News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 17th September 2013

Ireland central bank sets lenders tougher debt targets

    

* One infive homeowners unable to repay loans

* Banks must reach agreements with more distressed borrowers

Ireland’s central bank and bailout lenders set the country’s lenders tougher targets on Tuesday to solve a mortgage arrears crisis that has left one in five of all Irish homeowners unable to repay their loans.

Ireland took an 85 billion euro ($114 billion) bailout in 2010 after rescuing its banks, whose easy lending had fuelled a credit bubble, and the central bank has been pressing lenders to get to grips with mortgage arrears.

It has agreed with Ireland’s “troika” of international lenders (pic above) – the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – to require banks to conclude agreements with 15 percent of customers with mortgage arrears over 90 days by the end of this year.

That compares with a previous target of only offering solutions to 50 percent of distressed borrowers by the end of 2013.

“Furthermore, the central bank is now setting expectations for end-March 2014 for sustainable solutions offered to customers to reach 70 percent of over 90-day arrears and for concluded solutions to reach 25 percent,” the central bank said in a statement. ()

The central bank says mortgage arrears is the main domestic policy issue, with home loans worth 25 billion euros not being fully repaid.

Lawmakers said this month that the largest banks have relied too heavily on threatening legal action against mortgage borrowers rather than agreeing debt restructurings.

John Bruton warns against over-regulation with Irish banks

 

The President of the Irish Financial Services Centre and former Taoiseach John Bruton, says Ireland should seek to become a centre of excellence in compliance

Ireland should seek to become a centre of excellence in compliance and risk management for financial services companies, John Bruton, president of IFSC Ireland told a banking conference in Dublin today.

“Compliance is an increasingly costly activity for banks,” the former Taoiseach told the annual conference of the Federation of International Banks in Ireland.

“Those involved in it are well paid. Complex regulation is an inherently expensive business. But for Ireland it can be an opportunity.

“Just as Ireland has become a centre of excellence in the fields of aircraft leasing and fund administration in the past, we should seek to become a centre of excellence in compliance and risk management in the future.

The IDA and our universities are already putting funds behind R&D in finance and this is a basis to build on.”

Mr Bruton said other opportunities exist to increase activity in the IFSC here, including clearing and settlement, collateral and risk management, and green and Islamic finance.

“The recent decision, contained in the recent Central Bank Act, to allow non-EU banks to open branches here is a major opportunity. Some banks, now operating in the UK in high cost locations, may be able to relocate activities on a branch basis in Ireland,” he added.

Mr Bruton warned against over regulation in financial services although he said it might benefit Ireland.

He cited a recent study on banking by McKinsey that estimated that, if all the regulations currently in the pipeline were now in force, it would reduce the return on equity on European banks from 10 per cent to 6 per cent.

“This is a non-trivial issue for the Irish taxpayer who has, albeit reluctantly, acquired a disproportionately large equity holding in banks, and needs a return on that equity to meet basic services.

“On the other hand, the increased compliance cost may force financial institutions to look for the most cost effective locations in which to undertake this high-cost activity and this may be an opportunity for Ireland.”

Eamonn Tuohy, chairman of FIBI, said that from a recentsurvey of its members, one-third of respondents expect to hire more staff this year. This follows an 8 per cent increase in employment in the sector in Dublin in 2012.

However, he said the collapse of our domestic banking sector since 2008 continues to weigh on Ireland’s reputation as a financial services location while there are also concerns about our “capacity to attract very high calibre people to locate here” due to “comparatively high rates of personal tax”.

Mr Tuohy said Ireland also needs to streamline its regulation of the financial sector.

This would include shortening the lead time to securing decisions from the regulator, streamlining the fitness and probity tests, getting greater clarity from the regulator about what kinds of activity are likely to be acceptable or unacceptable, and improved retention of staff at the Central Bank with the necessary experience and skills.

Crucial for Government to keep 9% VAT rate for restaurants in Irish Budget

  

Adrian Cummins said that tourism employment had risen by 9,000 since the 9% VAT rate was reduced in 2011

The Restaurants Association of Ireland has said retention of the lower 9% VAT rate for the tourism industry in the Budget is crucial for the survival of restaurants nationwide.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs Enterprise and Innovation, the chief executive of the Restaurant Association said the restaurant industry employs 64,000 people.

This accounts for a quarter of tourism jobs, while the sector also contributes €2 billion to the Irish economy each year.

Adrian Cummins said that tourism employment had risen by 9,000 since the VAT rate was reduced in 2011, adding that retention of the lower rate would keep Ireland competitive as a tourist destination and sustain jobs in local communities.

He warned that tourism is one of the only industries creating employment in every corner of the country – and that if the 9% VAT rate is increased, jobs will be lost.

The Committee was told that Irish restaurant owners pay the highest catering wage rate in Europe, and that Ireland has the highest excuse duty on wines in Europe. He also noted that Irish food cost inputs are 18% above the European average.

Mr Cummins said that a fall in disposable income due to the recession was having a disproportionate effect on the sector.

He said there was now a three speed economy for restaurants – Dublin city centre restaurants are doing well, and are even seeing new openings; establishments in urban areas around the country are busy, but only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights while outside urban areas, restaurants and cafes are on life support. He stressed that the 9% VAT rate was their lifeline.

He also criticised the price of food, excise duty increases, rates, and regulatory burdens and called for ”helpful” PRSI measures to be retained.

Better diet and less stress can reverse ageing body cells

 

Lifestyle changes were found to have had positive impact after five years

Yoga was one of the stress-reducing activities found to reverse ageing at the cellular level

  The fountain of youth may simply be a healthy diet and reduced stress like practicing Yoga after all, not a magic pill or expensive cosmetics.

Comprehensive lifestyle changes, including more fruit and vegetables as well as meditation and yoga, were shown to reverse signs of ageing at the cellular level for the first time in a study published today.

Adopting a diet rich in unprocessed foods combined with moderate exercise and stress management over five years increased the length of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes linked to ageing, according to a study of 35 men published in the Lancet medical journal. No previous study has shown the effect of lifestyle changes on telomere length, the authors said.

The research, led by Prof Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, adds to evidence of the benefits of healthy habits.

“So often, people think it has to be a new drug or laser, something really high-tech and expensive, to be powerful,” said Prof Ornish. “Our studies are showing that simple changes in our lifestyle have powerful impacts in ways that we can measure.”

Prof Ornish collaborated on the study with Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2009 with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for research on the telomerase “immortality enzyme,” which prevents telomeres from being shaved off.

He was inspired by Blackburn’s research showing that the shortening of telomeres, and therefore ageing, is accelerated by emotional stress such as that experienced by women who have parents with Alzheimer’s disease or children with autism.

The study included 35 men with low-risk prostate cancer enrolled between 2003 and 2007. Ten men adopted the lifestyle changes, while 25 underwent active surveillance as a control group.

The diet encouraged in the lifestyle change group was largely a whole foods, plant-based regimen of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with few refined carbohydrates, Ornish said. It wasn’t strictly vegetarian or vegan.

“Most people want to feel free, and as soon as you tell someone, don’t ever eat this, always eat that, that’s hard to sustain,” Ornish said. “If you indulge yourself one day, just eat healthier the next.”

In addition to changes in diet, the program included 30 minutes of walking six days a week; 60 minutes of daily stress management, mostly in the form of yoga and meditation; and a 60- minute support group session once a week.

Telomere length increased among the men in the lifestyle intervention group and decreased in the control group. As telomeres become shorter, cells age and die more quickly. The study authors said they are “rather like the tips of shoelaces that keep them from fraying.”

The study is limited by the small size and by the fact that it wasn’t randomised, which increases the possibility of unknown sources of bias, the authors said. The results suggest larger randomised studies in different populations would be useful, they said.

High Blood Pressure recorded with children should not be ignored

        

Children who record even one high blood pressure reading are significantly more likely to go on to develop high blood pressure in adulthood, new research has found.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major cause of heart attack and stroke. However, it rarely carries any signs or symptoms. In fact, a person can look and feel well even if they have it.

The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked by a health professional, such as a GP or pharmacist.

US scientists followed the progress of 1,117 teenagers over almost three decades. When the participants were younger, blood pressure readings were taken by either doctors or school nurses.

After taking into account factors that could influence the results, such as gender and weight, the scientists from Indiana University School of Medicine found a direct link between blood pressure readings in childhood and the condition in adulthood.

The study found that among children who did not display high blood pressure readings, just over 8% went on to develop high blood pressure as adults.

However, among those who had one high blood pressure reading as a child, this rate rose to 18%. Furthermore, among those who had two or more high readings during childhood, the rate rose to 35%.

According to the scientists, these findings suggest that even occasional jumps in blood pressure during childhood should not be ignored as they could signal problems later on.

“This study highlights the need for paediatricians to regularly check blood pressure and weight. An occasional increase in blood pressure does not justify treatment, but it does justify following these children more carefully,” they said.

Details of these findings were presented at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2013.

Life on Earth may have come from comet explosion’s  “scientists tell us”

  

Comets contain elements such as water, ammonia, methanol and carbon dioxide that could have supplied the raw materials, in which upon impact on early Earth would have yielded an abundant supply of energy to produce amino acids and jump start life.

The explosive collisions of icy comets with planets and moons generated the vital building blocks of life, spreading these necessary ingredients throughout the solar system, researchers say.

“The important implication is that the complex precursors to life are widespread, thus increasing the chances of life evolving elsewhere,” study co-author Mark Price, a space scientist at the University of Kent in England, told SPACE.com.

Comets are known to possess organic compounds. Scientists have long suggested that comets helped bring the ingredients of life to the early Earth. [7 Theories on the Origin of Life ]

Astronomers have detected ammonia and other compounds in comets such as Halley’s Comet that are the precursors of amino acids, the basic components of proteins. Indeed, the simplest amino acid, glycine, was recently discovered in samples of the Comet 81P/Wild-2 collected by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft.

However, more complex amino acids are needed for life . Computer models from physical chemist Nir Goldman at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California suggested impacts could form complex amino acids, and Price and hiscolleagues set out to replicate these simulations, while astrobiologist Zita Martins at Imperial College in London and her colleagues helped look for any resultant amino acids.

‘The complex precursors to life are widespread, thus increasing the chances of life evolving elsewhere.’

– Mark Price, a space scientist at the University of Kent in England

“Impacts are ubiquitous in the solar system — we see impact craters on every solid surface in the solar system,” Price said. “Due to gravity, we know these impacts must occur at very high velocities, kilometers per second. During such impacts, pressures and temperatures get very high, providing an environment that can induce chemical changes in target and projectile materials. One such change is that simple molecules can become more complicated ones.”

In experiments, the researchers fired steel projectiles at speeds of up to 16,000 mph at ice mixtures similar to ones found in comets. The targets could be difficult to work with — “a mix of carbon dioxide ice, ammonia and methanol gets extremely cold, minus 80 degrees Celsius (minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit), and handling the ices and containers meant using several layers of clean gloves, face masks and coveralls,” Price said. “Even so, this still resulted in frostbitten fingers!”

The results included several amino acids, including L-alanine, an important component of proteins on Earth. Martins, Price, Goldman and their colleagues detailed their findings online Sept. 15 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Price cautioned, “We have not created life. Not even close. What we have done is demonstrate a process that takes molecules that were present at the time of the birth of the solar system and made them into molecules that are required for life. It’s like taking simple LEGO bricks and sticking two together. You are a long way from building a house, but it is a start.”

The researchers suggest that icy impacts — whether from icy comets against rocky planets or rocky or icy bodies against icy surfaces such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn  — could have manufactured complex organic molecules.

“As impacts occur everywhere we look, this implies that complicated molecules are also widespread throughout the solar system,” Price said. “We have managed to generate a result that may increase the chance of life being present in an environment outside of the Earth, such as under the ice of Enceladus or Europa.”

Future research can analyze what other compounds might form during such impacts — for instance, whether complex molecules can be altered into even more complex molecules.

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