The Irish economy is growing with annual trade growth of around 6% a year predicted in a forecast by HSBC. HSBC forecasts an improving demand for Irish exports over the next few years, thanks to economic growth in our biggest trading partners - the US and euro zone.

HSBC's Alan Duffy says that Ireland is looking at growing its level of exports to China from 2% to 4%. Mr Duffy says that while this does not sound like much of an increase, when one looks at the size of the Chinese economy and its expected rate of growth, capturing even a small amount of the market there is very significant for the Irish economy. China is set to overtake France as our fourth biggest trading partner over the next 15 to 20 years, he adds. 

Mr Duffy says that multinational US companies use Ireland as a launch pad for their exports into euro zone and UK markets and he predicts strong growth in the food and agri-nutrition sectors. Ireland has an unparalleled reputation globally for the quality of our agriculture produce and it occupies an unique position in the sector when it comes to food safety, he explains.

The banker says he was not surprised to see a fall in last year's GDP figures as the domestic economy still faces challenges when the multinational sector is stripped out. But a definite increase in confidence is becoming apparent and that is evident from HSBC's Trade Confidence index, with Ireland coming in with a reading of 117. This compares to a global figure of 113 - any reading over 100 signals anticipated expansion in trade amongst businesses. He says that the rise in sentiment in the Irish economy is due to an improvement in our main trading partners and the country's successful exit from our bailout programme. He says all this is leading to a better forward looking momentum for Irish companies.

MORNING BRIEFS - Dublin has fallen ten places in a ranking of the world's top financial centres It is now 66th in the latest annual Global Financial Service Centre Index by Z/Yen Group, down from 56 a year ago. In Europe, Dublin came in 19th position. The index, which has been around since 2007, looks at five areas - including the business environment, finance, infrastructure, human capital and reputation. Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Madrid and Rome, as well as Dublin, suffered ''significant falls'' the report said, as Europe is ''in turmoil',' with 23 out of 27 centres falling in the index. Athens came in last place, 82 points behind Reykjavik. The leader was New York, which replaced London as the world's leading financial centre. But the index refers to New York's position at the top as being a "shaky, statistically insignificant" two-point lead.  London fell the most of any city in the top 50. Scandals including banks selling unneeded insurance, manipulation of financial benchmarks and trading losses, combined to damage its standing.

*** Avolon has secured a new $500m loan to finance its expansion in 2014. The Irish aircraft lessor added two new banks to its lending group with the facility - National Australia Bank and HSBC - alongside longtime financiers Credit Agricole and Deutsche Bank. It will be used to fund new aircraft deliveries in 2014.

***  Drinks group C&C said this morning that it has bought the outstanding 50% share of Wallaces Express that it did not already own. C&C bought an initial 50% stake in Wallaces Express last March. Wallaces Express is Scotland`s largest wine and spirits wholesaler. C&C said the deal is consistent with its strategy to develop a multi-beverage operating model in Scotland.

*** Sainsburys has ended a nine-year run of quarterly sales growth, today with sales at stores open over a year falling 3.1%, excluding fuel, in the 10 weeks to March 15, its fiscal fourth quarter. That compared to a rise of 3.6% the same time last year. Before today Sainsburys had reported like-for-like sales growth for 36 quarters in a row.