'Don't mention the war' – private understanding hard border is increasingly likely, Martin claims

There is a “private understanding” that a “hard border” in Ireland is increasingly likely – but the Government refuses to tell the public, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told the Dáil.

Mr Martin said Government was increasingly like the old episode of the classic television comedy “Fawlty Towers” which was entitled “Don’t Mention the War.”

The Fianna Fáil leader was referring to Irish Independent reports of a conversation between the Transport Minister, Shane Ross, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney.

In a joint press briefing, Mr Ross had said it was likely that border checks would be needed for goods if a no-deal Brexit happened.  Mr Coveney had then publicly intervened to correct that saying there were no plans for checks.

Then, in a follow-up conversation caught on tape,  Mr Ross admitted that he did not know what to say.  And Mr Coveney admitted there was a likelihood of checks, though it was not clear where they would happen.

But the Tánaiste also warned that they did not want to become the Government responsible for the re-introduction of border checks in Ireland.

The Fianna Fáil leader said the episode revealed that there was now “a private understanding” that border checks were increasingly inevitable.

“But at all costs, that private understanding is that that knowledge should not be shared with the public,” Mr Martin said.

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said the Government regretted the heavy defeat for Mrs May’s proposal in the London parliament on Tuesday night.  He insisted there will be no return of a hard border – but the only way this could happen would be for Northern Ireland to keep within the EU customs territory, and also maintain EU product standards.

Mr Varadkar rejected Mr Martin’s suggestion of serious budgetary fallout in the event of a no-deal Brexit on March 29.  He said the ESRI and other experts had predicted that Ireland’s economy would “go into reverse” but reduced economic growth would continue and there would be no recession.

Replying to Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, he repeated his determination that there would be no return of a hard border.

This comes after the Taoiseach warned that the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is through a deal on customs and regulations but has again insisted that no preparations are being made for border infrastructure.

Speaking for the first time since last night’s meaningful vote in the House of Commons which resulted in a humiliating defeat for British Prime Minister, Theresa May, Mr Varadkar said:

“The only way that we can avoid a harder border in the longer term is to have an agreement on customs and regulation and that’s what’s needed and that’s what we have in the withdrawal agreement and the backstop. That’s why it’s so important that we get it ratified and that’s why we have put so much work into it,” he said.

But he insisted: “The preparations for checks are being made at the ports and airports but no preparations are being made for checks on the land border.”

He reiterated his stance that  a border cannot be avoided by simply discussing the desire not to have one.

It was put to the Taoiseach that in the event of a no deal there would be a hard border and he replied:

“We are going to do everything we can to avoid a no deal scenario and we’re not going beyond that at this stage. Obviously we’ll make the preparations that are necessary but we’re going to intensify our efforts over the next couple of weeks to make sure that we have a deal ratified.”

Read More: Border checks on trade to follow no-deal Brexit – Coveney and Ross in private conversation caught on tape

He also warned that a no deal Brexit will not protect the peace in Northern Ireland.

“A no deal scenario would have a deeply negative impact on jobs and the economy, particularly on agrifood and the traded sector – our farmers, our fishermen, our rural economy and our businessmen and women. A no deal scenario would not protect the peace in Northern Ireland. We will work hard to avoid it,” he said.

Preparations for a crash out scenario are no longer contingency plans but are now being implemented by the government, the Taoiseach said.

More to follow…

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Snap shares hit by second CFO exit in a year

(Reuters) – Shares of Snap Inc fell 9 percent in early trading on Wednesday after Tim Stone became the second finance chief to leave the Snapchat operator in a year since a much-criticized redesign.

Stone joined the owner of Snapchat last May after spending two decades with Amazon.com Inc, replacing Andrew Vollero, who was responsible for taking Snap public in 2017.

Several Wall Street analysts termed Stone’s departure “materially negative”, arguing the loss of an experienced industry hand would make it tougher for the company to hire and retain top executives.

The social media firm has seen a string of top-level executives depart in the past year as it faced a steady decline in users and tough competition from Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

“We believe that (Stone’s) departure will be a big negative on the company and hamper its execution and ability to compete in the marketplace,” Summit Insights Group analyst Jonathan Kees wrote.

“He added credibility to the senior management team which has been experience light,” Kees added.

Led by 28-year-old Chief Executive Evan Spiegel, Snap has lost more than 65 percent of its value since it was launched on the New York Stock Exchange almost two years ago.

Only three Wall Street analysts currently recommend buying Snap, while 10 recommend selling, and 24 have neutral ratings, according to Refinitiv data.

RBC Capital Markets analysts cut the stock to “sector perform” from “outperform” on Wednesday, while Summit Insights Group lowered its price target by 17 percent to $5.

Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan and Stuart Bowers, vice president of monetization engineering, have also left the company in the past year.

News website Cheddar reported here separately on Tuesday that Snap’s vice president of investor relations, Kristin Southey, also quietly left in late November less than four months into the job.

Snap did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Airbus spends $300 million on new Alabama plant for A220 jet

MOBILE, Al. (Reuters) – Airbus expanded its industrial presence in the United States on Wednesday, preparing to breaking ground on a new assembly plant for the A220, 18 months after agreeing to buy the Canadian jetliner in the midst of a U.S.-Ottawa trade row.

The European planemaker said it would invest $300 million and create 400 jobs in the new facility, to be built in the port city of Mobile alongside an existing assembly line for its best-selling A320 passenger jet, which already employs 700 people.

It said Alabama would provide an unspecified amount in state incentives to support the development.

Airbus plans to use the site to assemble the 110-130-seat A220 for U.S. airlines, who have ordered some 250 of the planes including 135 since Airbus took control last July.

Airbus’s decision to place some output in the United States was initially seen as a trade boost for Canada after Boeing accused its developer Bombardier of dumping the foreign-made jet at low-ball prices to win a deal with Delta Air Lines.

Although Boeing ultimately lost its trade case, Airbus said it still made sense to serve U.S. demand from the Alabama site.

“The United States is one of the largest markets for us and this is our largest industrial base in the U.S. We have the skills and employees and it is the logical thing to do,” Knittel said.

Airbus plans to build 4 A220s a month in Alabama with the first jet to be delivered in 2020. The Montreal base where the aircraft was developed is running at some 2.75 A220 jets a month with plans to raise capacity to 10 a month by the mid-2020s.

The Alabama production line for the larger A320, which opened in 2015, produces 4.5 aircraft a month and this could rise to 5 a month by the end of the year, Knittel said.

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'We're no shrinking violets'- IFA exec, despite survey showing Irish female farm managers among lowest in EU – FarmIreland.ie

Ireland has one of the lowest percentages of female farm managers, a new EU survey has revealed, but dairy farmer Imelda Walsh believes that “women aren’t shrinking violets” and the tide is turning.

According to a new Eurostat survey, in 2016, seven in every ten (72 pc) farm managers on the 10.5 million holdings in the European Union (EU) were male, while 28pc were female.

Ireland ranked 24th out of the 28 countries for the number of female farm managers, with only 11pc of farm managers categorized as female.

IFA North Tipperary Chair Imelda Walsh, who runs a dairy farm with her husband Tom in Ballywilliam told FarmIreland that the figures were not a surprise but said that there are no barriers to women entering farming.

“There’s nothing stopping women from getting involved in farming. We’re not shrinking violets and we are we well able to put ourselves forward for doing something when we want to,” she said.

“I’ve never believed that there were barriers. Since I was elected last year to the IFA I have travelled the length and breadth of the country and can talk to farmers about everything and the subject matter is never about the height of my heels.”

Ms Walsh feels that more focus needs to be placed on encouraging young people of all genders to help close the labour shortage that is currently gripping Irish farming.

“Irrespective of gender the amount of young people staying farming is greatly concerning. There’s huge pressure on the livestock sector to encourage young people to stay in the sector,” she pointed out.

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Firefighters were called to a farm in Co Tyrone to rescue three cows from a slurry pit.

“This is part of a bigger story of labour issues on farm, especially on livestock farms where they are fighting for survival.”

Ms Walsh added that women often work off-farm and their income supports the farm and that sometimes isn’t recognised.

“In the past men would have traditionally got the herd number but things are changing and there is greater female participation. Women often work off farm and their income is keeping farms afloat. Their income is a real lifeline to the farm.”

According to the survey, the EU countries with the highest proportions of female farm managers in 2016 were Latvia and Lithuania (both 45pc), followed by Romania (34pc) and Estonia (33pc).

In contrast, there were four Member States where the proportion of farm managers who were female was at or below 10pc: The Netherlands (5pc), Malta (6pc), Denmark (8 pc) and Germany (10pc).

In terms of age, the majority (58pc) of farm managers were aged 55 years or more. Only about one in every ten (11pc) farm managers was under the age of 40 years and this share was even lower among female farmers (9pc).

A EU survey last year revealed that Ireland had one of the lowest levels of female farmers in the region with 11.6pc female farmers.

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Ireland’s Iseq rises on opening

Ireland’s Iseq Overall Index opened 0.67pc higher this morning at 5,678.15, as the markets react to the UK Parliament’s rejection of the Brexit deal agreed by the prime minister with the EU.

The Iseq was up .57pc at 5,672.35 at 08:47 GMT.

Britain’s blue chip stocks were lower in early deals as the stronger pound pushed multinationals lower and weak results from Pearson weighed.

The top share index was down 0.1pc at 08:48 GMT, lagging European peers as the sterling hit its highest since November, a day after British lawmakers overwhelmingly defeated May’s Brexit divorce deal.

The prime minister’s historic loss was seen as reducing the chance of a hard Brexit even as uncertainty ahead of a no confidence vote in May’s government on Wednesday evening kept trading muted.

Consumer staples which earn their revenue abroad in foreign currency accounted for the biggest drop, with oil and gas down 0.5pc. Blue-chip stocks generate 70pc of their income overseas.

The domestically focused midcaps, which make half of their income at home, were up 0.4pc.

A hard exit is “a lower probability risk than it was, but I don’t think we can completely discount it. The market isn’t completely discounting it,” said Caroline Simmons, deputy head of the UK investment office of UBS Global Wealth Management.

Housebuilders, seen to be most at risk from a weaker UK economy amid Brexit uncertainty, led the gainers after Bovis Homes forecast better-than-expected full year profits.

Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt and Berkeley Group were all up between 2.2 and 2.5pc. Midcap Bovis was up 3.6pc.

“The potential for a softer Brexit outcome may neutralise any negative impact of higher uncertainty and the vote of no confidence,” said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg.

In corporate moves, Pearson topped the fallers after its full-year outlook. The company’s forecast for full-year profits was in line with expectations, but pointed to weaker-than-expected revenues.

Liberum analysts said the guidance was possible only due to a massive savings drive.

Investors shunned Reckitt Benckiser after it announced its chairman was retiring after more than 30 years at the firm. He is considered an architect of the company’s push to become a global consumer health products company.

(Additional reporting Reuters)

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Grab launches free prolonged medical leave insurance scheme for its private-hire drivers

SINGAPORE – Ride-hailing platform Grab launched on Wednesday (Jan 16) a free medical leave insurance scheme for drivers who frequently use its service, in a move to protect them against a loss of earnings.

Mr Andrew Chan, Grab Singapore’s transport head, said the company has rolled out the scheme in a move to “push the boundaries in offering even more comprehensive support and benefits” for private-hire drivers on its platform.

“Drivers’ earnings is something we recognise as core to their livelihoods and families,” he added.

Currently, Grab offers a range of benefits, from fuel discounts to scholarship and bursaries, for drivers’ children.

The new scheme comes on the back of recommendations made by a tripartite work group on self-employed persons that the Government accepted in February last year.

It covers “the majority of Grab driver-partners for free”, a spokesman for Grab said, without providing specific figures on its fleet size.

Payouts are determined by how often private-hire drivers use Grab, their earnings and the duration of their medical or hospitalisation leave.

To qualify for the coverage, private-hire drivers had to have earned at least $1,214 through Grab, excluding the cash incentives that the company provides.

The scheme covers medical leave from the sixth day onwards, to a maximum of 14 days, and hospitalisation leave from the second day onwards, to a maximum of 60 days.

Drivers will be reimbursed between 50 and 85 per cent of their average daily earnings, within a range between $30 and $200.

Calculations are done based on their earnings from Grab for the past 90 days before they fell sick or injured themselves.

According to Grab’s website, the payout will take about 10 days after Chubb Insurance received the claim forms, if no additional documents are required.

Drivers who are not covered can sign up for another insurance scheme that the company will launch soon, the Grab spokesman said.

Mr Cedric Lim, a private hire driver on Grab’s platform, suggested that the insurance coverage will be more helpful if the duration for medical leave could be shortened to fewer than six days. 
Rent, which costs $125 a day, is his primary worry.

Mr Lim, 28, who drives a Mercedes E-class for Grab’s higher-end service, said: “When I’m sick, I’m concerned if my rental could be paid or not, not about my earnings for that day.”

A spokesman for its competitor, Gojek, said the company is “close to finalising partnerships with a number of… companies – including insurance and healthcare providers – to offer a comprehensive suite of welfare benefits for all of our driver-partners”.

More details will be released soon, he added.

A Deliveroo spokesman said its riders currently have accident insurance, which the food delivery service rolled out in May last year.

“Deliveroo would like to go further… and offer riders more benefits, but runs the risk of courts reclassifying riders’ employment status, which could reduce riders’ ability to work flexibly,” he added.

“Deliveroo is campaigning for a change in the law so that riders can have both flexibility and security.” 

Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive adviser at the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said  “the move is a step in the right direction”. 

The association has been in “close consultation with Grab”, he added. 

“We hope more can be done so that eventually, all drivers can be protected with the (prolonged medical leave) insurance,” he said.

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Sears chairman's takeover proposal faces moment of truth

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Negotiations between Sears Holdings Corp (SHLDQ.PK) Chairman Eddie Lampert and the bankrupt U.S. department store operator approached a resolution late on Tuesday as the billionaire hedge fund manager faced the choice of improving his $5 billion offer for the company or ending his takeover plans, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

After two days of haggling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain set a Wednesday deadline to complete the bankruptcy auction for the 126-year-old retailer, the people said. Sears was weighing Lampert’s offer against the sum it would recoup by winding down its business and selling its assets off in pieces.

Liquidating Sears would end the department store in its current form, meaning layoffs for as many as 68,000 people and the closure of about 500 stores.

Last week Lampert, through his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc, made an improved $5 billion offer for Sears after the company turned away his earlier $4.4 billion bid.

But the same issues that dogged his earlier offer were proving to be hurdles for his $5 billion proposal.

Sears believes the bid falls short of covering the bills the retailer has racked up since filing for bankruptcy protection in October, the people said. A bedrock principle of bankruptcy cases is that those expenses, known as administrative claims, must be fully repaid.

Sears is also pushing Lampert to offer more money in exchange for a legal release that would shield him from future litigation over transactions he did with the company in the past, the people added. Lampert has said the deals were proper.

Lampert’s $5 billion offer had taken on another $600 million-plus in liabilities, and marked $35 million for a so-called release from litigation.

Sears declined to comment.

The bankruptcy auction for Sears began on Monday morning in Manhattan at the offices of law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which is representing the retailer. On Tuesday, representatives for Sears and Lampert briefed Drain on the status of the auction, the people said.

Drain pressed both Lampert and the company to continue negotiating and to end their discussions one way or the other before Tuesday comes to a close, the people said.

Sears last week made liquidation preparations before reaching a last-minute deal with Lampert that resulted in his latest bid, leading to the auction that commenced on Monday.

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Medical inflation sees Galway Clinic profits fall 44.5pc

MEDICAL inflation and lower reimbursement rates from insurers contributed to pre-tax profits at the Galway Clinic in 2017 decreasing by 44.5pc to €5.15m.

New accounts filed show that Galway Clinic Doughiska Ltd recorded the sharp drop in pre-tax profits from €9.29m to €5.15m as revenues declined marginally – from €90.93m to €90.65m. The clinic is part-owned by businessman Larry Goodman.

The directors state that medical inflation is eroding the private hospital’s profitability as reimbursement rates from the private health insurers fail to keep pace with medical inflation.

On the risks facing the business, the directors state that medical indemnity insurance costs are increasing significantly and that this is another impediment to attracting leading physicians into the country.

The directors point out that the shareholders have not taken a dividend from the business. At the end of December 2017, the clinic had accumulated profits of €91m. The firm’s cash increased from €19.4m to €22.89m.

In 2017, the clinic spent and committed €6m in capital works compared to €12m in 2016. Numbers employed at the Galway Clinic in 2017 increased from 633 to 648 with staff costs increasing from €32.3m to €34.6m. The pay costs include €719,709 in agency and temporary staff. The clinic’s profits in 2017 take account of non-cash depreciation and amortisation costs of €9m.

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Oil rises 2 percent on supply cuts but global slowdown looms

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose around 2 percent on Tuesday amid production cuts by OPEC and Russia as well as signs of lower U.S. oil stocks, but grim Chinese economic data raised fears for global growth.

Brent LCOc1 was up $1.13 or 1.92 percent at $60.12 per barrel by 1410 GMT.

U.S. crude CLc1 was up $1.07 or 2.12 percent at $51.58.

“OPEC-led cuts and declining U.S. rig counts have bolstered market sentiment in the new year,” Singapore-based brokerage Phillip Futures said.

The Middle East-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers including Russia agreed in late 2018 to cut supply starting this month, seeking to rein in a global glut.

The bloc and its allies set a meeting for March 17-18 to monitor implementation of their pact, sources told Reuters, and another on April 17-18 on whether to extend cuts beyond the agreed six months.

Further help has come from data showing the number of U.S. rigs looking for new oil dipped slightly to 873 in early 2019, and a Reuters poll on Monday found that U.S. crude oil stockpiles were likely to have fallen last week.

The rig data could signal a slowing of the swift rise in output from the United States, which became the world’s top oil producer in 2018. C-OUT-T-EIA.

But analysts said a price recovery may be short-lived, as a darkening economic outlook could dampen growth in fuel demand.

“Any price rally is unlikely to be sustainable in the first half of the year simply because the demand for OPEC’s oil is expected to be lower than the projected output from the organization,” PVM Oil Associates strategist Tamas Varga said.

Crude prices fell more than 2 percent on Monday after data showed weakening imports and exports in China, raising new worries about a global slowdown.

(GRAPHICS: U.S. oil production, drilling & storage levels – tmsnrt.rs/2GVNTmb)

But China’s National Development and Reform Commission offered some support on Tuesday, signaling it might roll out more fiscal stimulus.

Such positive signals and hopes for renewed U.S.-China talks to resolve trade tensions have boosted world stock markets and oil prices, but fears about global growth weigh heavily.

“It would seem that the market is having a rather hard time making up its mind as to which story to believe in,” consultancy JBC Energy said.

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Stocks rise on hopes for China stimulus; euro slips on data

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Major world stock markets climbed on Tuesday, helped by hopes of more stimulus for China’s economy, while the euro declined against the U.S. dollar following weak German economic data.

Stocks in Shanghai .CSI300 and Hong Kong .HSI surged almost 2 percent after U.S. President Trump talked up chances of a China trade deal and Chinese officials then came out in force hinting at more stimulus for their slowing economy.

That came a day after data on Monday showed China’s exports unexpectedly fell the most in two years in December, while imports also contracted sharply.

“China feels some pressure to at least keep the negotiations going and that could be enough for now, for markets to have an idea that some deal is possible, perhaps in a couple of months, not anytime soon,” said Jeroen Blokland, portfolio manager for multi-asset strategies at Robeco in Rotterdam.

On Wall Street, a nearly 7 percent gain in shares of Netflix (NFLX.O), which said it was raising rates for its U.S. subscribers, helped boost stocks, while JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N)’s shares were near flat despite reporting a lower-than-expected rise in quarterly profit and revenue, hurt by weakness in bond trading.

U.S. stocks slightly pared gains after Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer did not see much progress made on structural issues during trade talks with China last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 119.24 points, or 0.5 percent, to 24,029.08, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 24.65 points, or 0.95 percent, to 2,607.26 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 111.25 points, or 1.61 percent, to 7,017.16.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.35 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe .MIWD00000PUS gained 0.68 percent.

Germany reported its weakest growth in five years, causing the euro to decline against the dollar.

The euro EUR= was last down 0.71 percent, at $1.1393, while Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 added 0.47 percent, to 1,373.38.

Sterling slipped ahead of a parliamentary vote on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It GBP= was last trading at $1.2719, down 1.12 percent on the day.

Worries about Britain leaving the EU at the end of March without some kind of transition deal appear to have eased, but with Prime Minister Theresa May potentially facing the biggest defeat for a government plan in 95 years, uncertainty still dominates.

May’s hopes of keeping her plan alive will hinge on the scale of her expected loss in the vote. Avoiding a heavy defeat could give her the chance to ask Brussels for more concessions before trying to get the plan through parliament in another vote.

But a humiliating outcome could pressure May to delay Britain’s scheduled March 29 EU departure and potentially open up other options, ranging from a second referendum, to a dangerous no-deal path or a general election.

In commodities, oil prices rebounded on supply cuts by producer club OPEC and Russia.

Brent crude LCOc1 was last up $1.53, or up 2.59 percent, at $60.52 a barrel. U.S. crude CLc1 was last up $1.52, or up 3.01 percent, at $52.03 per barrel.

U.S. Treasury yields were mostly little changed amid negative external factors such as weak European data and concerns over the Brexit deal. Benchmark 10-year notes US10YT=RR last fell 1/32 in price to yield 2.7112 percent, from 2.71 percent late on Monday.

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