiner offers the same price. The Irish Times suggests an offer would be closer to the €2.25 mark. Those figures are shy of the €2.40 offered by Swisscom before its state handlers forced it to abort the deal.

US row over sale of P&O to DP World - A row in the heart of US republicanism has been sparked by the sale of British ports and shipping company P&O to Dubai based DP World in a multi billion dollar deal. Senior republican senators have threatened to introduce blocking legislation. They say the deal gives an Arab country control of six US ports and they want President George Bush to examine the deal more closely. One senator said DP World was coming out of a country that had a strong Al Qaeda presence. President Bush says the deal should go ahead. He says he is trying to conduct foreign policy by telling people his administration treats them fairly.