'COMPELLING' EVIDENCE WORST IS OVER - The latest business sentiment survey by KBC Ireland has been published, and it shows tentative signs that the Irish economy may finally be bottoming out.

It finds that the rate of lay-offs has fallen significantly when compared with earlier this year and that more companies are now optimistic about their prospects.

Austin Hughes, economist with KBC Ireland, describes the evidence in the survey, carried out with the Institute of Chartered Accountants, as 'quite compelling'. But he cautions that - though the worst may be over - there is no sense that there will be a dramatic turnaround.

The economist points to the change from last year, when costs were a big issue for firms. Now, he says, the situation has turned around and the cost environment is benefiting companies.

On lending to small business, Mr Hughes says there is a 'complicated' set of circumstances, in which many firms were 'pulling down the shutters' on borrowing, but the survey also finds that one in five firms found in harder to get credit in recent months. The economist says some businesses' risk profile makes them a difficult propositions for banks, and restrictions on lending were normal in a downturn.

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NEWS IN BRIEF - Concrete products group Readymix says it expects to report a pre-tax loss of around €6.9m for the first six months of this year. This compares with a loss of €9.6m for the same period last year. Total revenues from continuing businesses are down 44% on the same period last year, and the company says it has cut staff numbers by 10% since the start of this year.