IRISH BUSINESSES GROWING MORE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THEIR FUTURE - More Irish businesses are feeling optimistic about the economic outlook than they were a year ago. Grant Thornton says businesses are going to hire staff and invest more in their firms this year, and buy new equipment and machinery. In its International Business Report for 2013, the group says 92% of the firms it spoke to expect employment levels to either increase or remain the same this year. The IBR report, which surveyed 44 companies, showed that 36% of senior Irish executives are hopeful about the country's economic prospects, up from 30% last year. This improving tend compares with an average of 27% across the European Union.

Grant Thornton's Patrick Burke says that most the companies surveyed for the report were SMEs in Ireland and his company's research indicates that Irish companies are the fifth most optimistic in the euro zone about their future prospects. He says that after five years of hard work to cut costs and regain competitiveness, Irish businesses are now seeing rewards in revenue growth and export growth. While the Irish consumer remains hard pressed as the Government continues its austerity drive, he says that Irish businesses are replacing Irish consumers with consumers from the UK and in international markets.


MORNING BRIEFS - In a trading update, Tesco said that total international sales growth was 3.4% over the key Christmas period. In Europe, total sales declined by 0.6%. The like-for-like sales performance for the region continued to be hit by reduced consumer spending, with all markets experiencing economic headwinds. The company does not break the figures down for its performance in Ireland.

*** Marks & Spencer revealed a bigger-than-expected drop in clothing sales over Christmas. Non-food sales at the retailer were down 3.8%, in the 13 weeks to December 29, pushing overall like-for-like UK sales down 1.8%. The group said it had been a "challenging and highly promotional" general merchandise market. M&S Christmas food sales were pretty good, and the profitability of sales in general - or profit margins - improved. It said international sales overall were hit by continued macro-economic weakness in Ireland and Greece.

*** Payments processing firm OmniPay is creating 30 new jobs at its headquarters in Clonskeagh. This will bring its workforce to almost 200 over the next six months. The company was founded in Dublin in 2000 and employs 165 staff. OmniPay is owned by US financial services firm First Data, which first invested in the company in 2002. It then bought the remaining share from FEXCO last year.