38 MILLION TAX DECLARATIONS POSTED ON ITALY'S REVENUE WEBSITE - Romans and the rest of the Italians are raging after the details of the private tax lives were published on the internet this week. Italy's tax authority Agenzia della Entrate had to take the information down after a complaint from the privacy watchdog. There was so much interest in what everyone pays that the Italian Revenue's website collapsed anyway.
The Irish Times' Paddy Agnew, speaking from Rome, says that Italians were very interested in finding out what their neighbours, famous footballers and everyone one was earning. 38 million income tax declarations were posted on the website for some hours and a lot of people decided to look in to see what they could see. This resulted in the website becoming overwhelmed and crashing.
Mr Agnew says the publication of the material was clearly non-accidental. Income tax declarations in Italy have been public documents since new laws passed in 1991, so there was nothing illegal about them appearing online. People can walk into the Agenzia della Entrate and request to see a particular declaration, but Mr Agnew says that there is a big difference in having to go to a particular office to see the information and the information being available online for everyone to see.
The journalist says that Italians are quite shy when it comes to paying income tax. He says that income tax evasion can represent up to 6-7% of GDP and one of the few successes of the Prodi government was a serious crackdown on income tax evasion which managed to recoup €9.3 billion.
ULSTER BANK CUTS ECONOMIC GROWTH FORECAST TO JUST 0.5% FOR 2008 - Ulster Bank yesterday lowered its growth forecast for the Irish economy this year, saying the outlook for the domestic and international economies has deteriorated. Meanwhile, the NCB Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 44.7 yesterday, the lowest level in the report's 10-year history. Any figure below 50 means activity shrank, and the PMI has now been below the 50 mark for five months in a row.
Pat McArdle, chief economist at Ulster Bank, says the bank is now predicting growth of just 0.5% for 2008, picking up to just over 2% for next year. He says the bank has changed its growth forecasts because of the global deterioration, especially the credit crunch and the market turmoil. He says these have lasted much longer than previously expected and have forced banks to increase interest rates, not just for mortgages but for corporate customers as well.
The economist says that in one sense, the worst of the crisis is over. He says the US Federal Reserve's rescue of Bear Stearns in the middle of March was the peak of the crisis.
On house prices, Mr McArdle says that Ulster Bank says them drifting lower over the coming months, but points out that affordability has improved radically and is now back at 2004 levels. He says the market is now waiting for confidence to return, and when that happens - hopefully in the second half of the year - the market will level off.
MORNING BRIEFS - Pfizer is expected to announce the creation of 100 new jobs in Cork today, with the expansion of its plant at Ringaskiddy. The company already employs 2,300 people in Ireland and has had operations here for 36 years. It is thought the new investment will be worth about €200m.
*** For the fourth year in a row Manchester United has been named the most valuable club in the world, at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The most valuable US sports team is the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, at $1.5 billion.
*** Accounts for Microsoft Ireland Research, an Irish subsidiary of the global software giant, show that the company paid just €460,000 in tax, on profits of more than €1.2 billion last year, by using provisions in Irish tax law to take its corporation tax bill down from €158m. Much of Microsoft's international profits are channelled through Ireland, but because the main company for Microsoft's activities has unlimited liability, it does not have to file detailed accounts.
*** One of the reasons for the riots over food shortages and record prices for rice and wheat is Australia's drought, or 'big dry'. This has seen more than 10,000 farming families leave their land. According to statistics released this morning there has been a 10% drop in the number of farmers there in the past five years - with farmers hit by both the weather and interest rates which are now at a 12 year high.
*** US oil giant Exxon last night reported a $10.89 billion first-quarter profit. The huge profits still managed to disappoint investors who thought results would be even higher because of the recent spike in oil prices.
*** The annual shareholder meeting of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway $200 billion holding company is being held this weekend. 32,000 shareholders go to hear 77 year old Buffett and his 84 year old vice chairman Charles Munger, talk about business, the economy life. And 2007 was good to Berkshire Hathaway - its profits went up by 20% to $13.2 billion. Buffett himself is now worth $62 billion, and is the world's richest person.
*** On the currency markets the euro is worth $1.5473 cents and 78.3 pence sterling.