Ahead of its annual shareholders meeting today Bank of Ireland has issued a statement saying that it is profitable and generating capital this year. The bank says the economic environment and outlook in Ireland and the UK, its key markets, are continuing to improve in 2014. Bank of Ireland says it continues to identify and convert new lending opportunities as the economy recovers here and as the banking market consolidates.

Eamonn Walsh, Professor of Accounting at UCD, says that signs are emerging of an improving bank sector overall during the last six months. Professor Walsh says today's trading update from Bank of Ireland shows that the improvement is continuing. Key factors for the bank include the fact that it is lending profitably - banks exist to borrow cheap and lend dear - and the bank is now again generating some profit from its lending activity. It is also becoming less dependent on wholesale funding and the amount of money it is getting from depositors is improving.

The Professor says that over the last number of months there are signs that a bottom is being reached in relation to new loan defaults and the mortgage arrears problem is being managed - another signal that things are moving in the right direction. "Obviously, it is moving in the right direction for Bank of Ireland and hopefully it is moving in the right direction for other financial institutions as well," he states. He says that banks that had been in "intensive care" are starting to turn around, which is good news for the economy in general - despite the still muted level of credit and lending.

Professor Walsh says that very low interest rates means that the cost of funding banks do go down a little bit, which in turn means that the banks can be a little more profitable. He says that low interest rates give banks a chance to accumulate profits, adding that they need a lot of profits to make up for all the losses on loans over the last number of years.

MORNING BRIEFS -  Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe - four of the biggest names in technology - have settled a US class action case which had alleged that they conspired to hold down employees' salaries, by agreeing not to poach each others staff. It is claimed that this prevented workers from getting better job offers. The firms did not disclose the details of the settlement, but the US lawsuit was claiming $3 billion in damages on behalf of more than 64,000 workers at the four firms. Federal authorities started to investigate claims five years go that such deals happening, and were a form of price-fixing in the market for labour. This artificially depressed wages for employees. 

*** Microsoft has reported a net profit of $5.66 billion in the first three months of its financial year - that is a fall from the same period last year, but better than the market had predicted. The earnings are the first the firm has released with new chief executive Satya Nadella in charge. And the results show that his efforts to move more into cloud computing seem to be paying off. The company also said it added one million users to its subscription Office programme for personal users. Microsoft sold 2 million Xbox consoles during the three months.