HOUSING STARTS START TO PLUMMET - Housing figures from the Department of the Environment confirm the picture of eroding confidence in home building.

House completion figures - the number of houses finished - in the first six months were equivalent to the first half of last year at just over 38,000. The number of housing starts was down more than 17% at 26,600 in the first five months.

The picture for May looks especially dramatic with housing starts down 30% on the same period last year.

Dermot O'Leary, chief economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers, said the number of homes finished in H1 was flat compared with the same period last year, but the forward-looking figures were showing a sharp drop.

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NEWS IN BRIEF - DCC has agreed a cash deal to buy British oil distributor CPL Petroleum from CPL Industries for €74m. DCC, which has fingers in many different businesses, says it will integrate CPL with its own UK oil distributor, a business it is looking to double in size. The company also says it has increased its profits growth forecast for this year in a trading update ahead of its annual general meeting later this morning.

The VHI is looking to increase premiums for its one and a half million members by 8.5%. The Minister for Health Mary Harney has a veto if she feels it is not justified. In the meantime the Quinn Healthcare website, carries the banner headline 'Save up to 22% on your health insurance costs by switching to Quinn Healthcare'.

Elan and its partner Biogen say Europe's medicines agency has adopted a negative opinion on its Tysabri treatment for Crohn's disease.

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EIRGRID APPEAL TO POWER GENERATORS - The chief executive of Eirgrid has called on the ESB and other power generators to improve the availability of energy over the next few years to ensure continuing security of supply.

Dermot Byrne was speaking at the launch of the annual report of the State agency, which manages the national electricity grid. 

He said there were some very old plants and some teething problems with new plants.

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CURRENCIES - The euro is worth $1.38 and 67.35p sterling.