ELECTRICITY PRICES FOURTH HIGHEST IN EU SINCE 5% RISE - Irish households pay among the highest prices in Europe for electricity as bills here rose twice as much as the rest of the continent last year. A new Eurostat report shows that Ireland has the fourth most expensive electricity in the EU and the price rose by 5.1% in the second half of 2013 compared with just 2.8% across Europe, writes the Irish Independent. Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 Irish homes had their electricity cut off in March because of failure to pay the bills, the latest figures from the Energy Regulator show. Some 971 homes had their electricity cut off and 479 had their gas cut off once the winter moratorium on disconnections ended, although up to 40% of those homes might be vacant, the regulator said. Consumers in Ireland pay €24.10 per 100 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity which is 20% higher than the EU average of €20.10. It is 34% higher than our nearest neighbour Britain, the Eurostat report shows. That makes us the fourth most expensive country in Europe for power behind Denmark, Germany and Cyprus, while prices here have risen by 15% since 2011.
PROPERTY PRICES IN NORTH HIT LEVELS NOT SEEN FOR SEVEN YEARS - Residential property sales in the North hit levels not seen in seven years between January and March, according to latest UK official government statistics which show there were nearly 4,200 transactions. The statistics are based on the number of transactions that involved stamp duty payments - stamp duty must be paid on every property in the UK with a purchase price over £125,000, writes the Irish Times. The latest stamp duty figures suggest that property sales in Northern Ireland were 21% higher in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same time last year. According to the Northern Ireland Residential Property Price Index property prices rose by 7% over the year from quarter one in 2013 to quarter one of this year. But residential prices still remain 6% lower than they were in quarter one 2005. The latest price index highlights how at the peak of the local short-lived property bubble prices were more than nine times the median salary. Since the downturn in the market the ratio has continued to fall and the median residential property sale price is now just over four times the median salary.
€310m LOSS FOR ACC IN FINAL YEAR AS BANK - In its last year operating as a bank, ACC reported a loss of €310m as a result of its exposure to the property market. The bank will return its banking licence in June and restructure itself to completely focus on the recovery of its loans before closing, reports the Irish Examiner. The total loans advanced to customers at year end stood at €2.6 billion, in comparison to the €2.8 billion at the end of 2012. In a statement, the bank said it would now focus on the management of its loan book. “In October 2013, ACC announced plans to withdraw from providing standard banking products, such as deposit accounts and current accounts, and to focus solely on debt recovery,” it said. “The process for closing accounts is under way and customers are receiving reminders to take any necessary action in advance of their account closure dates.” The bank, which was bought as a standalone Irish entity for €165m by Dutch giant Rabobank in 2007, will close all its business centres by the end of this month. The company had operated business centres in Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Mullingar, Sligo, and Waterford.
GOOGLE PLANS TO SPEND UP TO $30 BILLION ON FOREIGN ACQUISITIONS - Google expects to spend up to $30 billion on foreign acquisitions as it expands into markets such as hardware, according to a disclosure made to US securities regulators. The trawl for big overseas purchases has already seen the internet search company come close to forging at least one big deal, though talks over a proposed $4-$5 billion acquisition of an unnamed foreign business were called off late last year, says the Financial Times. The scale of Google’s global acquisition hopes was revealed in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission in response to questions from regulators about what it planned to do with its overseas cash mountain, which reached $34.5 billion at the end of March. In the correspondence with regulators, Google also revealed that it hoped one day to put advertising “on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities”. The statement was from a letter sent before its acquisition earlier this year of “smart” thermostat maker Nest for $3.2 billion. To head off privacy worries, Google said at the time of the deal that if it ever wanted to make new uses of data collected by Nest’s devices - for instance, in targeted advertising - it would ask users for permission first.