Business News

Asia shares worn out by trade tension, yen a safe harbour

Asian shares carved out a 14-month trough on Friday as investors feared a new salvo of Sino-US tariffs could come at any moment, while a slump in US chip stocks rippled through the tech-heavy region.

Spreadbetters pointed to a firm start for European markets with futures for Eurostoxx 50, Germany’s Dax and London’s FTSE reversing early losses to be last up 0.1-0.3pc. EMini futures for the S&P were a tad higher too.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.3pc, having earlier reached its lowest since mid-July last year.

The Nikkei shed 0.8pc, undermined by a rising yen and reports US President Donald Trump could be contemplating taking on Japan over trade.

Chinese blue chips managed a 0.5pc bounce as beaten-down health care stocks found buyers after taking a savaging in recent months amid vaccine scandals.

Emerging markets in the region were struggling to steady after a punishing week, with Indonesia and the Philippines still badly scarred by fears of capital flight following crises in Argentina and Turkey.

Nerves were set to be frayed further as the public comment period for proposed tariffs on an additional $200bn worth of Chinese imports ended at 0400 GMT. The tariffs could now go into effect at any moment, though there was no clear timetable.

China has warned of retaliation if Washington launches any new measures.

It seems unlikely the tariffs are not implemented as the US administration believes that they are winning the trade war and will be in a stronger position to negotiate if they put more pressure on China,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note.

“The tech sector was also very weak overnight, with a slide in Micron of almost 10pc and further weakness in the Chinese Internet ADRs.”

Eyes were now turned to the US payrolls report for August which is expected to show a robust rise of 191,000, in part as July was temporarily depressed by the closure of the Toys R Us chain that month.

Still, analysts at NatWest Markets cautioned that: “Despite employment indicators pointing to another strong report, it is worth noting that there is a tendency for August payrolls to initially disappoint and then be revised up noticeably later.”

Just as important will be figures on US wages where a rise above the 0.2pc forecasted would likely boost the dollar and pressure Treasury prices.

The dollar could do with the lift, having lost out to the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc. It was changing hands at 110.62 yen after falling 0.7pc on Thursday, the sharpest one-day loss in seven weeks.

Part of the decline came after a Wall Street Journal columnist reported Trump had mused about starting a trade fight with Japan.

The dollar also hit a four-month low on the franc around $0.9645. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index nudged lower to 94.939 and off the week’s top of 95.737.

The euro was a shade higher at $1.1636, while sterling idled at $1.2939 amid ongoing uncertainty over Brexit negotiations.

In commodity markets, the dip in the dollar left gold a sliver higher at $1,200.67 an ounce.

Crude oil was slighty higher after falling more than 1pc on Thursday when US data showed gasoline inventories rose unexpectedly last week.

Brent was 4 cents higher at $76.54 a barrel, while US crude edged up 13 cents to $67.90.

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Irish fintechs target growth in digital-savvy Nordic nations

Irish fintechs have been active in the Nordics for years, with an increasing number targeting growth in the region. Success has been built on shared attitudes to innovation and the potential of both markets to develop as globally significant fintech hubs.

“Similar to the Irish approach, the Nordic financial services industry is quite innovative. They are willing to both leverage and embrace new technologies to drive revenue and reduce cost,” says Stephen Florence, Account Director at Fenergo.

Both benefit from thriving tech scenes. Sweden is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of the number of unicorns – multi-billion-dollar tech companies – produced per capita. OECD data shows Sweden has 20 startups per 1,000 employees, compared to five in the US. Companies like Spotify, King and Skype are household names.

In recent years, the Irish fintech sector has grown impressively. Since 2014, Enterprise Ireland has invested in more than 80 fintech startups. That portfolio generated more than €1bn in revenue in 2016.

In the Nordics’ rapidly-growing sector, Sweden stands out. According to Nordic Tech List, Swedish companies attracted over 75pc of total fintech capital invested in the region in 2017. Well-known fintechs include Klarna, iZettle, Trustly and Tink.

Established Irish players, including Fenergo, Monex, Rockall Technologies and Corvil are known to many in the Nordics. Meanwhile, a new breed of companies is emerging, which includes Ammeon, Boxever, Cambrist, Leveris, AQMetrics and Know Your Customer.

Innovative fintechs have focused on solving problems across the global financial services industry. The mix of companies blending finance and tech has supported disruption with new ways to understand, test and prove adherence to regulations.

Solutions span a range of applications across regulatory reporting, risk management, Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance, anti-money laundering, secure messaging and transaction monitoring. The biggest opportunities stem from banking and finance regulations.

Fenergo’s ability to solve challenges for global banks is proving an advantage in the Nordics, said Florence.

“The Nordic region has multiple regulatory jurisdictions, languages and currencies. Some form part of the European Union – Finland adopted the euro, Denmark and Sweden did not and neither Norway nor Iceland are members of the EU.

“This poses complex compliance challenges for financial institutions that are operating across the region. As we have a rules-based engine, we can support multiple regulatory demands with one instance of the solution. If we look at our current client base, most are global institutions who have experienced and solved the same challenges that financial institutions in the Nordics are currently facing,” he added.

Beyond regtech, developments in big data, payments and cyber-security are compelling. Banking faces the opportunity and challenge of leveraging real-time data and becoming more customer centric. Analysing large volumes of data will enable banks to better predict and tailor solutions for individual customers.

Payments regulations are also creating challenges, putting banks’ revenue under pressure and removing barriers to entry, as changes in customer behaviour and increasing digitalisation opens the field to new local and international players. Innovative fintech solutions are driving banks to offer customers more engaging and interactive services.

The importance of cyber-security continues to rise, as threats become more sophisticated. Providers must strike a balance between ease of use and security. Innovative products are emerging in biometric security, customer identification tools, malware detection and pattern recognition.

Enterprise Ireland recently published a regtech white paper, which shows how regtech enables transformation across business functions by better utilising data and insights.

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No-deal Brexit threat to our food firms

Bord Bia, Greencore, and the Revenue Commissioners were among a batch of parties to issue stark warnings to the Irish food industry on its looming tariff-laden future last week.

Talk of rotten produce and intensified border checks painted a bleak picture during a British and Irish Chamber of Commerce event. The agri-food industry exports around €11.15bn a year, 37pc of which ends up in the UK.

Those exports face an uncertain future with it now likely that numerous changes will be made to the way they enter the UK. Revenue has already said that it is preparing for a no-deal Brexit, which will result in the development of a 54-box customs declaration.

The CEO of Greencore, one of Britain’s largest sandwich-makers, Patrick Coveney described Brexit as a “profoundly depressing topic” and said that the final deal will ultimately be a “fudge”.

“Many of us wrestled with this tension of Brexit emotion versus Brexit logic,” he said.

“There’s a certain part of all of us that wants Britain to get their comeuppance. This is a self-inflicted wound on a massive scale and they almost deserve to be punished for it.”

The brother of foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney also issued a stern warning around the net effect increased border checks, or a divergence between the UK and the EU on food standards could have on the supply chain.

“We at Greencore are not really concerned about tariffs at all, our issue is the logistics and administration of getting fresh food in and out of the UK,” he said.

“If you end up with 50-mile tailbacks in Calais and corresponding tailbacks in Dover, it won’t really matter whether there is a 15pc or 20pc surcharge on lettuce and fruit and vegetables coming from southern Europe. It will all rot in containers, and there is no good answer to that at the moment.”

In relation to his company, Coveney outlined a specific set of challenges around staffing that have already come into effect as a result of the June 2016 vote. The company employs around 12,000 people in the UK, around 4,000 of which are EU nationals.

The food chief said that a “huge amount” of work had gone into the retention of staff after floods of people emigrated from the UK as they no longer “felt welcome”.

A heightened cost base around staffing will be one of the issues assessed by analysts in evaluating the food giant, according to Goodbody analyst Jason Molins.

“There are a number of players and companies that have found themselves in the same position as Greencore,” he said. “They have flagged that you either need to replace, or you need to put structures in place to get permits for a number of these workers and have them bypassed by the new stipulations that could be implemented.”

Coveney’s grim scenario of trucks bumper-to-bumper in France and the UK while the goods inside perish, was backed up by details of the new reality from Carol-Ann O’Keeffe, Revenue’s assistant principal officer in the corporate affairs and customs division.

She has warned that the inspection of goods as they are coming in and out of the country will now need to be conducted at the Border.

O’Keefe said that Revenue was preparing for the worst, and that it was ultimately putting in place precautions for a no-deal Brexit where the UK will plummet out of the Customs Union.

The looming changes have left Irish exporters facing significant challenges, but many of them have made progress in bringing forward plans to prepare for Brexit. Around 85pc of agrifood businesses here are actively moving to break into new markets, according to the most recent Brexit barometer from Bord Bia. The outlook among Irish firms has improved too, with just a quarter viewing Britain’s exit from the EU with pessimism.

Bord Bia has been telling its clients repeatedly to speak to their customers. Speaking to the Sunday Independent, chief executive Tara McCarthy said that companies have been told not to get “distracted” by the drama of Brexit.

“The companies that we have found in our research that haven’t been talking to their customers, they’re the guys that we’re really, really trying to get in contact with,” she said. “They have to engage with their journey or they will lose if they’re not prepared.”

McCarthy said that while larger companies such as Greencore may be able to absorb the cost of increased tariffs, smaller companies will need to build their financial resilience against the prospect of World Trade Organisation charges.

“The challenge for smaller companies is how to negotiate that, and that’s why financial resilience is absolutely core. Every retailer in the UK is becoming more and more aware of the tariffs that they will be exposed to but everyone who exports to the UK will be hit by those exact same tariffs,” she said.

“The big challenge is the time that will take to work itself through the system. Some companies from a working capital perspective were very, very close to the edge because of the volatility and that resilience wasn’t in there.”

Another risk posed to Irish businesses is the suspension of food controls in the UK after Brexit. Head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Tony Lewis warned that the British government was aware such a scenario could come into fruition. He said it would likely leave it open to “food fraud and criminality”.

In July, a report by UK think tank Food Research Collaboration warned that Britain would be forced to open its borders to food imports in the event of any delay in a Brexit deal. The same study also outlined potential plans by the EU to block exports from the UK due to its “cavalier” approach to safety standards in food and drink. The think tank said that it had been informed by a senior UK government adviser that the border controls needed to be suspended to prevent produce from going off at the nation’s ports.

McCarthy said that it was hard to see a situation where there were no food controls in the UK. She said that retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury’s will only buy produce from food producers that they trust.

“It is in nobody’s interest to undermine confidence in the supply chain by implying or by allowing there to be no checks,” she said.

“Big retailers in the UK that export Irish goods have their produce checked in Ireland and clearly we won’t be reducing our standards.”

McCarthy warned that it was “positively dangerous” to discuss a landscape with no controls as it could undermine the supply chain.

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Majority of Irish IT professionals do not trust social media

The majority of Irish IT professionals do not trust social media providers to manage their personal data carefully.

In addition, the survey of 111 IT decision makers found that 87pc of retailers, two thirds of Government bodies, 63pc of utility providers, and just over half of banks are all not to be trusted to protect their personal data.

The only group that is trusted by the majority (53pc) of professionals is their own employers.

“It is clear from the findings that when it comes to managing personal data, trust in most organisations is at an extremely low ebb and considerable work needs to be done to rebuild trust with users,” Dave Keating, security specialist, DataSolutions, said.

“With the frequency and volume of data breaches over the past several years, it is not difficult to explain the trust issues.”

The survey found that trust and reputation are important factors for both users and providers when it comes to the security of personal data.

Meanwhile reputational risk facing businesses was cited as the biggest motivating factor for investment in new cybersecurity infrastructure. Other motivating factors included the risk of an attack occurring, cited by one in four as a factor, and financial risk, which was cited by one in five.

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SMEs are not good at chasing tenders but help is at hand

Under 10pc of SMEs have managed to win a lucrative government contract and many don’t even bother to apply – but a new company is now there to lend a helping hand
Every morning when I check my phone, I am certain that there will be an email in my inbox from the e-tenders website. I subscribed years ago for the areas that my company is interested in which include consulting and training. I read the body of each mail and then typically delete it.

If one tender looks more appealing, I return to it eventually and click through to the e-tenders website to explore it further. And then, more often than not, I delete it anyway.

If that sounds familiar to you, then you’ve probably been as sceptical as me. But after meeting Tony Corrigan the founder of Tenderscout, pictured, I have changed my thinking.

SMEs and Tender Opportunities

“Here are four amazing statistics about government tenders. Less than 10pc of all Irish SMEs are recorded as having won a government contract. Only 10pc of Irish SMEs bother to enter in the first place. 25pc of all EU contracts only have one applicant. And 10pc of all tenders don’t even get one response,” said Tony.

This seems quite incredible to me, given that sales (with guaranteed payment) are a lifeline for any SME. In my conversations with SMEs over the years, I know there is a high level of cynicism and scepticism about the likelihood of actually winning a tender.

Many of us think that the entity has already made their mind up and is simply going through the motions.

Or we also think that they’ll go for the cheapest bid. “That’s simply not true,” Tony assures me.


The Pitfalls for SMEs Responding to Tenders

Here are the typical pitfalls SMEs fall into when responding:

Finding opportunities on a web portal. If the first you know about a tender is because you saw it on a website, then you’re on the back foot.

Assuming that you know how to compete. Most businesses think they can tender just because they can write a proposal. The evidence is that they lose 75pc to 90pc of the time.
Assuming that they know what they’re doing. It is not likely that a company whose core expertise is digital marketing is also an expert at government contracting.
Failing to qualify the opportunity. Most businesses compete in hope rather than expectation because they have no idea who the competitors are, what the buyer is looking for, what the budget is or whether in many cases they actually know what is required.
Spending too much in competing. Businesses continually spend too little competing for individual opportunities and as a result, end up spending too much overall. They continually reinvent a sub-standard wheel rather than focusing on getting it right the first time.
Assuming that the buyers knows what they want. Tenders exist because the buyer needs something, but they may not know exactly what that is. Buyers will often educate themselves through the process, so you always have a chance to influence the outcome.
Failing to learn from your experiences. All tenders are scored and tell you where you need to improve. Most businesses ignore this advice and keep repeating the same mistakes.
Change Tips for Responding to Tenders

1 Read the tender requirements: Make sure you qualify (turnover, etc). If you don’t, find a collaborator.

2 Qualify the opportunity: Who is the competition, what’s the budget, can we actually deliver? Can we make a profit?

3 Estimate the cost of competing: Decide how much effort it’s going to take to compile a response and who’s going to do it? There’s no point in half-doing it. Ensure you can still break even when counting the cost of competing.

4 Decide whether you need professional help: It may be cheaper than doing it yourself and will certainly give you a higher probability of success.

5 Give yourself enough time to do justice to your proposal: Finish it a week before it’s due in to give you a chance to read, edit, refine and improve it.

6 Submit the tender on time: The number one reason why tenders fail is because they are submitted late. Even a second late is too late and it will not be evaluated.

7 Regardless of the outcome, seek a face-to-face debrief: This is the start of your next sales cycle.

Last Word

Tony founded Tenderscout and has developed a software solution to support organisations in improving their chances of success. What the team don’t know about tenders is not worth knowing.

Imagine if you were doing an exam and someone let you see the answer before you sat for it? This is exactly what Tenderscout offers. Rather than having to start with a blank sheet of paper with each tender, Tenderscout can help in a number of ways. Either with a repository of prepared answers that you can ‘copy and paste’ or with consulting support.

Given all of the pitfalls outlined above, Tenderscout removes the stress and enable SMEs to compete and has a win rate of 70pc for its clients. My company will be signing up as a new customer.

I will endeavour to return to this topic in a few months to tell you how we got on

Alan O’Neill is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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Tax Institute boss hits out at Revenue ‘delays’ and ‘inconsistency’

THE new president of the Irish Tax Institute has lashed out at Revenue, saying businesses have been facing big delays in getting clarifications on important tax questions.

Marie Bradley said some businesses are waiting three to six months for answers on technical questions.

This, she said, leaves “many businesses in the dark about their decisions and the tax compliance consequences”.

“It stalls investment, creates uncertainty and ultimately stifles growth in the economy.”

Ms Bradley said businesses had also encountered cases where different departments within Revenue provided differing advice on aspects of tax law. Revenue said in response that it “endeavours to reply to complex technical queries within 20 working days”.

It said there a number of reasons why it can take longer to respond, including the complex nature of some queries or if further clarification is needed from the person who made the query.

“Also, instances where professionals are seeking technical confirmation on material they should be reasonably confident on can also put pressure on the system and slow down responses,” Revenue said.

It added that it “expects that tax professionals will have researched and analysed the issue themselves and only where the answer remains unclear, seek further guidance”. It said that a quality assurance programme is in place to ensure consistency and accuracy in opinions issued.

The Irish Tax Institute is a representative and educational body for chartered tax advisers.

Ms Bradley was speaking at the organisation’s annual general meeting yesterday.

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Central Bank orders fund managers to review fees

Regulators at the Central Bank have ordered managers of Irish-domiciled mutual funds to review fees charged to investors, after uncovering evidence of possible overcharging.

The Central Bank of Ireland’s Director General Financial Conduct, Derville Rowland, said the regulator is concerned that guidance on how fees are levelled is not being applied in a consistent and comprehensive manner across the industry, which, she said, could lead to the overpayment of performance fees.

That followed an inspection into undertakings for the collective investment of transferable securities (UCITS) performance fees. UCITS are structures used to manage and sell mutual funds.

Following inspections, the Central Bank said in some cases fees in such structures may be accrued as a result of market movements rather than due to the performance of the investment manager.

Where performance fees are based on the outperformance of an index, it was unclear as to which version of the index was being used in some cases, the Central Bank said.

As a result of the investigation, which looked a sample of funds, all fund management companies whose Irish UCITS charge performance fees are required to confirm to the Central Bank that they have carried out a review of the existing methodologies in order satisfy themselves that performance fees charged comply with the guidance.

The Central Bank said it will also commence supervisory engagement with the individual UCITS that were the subject of the review.

UCITS established in Ireland are authorised under common EU regulations.

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Thousands of families face huge inheritance tax bills as home values rise

Thousands of families are set to be hit with huge tax bills when they inherit homes and other assets this year.

And many are in for a shock, as half of people mistakenly believe their family home is exempt from inheritance tax.

It comes as Revenue figures show the money paid in inheritance tax has doubled since 2010, reflecting sharp rises in the value of homes.

Close to €500m is expected to be paid this year in what is often dubbed ‘death taxes’, accrued from older parents passing on homes, farms and businesses.

Strong rises in property values have left thousands vulnerable to large tax bills, but many do not realise they will have to pay Revenue when they inherit the homes.

A survey from Irish Life shows one in five of those over the age of 55 expects to leave more than €500,000 in inheritance to their families.

Half of those surveyed expect to leave more than €100,000, indicating there is a lot of money being passed between family members. The survey was carried out by Coyne Research on 1,000 adults.

The survey shows 84pc of people in Ireland don’t know the current inheritance tax rate, which could seriously affect inheritance for their family. Inertia is evident as less than half of people have made a will.

Irish Life protection manager Kate Connor said a huge amount of inheritance tax is expected to be paid this year, with rising property values putting more families into having to do so.

Reductions in the tax-free thresholds during the downturn, together with increases in the inheritance tax rate, have resulted in more people needing to take action now to plan ahead for the tax bills that their family could face.

The survey lays bare the wealth accumulated in middle Ireland.

Some 20pc of those over the age of 55 expect to leave more than €500,000 in inheritance. A quarter of over-65s expect to leave the same amount to their families.

But the survey shows the younger generation has far less. Only 7pc of those between the ages of 35 and 54 expect to leave more than €500,000 in inheritance to their families.

Almost half of people surveyed plan to leave more than €100,000.

The survey shows that there is a widespread lack of awareness of the levels of inheritance tax that may have to be paid by families in the coming years.

As well as most people being unaware of the current inheritance tax rate, two-thirds of people do not know what the different thresholds are.

The current tax-free allowance for children is now €310,000, significantly lower than the €542,000 threshold prior to the financial crisis.

Solicitor Susan Murphy of said there was a tendency for people to put off making a will, and also to fail to find out about inheritance tax.

“People like to put their head in the sand about such matters. Perhaps it’s an Irish thing. Quite a few times I’ve been told ‘Sure I’ll be dead and buried, it won’t matter to me’.”

Ms Connor of Irish Life advised families with assets to get professional legal, tax and financial advice to put a plan in place, including a will, to ensure an estate is taken care of in a tax-efficient way.

An option, she said, was a Section 72 life insurance plan, which is specifically designed to pay inheritance tax.

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Pfizer facing $100m Brexit bill as it grapples with no-deal fallout

European firms aren’t alone in their Brexit pain – Pfizer, the US-based drug behemoth, says its costs for dealing with the upcoming split will reach $100m (€86.4m).

The UK’s looming rupture with the EU threatens to slow goods at borders and force firms to duplicate regulatory efforts. Pfizer said its costs stem from transferring product testing and licences to other countries, changing clinical-trial procedures, and other preventive measures.

It is working “to meet EU legal requirements after the UK is no longer a member state, especially in the regulatory, manufacturing and supply-chain areas”, according to a filing last month where it cited the cost estimate.

Pfizer – which got about 2pc of its $53bn in 2017 revenue from the UK – highlights the pharmaceutical industry’s dilemma as it braces for a rocky, no-deal Brexit. Uncertainty has forced companies including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Pharma companies have long relied on their ability to move people and goods in and out of countries, and Britain’s departure could complicate many aspects. The UK Department of Health last month told drugmakers to build six-week stockpiles of their products in preparation for potential delays.

Much of the industry had already begun hoarding medicines or investing in new facilities to release drugs. AstraZeneca, which has committed to setting aside a three-month supply of its products, said it can’t raise inventories of one of its cancer drugs because its production facilities are already at full capacity.

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Manufacturing output hits seven month high

Manufacturing output has risen to a seven month high driven by sharp increases in output and new orders.

The headline PMI in August was 57.5, from 56.3 in July. Any reading over 50 is deemed growth.

New order growth quickened to the fastest in the year so far, with strong demand reported from both domestic and export markets, according to the latest Manufacturing Purchasers Managers Index (PMI) from specialist bank Investec.

The rate of expansion in new export orders was marked and the highest in three months with panellists citing the UK, the Eurozone and the Middle East as sources of new work.

As a result of the strong order-book growth, there were further increases in the backlogs of work, quantity of purchases, and employment indices. The current sequence of job creation in the manufacturing sector has now extended to 23 months.

However the index found that margins remain under some pressure, with input costs showing another sharp increase in August, although the latest increase was the slowest in ten months.

Panellists reported higher costs for a range of raw materials including metals and timber.

Although firms were able to defray at least a portion of this cost inflation by raising output prices, a seventh successive decline in the profitability index was recorded.
Looking forward the forward-looking future output index remains “very elevated” and reached a three-month high in August. Over 50pc of respondents expect a rise in production over the coming 12 months, while just 4pc anticipate a decline.

“With a positive economic backdrop both in Ireland and abroad, we think this optimism is well-founded,” Philip O’Sullivan, economist with Investec, said.

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