Best country of the week
Quinn: You are living in a flat in Malta so you can reduce your tax bill on hundreds of millions of dollars.
O’Brien: I don’t work in Ireland – 95 per cent of my businesses are scattered around the world from Fiji to the Caribbean.
The High Court defamation case involving businessman Denis O’Brien concluded this week, with a win for Denis and damages of €150,000. The Mail newspaper may appeal, but will be facing some meaty legal costs after it failed to defend its article on Denis and his efforts in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. During the hearing, Denis left himself exposed on the witness stand, and explained to the barrister for Associated Newspapers, Oisin Quinn, why he lived in Malta. Not for tax reasons, it seems, but because it is convenient to Denis’s business interests.
Awwwh of the Week
In Leitrim, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rescued 140 dogs from a private household. There was going to be an appeal on here for readers to contact the ISPCA to offer homes to the poor fellows, but as of Thursday evening, just three remained homeless it seems. Still, might be worth a call to the ISPCA anyway, if you can give a home to these or others.
Quote of the Week
“I disagree strongly about the principle of unionist unity and I don’t want to be a part of that” John McAllister, former deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party after the decision of the UUP and the now more powerful Democratic Unionist Party to field a single candidate in the Mid-Ulster by-election in March 2013.
Seems like a new party is on the cards in Northern Ireland, with two high profile former UUP members “likely to form a new party”. With “Democratic”, “Progressive”, “Ulster”, “Traditional”, “Real” already taken, finding a new name might not be all that straightforward.
Cunning plan of the Week
You may have noticed that the Independent newspapers online have a new format. The Indo, the Sindo, the Bel Tel, the Herald and regional papers now appear to have the same style template for their websites. The Sunday World remains unchanged for the time being. Some like the new style, some don’t. There doesn’t appear to have been any improvement to the quality or breadth or speed with which news is presented. But what has had quite a number of people scratching their heads is that it is no longer possible to pick up the newspapers’ new output using search engines. Strange because that means that these newspapers are deliberately cutting down their audience, and the basic business model of these papers has been to drive readership which attracts advertisers which pays for everything. IN&M give away more free copies of their papers than competitors such as the Sunday Business Post, the Examiner and the Irish Times. But now, the company is reducing its audience from search engines. How strange.
However, it is picking up onsite clicks by forcing readers to click the “more” button – highlighted above – to view the second half of a story. It is also forcing more advertising on you, and by the end of this week, most people will want to throttle someone from UPC for their infuriating repeat advertisements.
IN&M’s share price languishes below 4c valuing the company at €21m, down 80% from this time last year when the company was being de-OReillyed. There is still no buyer of the group’s South African papers and there is trouble afoot in Australia/New Zealand with calls for the removal of its CEO, Brett Chenoweth. And on top of it all, it has €400m of bank debt to be refinanced imminently.
Cunning plans will be required.
Net Present Value of the Week
So, how much was the deal with the ECB on the promissory note worth? We have a range of values. Unsurprisngly, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is most ambitious with saying it is worth €20bn. Davy says €5-6bn . Professor Karl Whelan, the economics lecturer at University College Dublin and Forbes contributor, says about €6bn too. But what about the assumptions underpinning the deal? Will the ECB allow us to access funds at its main interest rate, presently 0.75% for a full 15 years. Or might we find ourselves having to refinance the bonds on the open market, sooner rather than later? That seems to be the weakest point in the promissory note deal, and noises yesterday from the Germans (unsurprising) and a statement from the ECB president to “examine the deal further” (surprising) might indicate the trajectory to future friction.
Where is the Beef of the Week
Our klutz of an agriculture minister, Simon Coveney still seems to be doing his best to undermine our beef industry, and the latest wheeze as this week draws to a close is to call it all a “mislabeling” issue. But it’s not. Back at the end of January, Minister Coveney was saying “This confirms previous results that the raw material from Poland is the source of equine DNA content in certain beef burgers.” Back then it was the furriners’ fault, mostly the Poles. But it’s not. And there are now EU-wide proposals to test food more intensively for horse meat, so as to draw a line under a scandal and that will be the end of the matter. But it’s not.
The rewards available to criminals for substituting horse for beef are around €3 per kilo. A typical adult horse weighs 500 kg, though when you exclude bone and other inedible parts, you’re probably left with about 250 kg that can be used as food. For traders who might have picked up an unwanted horse for €10, as claimed by the UK’s Opposition environment spokesperson this week, the opportunities are better than the drugs trade. And if people don’t know the difference between horse and cow, then what matter? But it’s far from a victimless crime, it threatens Irish farming and jobs, and it probably threatens health because criminals are not likely to have our health to the fore of their considerations, so we might all be ingesting horse medicines or diseases which are harmful.
The problem now, is that with a focus on horse meat, the criminals are likely to relent and keep their horse meat in cold storage until the heat dies down. Or turn to other substitutions.
There was a twist to the scandal at the end of this week when it turned out that Irish food giant Greencore was selling horse contaminated products. The agriculture minister’s brother, Patrick is the boss at Greencore and eyebrows were raised at the development and the Minister’s klutzy handling of the scandal, though no-one is suggesting that Minister Coveney placed family interests above his professional duty, but the optics look all wrong.
Loose thread of the Week
“When speaking to people in Davos, the issue of the opening up of Myanmar, the former Burma, arose. It is a country of which we do not have great knowledge, although there were real connections between Ireland and Burma as it was called. That country of 60 million has a huge range of natural resources, yet some 58 million of its people have never had access to communications. That country will move from what might be termed ground zero to cloud computing and cloud access straight away. The scale of the investment there will be enormous.” An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking in the Dail this week. If appearing on the podium of the New York Stock Exchange with Denis O’Brien caused a brouhaha, and if Denis O’Brien attending the Global Irish Network event in Dublin Castle in October 2011 caused ructions and walk-outs, then what will be the fall-out if it is confirmed that An Taoiseach was in Davos promoting the business interests of Denis O’Brien in a country with an appalling human rights record?
Will this loose thread be pulled at?
Banker of the Week
John Reynolds, CEO of KBC Ireland
We suffer so badly from Small Dog Syndrome in this State that we sometimes forget that we are not alone in shouldering debt relating to our banks. The Belgian government has bailed out KBC to the tune of billions so far, and we learned during the week, that in Ireland, we will continue to benefit from the munificence of the Belgian people. During the week, KBC announced its preliminary results for 2012 and the annual loss (after impairments) rose to €306m in 2012 from €269m in 2011. The parent company shoveled in €300m in bailout to the Irish unit for the first nine months of 2012. The outlook is not great and examining its loan book for the past five years – see graph below – indicates the Irish unit will need another €1-2bn in the next 3-4 years to cover losses on SME and personal/home loans. All of which must make its Irish CEO, John Reynolds – who has a career with KBC before becoming its CEO in May 2009 – one helluva banker to continue to receive such support from the Belgian parent, and the Belgian government.
Headscratcher of the Week
We don’t know how ex-NAMA employee Kevin Nowlan got on in Connecticut yesterday as he was “deposed” by lawyers representing Gayle and Sean Dunne. The deposition involves Kevin giving a statement about matters relevant to NAMA’s case against the Dunnes, and then submitting himself to questioning by the Dunnes’ lawyers. Hopefully Kevin managed to manouevre the snowbound north east US, and is safely en route home to work in his new role at WK Nowlan, which is branching out into the asset management business. According to Simon Carswell in the Irish Times today, the deposition will have lasted some eight hours.
What has some scratching their heads is why Kevin flew all the way to the US and didn’t just head down to the US Embassy in Ballsbridge which seems to be available for such legal procedures. Ah well, hopefully he picked up some cheap duty free.