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Roundup-Ryanair in expansion mode

Tuesday, January 29 08:26:58

Ryanair posted a strong set of third-quarter figures yesterday on the back of a surge in pre-Christmas bookings.

An 8 per cent rise in average fares lifted the carrier's pretax profit to E18.1 million for the three months to December 31st, up 21 per cent on the same period last year.

Revenues rose by 15 per cent to E969 million as traffic grew 3 per cent to 17.3 million passengers. The airline said bookings from passengers in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia were "particularly robust".

The airline's better-than-expected numbers helped it absorb an E81 million hike in its fuel bill, due to rising oil prices.

The airline also raised its profit forecast to E540 million after tax for the year to March, which would represent a 7 per cent increase on last year.

"We saw strong demand out of the UK, out of Germany and out of Scandinavia and that has gone straight to our bottom line," chief operating officer Michael Cawley said. "We are still struggling to understand it, to be honest."

However, he acknowledged sales were not as buoyant in southern Europe, with Spain in particular "very weak" and fare growth in Italy flat.

New aircraft

Next year fares will continue to rise although capacity will likely only grow by 2-3 per cent in the financial year to March 2014, Mr Cawley said, down from the 4 per cent rise forecast in the current year, due to the lack of new aircraft deliveries.

He said the airline remained in "protracted negotiations" with Boeing about a large order. Excluding fuel, unit costs rose 4 per cent in the quarter due to increases in Italian air traffic control costs, Spanish airport charges and the strength of sterling versus the euro, the airline said.

Ryanair opened its 51st base in Maastricht in December and will open six more from April in Eindhoven, Krakow, Zadar in Croatia, Chania in Greece and Marrakech and Fez in Morocco. The Irish Times

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Iceland was within its rights not to repay billions of euro to the United Kingdom and Dutch governments, who were forced to compensate depositors after an Icelandic bank collapsed at the height of the global financial crisis, a court has ruled.

The decision was taken by the court of the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which ruled that Iceland had not broken depositor protection laws by refusing to compensate people who had invested in Landsbanki's Icesave online banking accounts.

Following Landsbanki's failure, the then British chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, used legislation drafted to combat terrorist organisations to freeze Icelandic assets - a decision that sours relations to this day.

The president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused a proposed deal and a referendum was held. The 350,000-strong population voted strongly in favour of rejecting the government's concessions. The Irish Times

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The Government expects to sell Irish Life to a Canadian firm before the end of February, as negotiations on the deal accelerate.

Speaking yesterday, Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes said he believed a deal to sell the pensions and assurance business to the Canadian firm Great West - which owns Canada Life - could be completed "within the next month".

"Those negotiations are ongoing but we hope to bring them to a conclusion in the coming weeks," he said.

When pressed for a specific timeframe, he added it would be "within the next month".

Mr Hayes's comments are the first time a government representative has given a concrete timeframe for when it expects the sale to go through. On Sunday, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he expected a deal "in the coming weeks".

Getting Irish Life back in private hands is considered a key test of international confidence in Ireland.

The State paid Permanent TSB E1.3bn for Irish Life in November 2011 after a deal to sell the company to Canada Life fell through at the 11th hour as the euro crisis worsened.

The Government's decision to nationalise the country's largest pension company worried troika officials at the time. They were already concerned about the State's dominance within the financial services sector.

Since then the immediate future of the euro has become less of a concern and international markets have been relatively calm, raising hopes that Irish Life could leave state ownership sooner rather than later. The Irish Independent

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THE European Commission's latest review of Ireland's bailout has nothing more in it than the draft version leaked earlier this month.

The hard-hitting review assesses a wide range of topics, including doctors' wages, the Croke Park Agreement and the impact of the new Personal Insolvency Bill.

After visiting Dublin in October, commission officials highlighted that the economy faced several risks, despite returning investor confidence.

It warned of slower-than-expected growth, the difficulty for the Government in maintaining broad-based political support for tough budgetary choices and that lending to small and medium businesses may not materialise unless banks deal with their bad debts.

Key points from the eighth review include:

2013 growth has been revised downward to 1.1pc from 1.4pc.

The cost of drugs tripled from 2000 to 2008.

Irish doctors are among the best paid in Europe and wages must be tackled.

The new personal insolvency laws may favour more highly indebted mortgage holders over those with average borrowings.

More needs to be done to help struggling small and medium enterprises.

Banks may need more money unless the mortgage-arrears problem is dealt with.

Banks may need more capital if growth continues to fall.

Job policies need to be significantly strengthened to avoid the unemployed remaining out of work for too long. The Irish Independent

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