TAOISEACH GAVE WRITTEN ASSURANCE TO APPLE ON STALLED DATA CENTRE - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a written assurance to Apple chief executive Tim Cook that the Government would "do all we can" to support the company’s stalled plans to build a data centre in Athenry, Co Galway.

Mr Varadkar wrote to the tech company’s chief two weeks after Mr Cook declined to provide guarantees that the €850 million project would proceed when they met in early November during the Taoiseach’s trade mission to California, says the Irish Times. "Please be assured that the Irish Government and IDA Ireland will do all we can to continue to support your operations and future plans in Cork and Galway as your business needs develop," the Taoiseach told Mr Cook in a letter dated November 16th last. He told Mr Cook that the company was "a longstanding and very valued investor in Ireland and a key part of both the history and future of the technology sector in Ireland". Mr Varadkar wrote that he hoped they could "catch up again" at the opening of the company’s new office block in Cork in April or at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. A spokesman for the Taoiseach said his meetings during the Swiss gathering were still being finalised. His letter to Mr Cook, released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, emphasised Mr Varadkar’s commitment to help Apple build the centre after the Taoiseach’s office said Apple only agreed at their meeting to "continue to consider Athenry in the context of their future business plans".

***
PENSION DEFICITS OF BIG FIRMS FALL BY €1.4 BILLION THANKS TO BOND YIELDS - Defined benefit pension deficits for companies listed on the Irish Stock Exchange fell by €1.4 billion over last year, according to an analysis by Mercer.

This is due to an increase in corporate bond yields, according to the report says the Irish Independent. Discount rates, used by companies to value their pension schemes that are based on bond yields, or returns, rose by around 0.2% for the average scheme, decreasing liabilities by 3% year on year, Mercer stated. This, Mercer said, coupled with positive returns on the majority of asset classes, which have generally ranged between 3% and 5%, has delivered a positive impact for the health of defined benefit pension schemes in 2017. "With liabilities in excess of €20 billion, even a relatively modest increase in bond yields can have a substantial effect on reported deficits," said Peter Gray, senior consultant with Mercer's Strategic Solutions Group. "Further adding to the good news from the schemes' perspective is that the rise in yields has not coincided with a rise in inflation expectations, which remain somewhat subdued." Mercer said corporate bond yields rose sharply over the first two quarters of 2017, reducing the value of defined benefit liabilities. 

***
BIG DRIVE BY IRISH FIRM TO SHAKE UP PARKING IN EUROPE - With technology and a new approach to making better use of unused spaces, Dublin start up Parkpnp is aiming to shake up the parking industry in Europe, writes the Irish Examiner.

Co founder and CEO Garret Flower says the original aim was to create an Airbnb parking equivalent by devising a system which allows residential parking spaces to be rented out, "but then I discovered that most unused and under-used spaces were in the commercial sector," he said. He explained that the company has devised a platform that can be used to maximize usage of spaces in schools, offices, hotel car parks and people’s front driveways, as well as in existing car parks. "We have 8,000 car parking spaces in Dublin and, since launching at the end of the year, 200-plus in Cork and 100-plus in Galway. We are now launching in three cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague," said Mr Flower. Employing a staff of 15, the company is raising €3m in funding, with a view to moving in to Belgium and Portugal by the end of the year.

***
DUBLIN DELAY LEAVES APPLE FACING TAX HIT - A year-long delay in Dublin recouping €13 billion of back taxes from Apple has left the maker of the iPhone facing an additional $1.7 billion tax bill in the US, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

US tax reforms passed in December apply a one-off tax on unrepatriated foreign earnings of American multinationals, a charge that would have been substantially lower for the world’s biggest company had Ireland recovered €13 billion in tax as ordered by the European Commission in August 2016. As a result of the US tax overhaul, Apple expects to pay a total of $38 billion in US tax on its offshore foreign earnings, which by September last year included an overseas cash pile of $252 billion. However, that calculation would have differed had the US group paid Ireland its back taxes in the 16 months since Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition commissioner, found Apple's tax deal was too good and amounted to illegal state-aid of €13 billion plus interest.  Had the US group paid Ireland - or even put the money into an escrow account - by the end of 2017, its overseas cash and earnings would have been lower, cutting its one-off US tax by $1.7 billion.