Dalton Philips

Cheering NCB message

At the end of another dreadful year for the economy, NCB Stockbrokers has tried to end it on a positive note. Its chief executive Conor O'Kelly sent a Christmas greeting to the firm's clients last week urging them to focus on the economy's good points.

"In the midst of all the doom and gloom, there are reasons to be optimistic. Our international competitiveness has improved significantly, led by a 13% reduction in costs across the private sector. Encouragingly, our export performance remains strong and our savings rate is high. The population is still relatively young and well educated. Our GDP and government revenue may be back to 2004 levels but our costs are also heading in that direction," O'Kelly wrote. "The long journey back to financial independence has already begun."

2010 was also a bad year for stockbrokers given the dearth of advisory work and the further decline in the Irish market. Profits at NCB plunged to just €66,000 in 2009 (a drop of more than 90%) and it's unlikely things were much better this year. Despite the optimism expressed by O'Kelly, 2011 could be just as bad for the stockbroking community.

Central Bank leaks

Wikileaks has provided some interesting insights into the views of staff members of the Central Bank in the middle of the banking crisis in late 2008. One of the US embassy's staff in Dublin met with officials from Dame Street in October just after the blanket deposit guarantee.

"One official said that the regulator had been carefully watching the banking sector as the months'-long credit contraction unfolded. Explaining the seemingly sudden pressure on Irish banks last week, the official said a 'perfect storm' of external events related to the credit crisis had dried up the traditional sources of financing for Irish financial institutions."

Another official is quoted in a leaked cable as saying the level of impaired assets in the system stood at between 0.5% and 0.8% of the total loans.

"When pressed, the official said the media had exaggerated the level of problem assets and those that existed could be managed."

FIFA action

Dalton Philips, the Irishman who heads UK supermarket group Morrisons, isn't taking the decision by Fifa not to award the 2018 World Cup to England too well.

Morrisons was one of the major sponsors of the England bid and spent quite a lot of money on the project. Last week, he threatened to sue Fifa and wants the football governing body to make a €1.3m donation to charity.

"The investment that the FA bid team, and Morrison as a sponsor, made in good faith was in an unfair process," Philips said in a letter to Fifa supremo Sepp Blatter.

Just in case Blatter didn't get how serious Morrisons was about the issue, the company has instructed lawyers in Switzerland to find out whether it is possible to sue the organisation.