INSOLVENCIES FOR BUILDERS UP 50% DESPITE HOUSING CRISIS - The number of builders going insolvent increased by almost 50% last year, in the midst of a housing crisis where building services are sorely needed. 

New figures compiled by Deloitte show 158 construction firms went into insolvency last year, compared to 108 in 2017. Builders taking on contracts with fixed prices are being hit by rising costs of labour and materials. In addition, a number of firms may have been affected by the collapse of UK builder Carillion, says the Irish Independent. One definite Irish victim of Carillion's collapse was Sammon Contracting Ireland. It went into liquidation because a schools project it had been working on was put on pause when Carillion went bust. "The increase in construction-related insolvencies reflects that there are still legacy issues at play in the sector," said Deloitte partner David van Dessel, adding that cost inflation was having an impact on profitability. The inflationary environment is having an impact on companies that take on fixed price contracts, Mr van Dessel said. He also said slowing growth in house prices is having an impact. The figures will inevitably raise fears that the housing crisis will take longer to be solved. The Deloitte figures show construction is lagging the rest of the economy, with insolvencies down 12% overall.

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AER LINGUS €2m REBRAND READY FOR TAKE-OFF - Aer Lingus plans a rebrand this year that is likely to cost the Irish airline less than €2 million. 

The Irish carrier, which is part of the Willie Walsh-led International Consolidated Airlines Group, will later this year begin taking delivery of the nine A321LR aircraft that it has ordered from European manufacturer Airbus. It is also planning an extensive rebrand involving some changes to its shamrock logo, aircraft livery and uniforms. Aer Lingus is due to give details of the changes next week. While sources estimate that such an extensive rebrand could cost up to €20 million to complete, including repainting its fleet, it is understood that it will cost Aer Lingus less than €2 million, writes the Irish Times. Repainting the airline's 50-odd aircraft would be the most expensive element of the exercise. However, the new A321LRs will come in the new livery, while the others will be repainted as this falls due to be done as part of their normal maintenance schedule, so Aer Lingus would be paying for this work as a matter of course. Safety rules require aircraft to be repainted regularly in order to protect them from corrosion and the elements. Aer Lingus briefed some tourism industry chiefs on its rebrand plans before Christmas, although the airline did not reveal many details.

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PLANS TO LAUNCH NINE NEW PASSENGER FERRIES ON UK AND IRELAND ROUTES - Plans to launch nine new passenger ferries on UK and Ireland routes shows the industry is "continuing to thrive", a trade body has claimed. 

Irish Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena Line are among the operators expanding their fleets. More than 38 million passenger journeys were made by ferry on UK domestic, Irish and Continental services in 2017, according to industry data. The new ships include ferries for passengers and vehicles, as well as the largest catamaran to operate in London, says the Irish Examiner. Emma Batchelor, director of trade body Discover Ferries, said: "The introduction of these nine new passenger ferries is great news, not only for the shipping sector but also for the millions of holidaymakers who value comfort and space when they travel. These ships, which are set to enter service from this year, clearly demonstrate the confidence that the industry has in the future of ferry travel and its popularity. This also sends a clear message that ferry travel is continuing to thrive and passengers should book their ferry travel for 2019 with confidence, whether they are sailing across the Irish Sea, around London, the British Isles or into mainland Europe," she said. 

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AVERAGE UK HOUSEHOLD DEBT NOW STANDS AT RECORD £15,400 - Britain's household debt mountain has reached a new peak, with UK homes now owing an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders, according to the TUC. 

The trade union body said household debt rose sharply in 2018 as years of austerity and wage stagnation forced households to increase their borrowing. The TUC said in its annual report on the UK's finances that the amounts owed by British households rose to a combined £428 billion in the third quarter of 2018, says today's Guardian. Each household owed £886 more than it did 12 months previously, it said. The figures do not include outstanding mortgage debts but do include student loans. The level of unsecured debt as a share of household income is now 30.4%, the highest level it has ever been at. It is well above the £286 billion peak in 2008 before the financial crisis, the TUC said. That figure also included student loans, but tuition fees then were £3,000 a year compared with up to £9,250 now. Public spending cuts and years of wage stagnation are key reasons for the increase in unsecured debt, the TUC said, adding that working families are on average worse off today than before the financial crisis. The rise of the gig economy and zero-hours contracts are also thought to be a significant contributing factor.