SMALL FIRMS EYE THE FUTURE WITH MORE OPTIMISM - Small firms are more optimistic about their future, even though the economic environment is still tough. That is according to a new survey by the Small Firms' Association. The survey shows 40% of the companies the SFA spoke to said their businesses will see either a 'good' or 'very good' performance in the coming three months. Compared to this time last year business confidence levels have improved. The SFA said though that domestic sales remain slow, but there are growing signs of a stabilisation and business activity and even increases in coming months. 30% rate the current overall business environment as 'poor' or 'very poor'. That compares to over 37% a year ago.

The Small Firms Association's Director Avine McNally says the improvement in small business sentiment and business activity levels indicate that a gradual recovery is taking hold. Ms McNally says the wider business environment is improving, in part due to the Government's ten point plan for SMEs announced in the December Budget. She says that the business indicators are more positive, pointing to increases sales and productivity. While the situation for small businesses had seen gradual improvements over the past 12 to 18 months, this is their best outlook for some time. However, the SFA admits there are challenges for those firms who are still focused on the domestic economy, such as retailers. She says that until consumers get more confident about their own finances, this sector of the economy will find it tough going. The issue of credit also remains a challenge for some firms and Avine McNally says that lending solutions will have to be found. She urges the Government to put in place policies that will assist the SME sector.


MORNING BRIEFS - The Financial Times says that Ireland's chief banking regulator, Matthew Elderfield, is set to join Lloyds Banking Group as the new head of compliance at Britain's biggest lender

*** UK insurer Legal and General has announced a deal with New Ireland Assurance today. This will see Legal and General reinsure €136m of New Ireland's existing annuity business as well as some of its future business. It also means L&G will be responsible for paying defined benefit or final salary pension promises covered in the deal, discharging New Ireland of its liabilities. The deal covers both annuities purchased by individual customers and bulk annuities arranged by Irish pension schemes.

*** Chat apps like WhatsApp and Apple and Skype's messaging services have overtaken the text message as a way to send a message to friends, undermining the traditional SMS cash cow for mobile operators. The data, collected for the Financial Times, shows there were more instant messages being sent every day last year than text messages, and the number of messages sent is expected to double this year to 41 billion a day, more than twice the number of text messages.

*** Rating agency Moody's will monitor the ability of the newly formed Italian government to overhaul the economy, a senior Moody's official told an Italian newspaper today.