Syndicated News Archives - Page 2 of 312 - Kelly Rahill Accountants

Central Bank announces consumer and investor protection priorities for 2020

The Central Bank has said that the protection of borrowers in mortgage arrears will continue to be a key priority for it during 2020.

Derville Rowland, Director General, Financial Conduct at the Central Bank, said the bank will closely monitor the treatment of borrowers in arrears and take follow-up supervisory actions as required. 

“As part of our supervisory work, we will continue to require all loan owners to put in place long-term sustainable arrangements where possible for their borrowers,” she added.

Ms Rowland made her comments as she outlined the Central Bank’s priorities for the regulation of financial conduct in Ireland during the year. 

These priorities include strengthening consumer protection, a comprehensive review of the Consumer Protection Code and enhanced anti-money laundering measures.

Noting the lack of a consumer-focused culture within the financial services sector, Ms Rowland said it will not come as a surprise to hear that the Central Bank will continue to hold boards and leaders to account for embedding effective behaviour and cultures.

She also said the Central Bank is examining the issue of price differentiation in the motor and home insurance market to understand the extent and prevalence of the practice, how insurers are using it and whether it gives rise to unfair treatment of consumers.  

The Central Bank intends to publish an interim report on its findings at the end of the year.

“At the Central Bank of Ireland we are consistently evolving and enhancing our toolkit. Some of our priority issues will have more immediate benefits, while others will bear fruit over the longer term,” Ms Rowland said.

“I hope – indeed expect – that the 2020s will be the decade when all firms and boards put conduct, culture and customers firmly at the top of the corporate agenda,” she added.

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Dow, S&P 500 at record highs after US-China trade deal

The Dow Jones and S&P 500 rose to record highs on Wall Street last night following a volatile session marked the signing of the long-awaited US-China trade agreement. 

The Dow Jones gained 0.3% to finish at 29,030 and the broad-based S&P 500 added 0.2% to 3,289.

Analysts said the choppy trading session reflected worries about lofty US stock valuations following the market’s surge since the fall. 

“We’ve been on a tear since mid-October,” said Briefing.com analyst Patrick O’Hare, who said investors likely will wait for more earnings reports from big companies before moving significantly further. 

“It’s going to take a lot of good new news to get the market to take another leg higher,” he said. 

The trade deal between the world’s dominant economic powers called off some US tariffs that had been planned on Chinese goods, and obliged China to beef up purchases of American crops and other exports and provide intellectual property protections for US technology. 

Investors have cheered the deal following nearly two years of conflict in which US-China trade tensions occasionally flared, pressuring stocks. 

But Oxford Economics described the agreement as a “fragile truce”.

It warned that “while the deal is a step in the right direction, further tariff rollbacks should not be expected until after the elections, and broken promises could lead to tariffs snapping back in the coming months.” 

Among individual companies, Goldman Sachs dipped 0.2% as it reported lower fourth-quarter due in part to a one-time charge of $1.1 billion for legal costs connected to probes into the bank’s role in  the 1MDB scandal.

Among other companies reporting results, Bank of America fell 1.8% and United Health Group gained 2.8%.

Target plunged 6.6% after the big-box retailer reported disappointing sales for the critical Christmas shopping season. 

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State may exit US currency blacklist

The United States may remove Ireland from its list of potential currency manipulators next year after the State’s current account surplus turned to a deficit in 2019.

The US Department of the Treasury updated its guidance this week.

While the main decision was to remove China from the blacklist, the State was also among those that could be exempted.

Ireland and Italy were surprise inclusions in last year’s report, which applies three measures to establish whether countries use their exchange rates to boost exports to the US.

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Residential property prices rise by 1.4% in November

Residential property prices posted annual growth of 1.4% in November, the fastest growth in three months, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

The increase of 1.4% in November is down sharply from growth of 7.2% a year ago, the CSO said.

House prices have stabilised over the last year having shot up for five years following a crash just over a decade ago. 

Dublin residential property prices decreased by 0.7% in the year to November, with house prices down by 0.5% and apartments falling by 1.2%. 

The CSO noted that the highest house price growth in Dublin was seen in Fingal with prices rising by 3%, while Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown prices saw a decline of 6.3%. 

Meanwhile, property prices outside of Dublin rose by 3.6% in the year to November, with house prices up by 3.6% and apartments prices increased by 3.9%. 

The region outside of Dublin that saw the largest rise in house prices was the Border at 9.9%, while at the other end of the scale, the Mid-East saw a 0.4% rise.

Property prices nationally have increased by 85.7% from their low point in early 2013, the CSO figures show. 

Dublin residential property prices have risen 94.9% from their February 2012 low, while  residential property prices in the Rest of Ireland are 84.3% higher than at their low point in May 2013.

Consumers paid a mean, or average price of €295,706 for a home on the residential property market in the 12 months to November. 

The mean price in Dublin – at €438,729 – was the highest in any region or county. 

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown had the highest mean price in the Dublin region at €600,335, while South Dublin had the lowest at €363,324. 

The CSO said that outside of Dublin, the Mid-East was the most expensive region, with a mean price of €301,142. Wicklow was the most expensive county in the Mid-East region, with a mean price of €357,831.

The Border region was the least expensive region in the year to September 2019, with a mean price of €144,090. Leitrim was the least expensive county, with a mean price of €118,733.

Today’s CSO figures also show that in the year to November, a total of 45,192 house purchases were filed with Revenue. 

Of these, 31.8% were purchases by first-time buyer owner-occupiers, while former owner-occupiers purchased 52.7% of the homes. The remaining 15.5% were acquired by non-occupiers.

Revenue data shows that there were 1,355 first-time buyer purchases in November, a rise of 1.1% on the 1,340 recorded the same time last year. 

These purchases were made up of 470 new homes and 885 existing homes, the CSO added.

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UK inflation hits more than three-year low, raising pressure on Bank of England

UK inflation sank unexpectedly to a more than three-year low in December as hotels slashed prices, ramping up expectations that the Bank of England will cut interest rates as soon as this month. 

Consumer prices rose by 1.3% in annual terms compared with 1.5% in November, the smallest increase since November 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said today. 

The pound slid below $1.30 on the reading, which was below all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists that had pointed to another 1.5% increase. 

Since the turn of the year, Bank of England officials have voiced concerns about the strength of Britain’s economy, raising expectations in financial markets that they could vote to cut interest rates as soon as this month. 

Earlier, Bank of England rate-setter Michael Saunders said interest rates should be cut straight away.

Citing a weak labour market and a sluggish economy, he said this would avoid Britain getting stuck in a low-inflation trap as in the euro zone. 

Although today’s data showed inflation for the fourth quarter as a whole matched the Bank of England’s 1.4% forecast it made in November, the surprise drop in price pressures last month bolstered expectations of stimulus. 

Money markets now price in a roughly 56% chance of a rate cut in January, compared with 49% before today’s data.

The ONS said a third of hotels surveyed in December reported falling prices, compared with only one in 10 reporting an increase. Women’s clothing prices also fell, the ONS said. 

A measure of core inflation, which excludes energy, fuel, alcohol and tobacco, dropped to its lowest since November 2016 at 1.4%, down from 1.7% in November. 

Inflation pressure in the pipeline – measured through factory prices – remained muted. Prices of manufactured products rose 0.9% on the year, as expected in the Reuters poll. 

Separate data from the ONS showed that UK house prices rose by an annual 2.2% in November, the biggest rise in a year, adding to tentative signs of stabilisation in the housing market.

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UK consumers banned from using credit cards to gamble

Gamblers in the UK will no longer be able to use their credit cards to place bets online after a major shake-up of rules announced by the industry regulator.

From 14 April, people wanting to place bets online will have to do so by using either a debit card or through cash deposited into an account.

The credit card ban affects all gambling, with the exception of the National Lottery, the Gambling Commission said.

It follows concerted efforts by the UK government to address the issue of problem gambling.

Neil McArthur, Gambling Commission chief executive, said: “Credit card gambling can lead to significant financial harm.

“The ban that we have announced today should minimise the risks of harm to consumers from gambling with money they do not have.”

Research by the commission classed 22% of online gamblers who use credit cards as “problem gamblers”.

There are an estimated 24 million adult gamblers in the UK.

Brigid Simmonds, chairwoman of the Betting and Gaming Council which represents the industry, said: “The Betting and Gaming Council is a body firmly committed to raising standards, safer gambling and change.

“We will implement a ban on credit cards and indeed our members will go further to study and improve the early identification of those at risk.

“The use of credit cards were previously used as a potential marker of harm which might lead to further intervention with customers.”

Additional reporting Reuters

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China trade surplus with US dropped 8.5% to $296 billion

China’s trade surplus with the US narrowed last year as the world’s two biggest economies exchanged punitive tariffs in a bruising trade war, new data show today.

The figures come as the two countries prepare to sign a deal dialling down tensions.  

The huge difference in trade traffic is a key bone of contention for Donald Trump in a long-running stand-off that has seen him impose tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars, triggering retaliation from Beijing and jolting the global economy. 

China’s surplus came in at around $295.8 billion in 2019, down 8.5% from the previous year’s record $323.3 billion, according to customs data. 

In December, its surplus with the US was around $23.2 billion, from $24.6 billion the month before. 

The mini trade deal announced last month will see Beijing buy an extra $200 billion of US products over a two-year period, according to Washington officials. China has yet to publicly confirm the figures. 

The Trump administration called off new tariffs on Chinese-made goods such as electronics that were to take effect last month. It also halved those imposed on September 1 on $120 billion worth of products. 

But Washington maintains 25% tariffs on about $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. 

In a further sign of de-escalation, Washington yesterday removed the currency manipulator label it imposed on China in the summer. 

At a news conference this morning, spokesman for the customs administration Zou Zhiwu said that since November and December, Chinese imports from the US including of soybeans and pork have picked up. 

Zou added that the increased imports from the US will not affect China’s purchases from other countries. 

He also said the trade tensions had “put some pressure on China’s foreign trade and firms that largely trade with the US”. 

“Although our exports to the US have declined, the effectiveness of enterprises diversifying their markets has been significant,” he said, adding that exports to non-US markets have risen and overall exports are still rising.

The signing of the new trade deal, which is part of a planned wider pact, will have an “important and positive significance” not just for China and the US but also the rest of the world, Zou said. 

China’s foreign trade volume fell slightly on-year in 2019, and its surplus with the world stood at $421.5 billion.

In December, China’s exports rose 7.6% year-on-year, the highest growth since July and above the 2.9% forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. Imports surged 16.3%, far exceeding estimates.

For the full year, exports rose 0.5% while imports fell 2.8%.

Meat imports spiked over the past 12 months as officials brought in 2.108 million ton of pork – a 75% increase from the year before, while beef imports rose 60%. 

The huge jumps come as the country’s pork supply is hammered by an outbreak of African swine fever that has wiped out about 40 percent of the national pig herd. 

Nick Marro at The Economist Intelligence Unit said China’s overall export recovery in December is likely due in part to a low base of comparison from the year before. 

“It was around this time last year when we first started to see the impact of both the trade war and the global electronics slowdown bite into China’s trade data,” he added. 

While shipments to Europe and Southeast Asia are up, Marro said these markets cannot fully replace the US.

“However, China’s efforts to pivot towards alternative sources of demand, as a cushion to lost US market access, may be starting to pay off,” he said, adding that growth in shipments to Vietnam outperformed every other major export market.

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Used car sales reach highest ever level in 2019 – CSO

New figures from the Central Statistics Office show the number of new cars licensed for the first time fell by 6.5% in 2019, while the number of used car sales rose by 9.5% to reach its highest ever level.

The CSO said that a total of 113,305 new private cars were licensed for the first time last year, down 6.5% compared with 2018. 

But the number of used, or imported, cars licensed rose by 9.5% to 108,895 in 2019 compared with 99,456 in 2018. 

Overall a total of 222,200 new and used private cars were licensed in 2019 – the highest figure since 2007, the CSO added. 

In December, just 729 new private cars were licensed for the first time – a fall of 6.3% compared with the same month in 2018.

The number of used cars licensed increased by 23.7% to 7,995 compared with the same same in 2018, the CSO said.

Today’s figures also show that 12.7% of new cars sold last year were electric/electric hybrid, a jump of 67.4% compared with 2018.

Volkswagen was the most popular make of new private cars licensed last year, followed by Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and Skoda. Together these five makes represent 46.5% of all new cars licensed. 

Meanwhile, the most popular model of private car licensed last year was the Toyota Corolla followed by the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai Tucson.

And the most popular colour for new cars last year was grey (36.7%) followed by black (17.7%) and white (15.8%). This was the same order as in 2018, the CSO noted.

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USC threshold increasing due to rise in minimum wage

The threshold for USC is to be raised to allow for a previously announced increase in the minimum wage.

This will benefit all taxpayers as well as ensuring those on the minimum wage will continue to pay USC at a maximum rate of 2%. 

Last month the government announced it had decided to raise the minimum wage, given strong earnings growth across the economy and greater clarity over Brexit.

The decision had been postponed at the time of the Budget given concerns at that time over the UK crashing out of the EU. 

The increase of 30c had been recommended by the Low Pay Commission.

The PRSI threshold was also increased to allow those on the minimum wage working a 39 hour week to earn up to €20,483 per annum. 

The second part of this process was the announcement by the Minister for Finance today to raise the threshold on the 2% USC band which will also kick in from February 1st.

This means the maximum rate of USC contributions paid by those on the minimum wage remains 2%. 

The move will directly benefit 127,000 workers on the minimum wage.

This is the fifth year in a row that the minimum wage has been raised. Ireland has the third highest minimum wage in the EU. 

The move on USC will also benefit taxpayers earning above the minimum wage.

By how much, depends on what you earn. The maximum benefit will be 29c per week or €15.25 per annum. 

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December grocery sales pass €1 billion for first time

The grocery market hit a new milestone over the Christmas weeks, as sales in December passed the €1 billion for the first time ever.

The latest figures from Kantar show that although sales growth slowed in the 12 weeks to 29 December, the grocery market weathered difficult trading conditions to increase overall sales by 1.5% on 2018. 

All of the major retailers achieved growth over the festive season, but Kantar noted that sales of alcohol dropped by €10.5m with shoppers spending 5.3% less on beer and 2.2% less on wine. 

Soft drinks sales rose by 2.7% as shoppers turned to alternative, alcohol-free options.

Only SuperValu and Dunnes bucked the trend this year, increasing alcohol sales by 3.9% and 0.7% respectively.  

Today’s figures from Kantar show that Dunnes retained its position as the country’s biggest retailer – and it was the only supermarket which did not see a slowdown in growth. 

Kantar noted that Christmas is typically Dunnes’ strongest season, as shoppers trade up to more premium products. December 2019 was no different. 

Dunnes secured a market share of 23.6% in the latest 12 weeks, 1.2 percentage points higher than its average over the rest of the year.  

SuperValu, which typically performs best over the summer, had a welcome Christmas boost and increased sales by 1.4% – slightly higher than the same time last year.

Tesco’s growth was the slowest at 0.1% and its market share fell to 22%. But Kantar noted that Tesco customers made an average of 16.2 trips to store in the latest period under review, compared with 15.7 the previous year. 

Aldi was the strongest performing retailer over Christmas, with sales up 6.3%, while Lidl’s market share of 10.9% was its highest ever over the festive period.  

Charlotte Scott, consumer insight director at Kantar, said the country’s supermarkets saw a less traditional Christmas this year with many of the usual seasonal classics falling out of favour. 

“The number of people buying turkey fell by 3% and the trimmings did not fare much better as sales of Brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips and potatoes all declined,” Ms Scott said. 

“It was a similar story in the dessert aisles as the value of mince pies dropped by 13% and Christmas puddings by 10%. Ham resisted the trend, growing at 5% as shoppers paired it with their Christmas dinner,” she added.

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