A change in fortunes at Ulster Bank was reported today. The country's third-largest bank was able to write-back the value of some impaired loans which helped it to an operating profit - its first since 2008 - of €752m. This time last year it reported a €1.7 billion loss.

Ulster Bank's chief executive Jim Brown says the bank had a good year in 2014 and moved back into the black for the first time since 2008 driven by improvements in its net interest margins, a reduction in expenses and also some writebacks coming through from credit losses. These developments have been brought about after an improvement in the economy and as more customers who had been in distress get back on top of their loans throughout the various programmes the bank had put in place. The improvement in the Irish property market was also a factor in Ulster's Bank performance.

On business lending, the Ulster Bank boss said that €1.4 billion was actually drawn down and advanced to the bank's customers last year, up 46% on the level in 2013. He said that total lending moved up to €2.3 billion and he expects that figure to rise again this year. Demand for mortgages is still fairly low, Mr Brown said, noting that the majority of sales are still cash based. But he said that the bank is seeing an increase in demand for mortgages, adding that it saw a 41% increase in mortgage drawdowns last year - albeit from a very low base. He says that while there will be some tightening in certain areas of the market due to the changed Central Bank criteria for mortgage customers, mortgage lending will continue to increase.

At Ulster Bank's parent Royal Bank of Scotland, its chief executive Ross McEwan is to forgo a £1m role-based allowance due to him. Mr Brown says that he is also paid such an allowance, but adds that he does not yet know whether he will get a bonus for last year yet. "What I get paid is ultimately decided by the RBS board," he adds.  


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MORNING BRIEFS - CRH has today posted a 5% increase in sales to €18.9 billion and a €761m pre-tax profit last year compared to a €215m loss in 2013. In a statement alongside the building materials company's results, CEO Albert Manifold credited underlying business strength and a return to growth across many of its key markets.

*** Tony O'Reilly has reduced further his stake in Independent News and Media. The latest share sale, which took place on February 20, according to a notification sent to the Irish Stock Exchange, brought his stake from just over 3.5% to just under 3%. The sale would have netted around €1.3m based on the price at the time. Tony O'Reilly was once the largest shareholder in the company with a stake valued, at its peak, at more than €1 billion. He has been selling down his shareholding, along with other assets, to pay down bank debts after AIB registered a €22m judgement against him last summer.

*** Just over one in four Irish people has an account with the Twitter social network. According to the social networking quarterly survey carried out by Ipsos MRBI, Facebook remains Ireland's best-loved or at least most-used social network. 63% of respondents said they had a Facebook account with seven out of ten users saying they used it daily. Twitter is the second most popular network but comes some way behind Facebook. 28% said they had a Twitter account but only 37% either tweet or log in each day.