News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 20th August 2014

At least one fifth of Irish SMEs have direct exposure to property debt


At least one fifth of Irish SMEs (small & medium size firms) have direct exposure to property debt and these firms are almost twice as likely to default compared with a similar firm with no property debt according to research [pdf] by Central Bank economists.

Loan-level data show that at least 10% of firms with bank debt have exposure to property investment at the same bank, with this figure rising to 16% when including Buy-To-Let mortgages for a subset of the data.

Data on loan default suggests that property-related borrowing has had a detrimental impact on firms: SMEs with property-related borrowings have a loan default rate of 43%, compared to 23% for those without property exposure.

Fergal McCann and Tara McIndoe-Calder say that the performance of SME loans is of crucial importance from an economic recovery perspective. As identified in the CSO’s Business in Ireland report for 2011, 69% of the 1.2m private sector employees in Ireland, or 828,000 people, work in SMEs. Impairment rates of 25% suggest that there are a large number of employees potentially at risk as these companies may need to cut costs, downsize, or in some cases enter liquidation.

The economic letter says that property borrowing is highest are the business and administrative services, hotels and restaurants and the wholesale and retail sectors, where 30 to 40% of the outstanding bank loans are linked to property.

SME owners with loans for the main family residence are less likely to default compared with firms with no property debt.

SMES are defined as firms with less than 250 employees and whose turnover does not exceed €50m or whose annual balance sheet does not exceed €43m.

The SME lending volumes are dominated by the Real Estate sector, which accounts for €29.8bn of the €67.6bn of total lending. The Financial Intermediation sector is the second largest sector, with €11.6bn of credit outstanding. The economists remove the Real Estate and Financial Intermediation sectors, and plot the same data for the remaining sectors, which they refer to as comprising the “real economy.”

These are firms whose primary business activity does not relate to property investment.

The economists say that firms in the manufacturing and services sectors were least likely to invest in property, while firms involved in agriculture or construction were the most likely to take on property borrowings.

Larger firms were also more likely to be involved in property borrowing, with 25% of firms employing more than 50 people having property exposure, as opposed to 17% of micro firms defined as employing less than 10 people.

Half of Irish teenage drivers on phone talking to a parent


New research has found that over half of all teenagers who talked on the phone while driving were talking to a parent. Fewer than half were talking to a friend.

Talking on a phone or texting is regarded as distracted driving, but up to now it was not known that the main cause of distraction for young drivers is the call from home.

Using a mobile phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash and driver distraction is now reckoned to play a part in up to 30% of all road collisions.

More than half of 408 teenage drivers who took part in a clinical study reported being on the phone with their parents. The findings were presented to the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Washington.

“Teens told us parents really expected to keep track of them, and they are expected to answer the phone if the parent calls.

“In some cases, the parent might continue to call until the teen answers,” said psychologist Noelle LaVoie, whose research company conducts corporate and government studies.

The research included interviews with drivers from 31 states, aged 15 to18, who have learner permits or driving licences.

It sought to find out why they talk or text while driving. It found that 53% of teenagers who talked on the phone while behind the wheel talked to a parent and 46% talked to a friend. Text messages were more likely to go to a friend than to a parent.

“One of the things teens talked about is the fact that parents used their cell phone while driving,” Ms LaVoie said, adding: “It was just very surprising to see how directly parents are involved.”

“What we do know for sure is if parents would not call their teens while they’re driving, it would reduce teen distracted driving.”

In a separate distracted driving study presented to the National Psychological Association annual convention, researchers at colleges in Missouri and Virginia asked college students about their driving distractions.

A total of 89% made mobile phone calls while driving and 79% texted while behind the wheel, either sending or receiving.

“Younger drivers seemed overconfident in their ability to multi-task,” co-author Keli Braitman, an assistant professor of psychology at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri said.

Yesterday, Noel Gibbons, an Irish road safety officer, urged parents to try to ensure that they only call their children when they are not behind the wheel.

“The findings from this study are US figures, but we have no reason to believe that they would be any different here.

“It’s human nature for a parent for a parent to want to keep in touch with their children, but they should be careful not to do so while they are driving,” he said.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of penalty points issued for driving while using a mobile phone increased by 70% — from 44,624 to 75,040.

App that you cannot ignore

Since time began children have found inventive ways to ignore their parents as they in turn tried to find new ways get their attention.

The latest development in this long-running circle of parent-child conflict is Ignore No More, an Android app that allows parents to lock their children’s phones from afar with a password of the parent’s choosing.

After the parent does so, the only way that the child will be able to unlock the phone is to call the parent and ask for the password.

The app was created by Sharon Standifird, a mother who was fed up with being digitally brushed off by her teens. After coming up with the idea, she researched how to code an app and then spent months working with developers to bring it to reality.

Her son, Bradley, is only half-proud of his mother. “I thought it was a good idea,” he told CBS. “But for other people, not me.”

1,000 pubs could close in the next decade in Ireland


As many as 1,000 pubs could close over the next decade, according to the author of a new report into the economic impact of the drinks trade on the tourism sector.

Anthony Foley of the Dublin City University Business School said 1,000 pubs, mostly in rural areas, closed between 2007 and the end of last year, sparked by the economic crash.

He said a similar number could be expected to close down over the next decade, as “no magic solution” was likely to be found to retain their economic viability.

“A reasonable figure would be in the past six years we have lost 1,000 pubs, in particularly bad economic circumstances,” he said.

“In the next 10 years I would not be surprised if we lost another 1,000.”

He made his comments following the publication of a report, The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism, commissioned by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.

Using available data, it highlights how 80% of tourists surveyed by Fáilte Ireland said they most wanted to experience a visit to an Irish pub during their stay, while 83% of overseas visitors surveyed on leaving Ireland said they had experienced listening to Irish music in a traditional pub during their stay.

However, while the report highlights how the Irish pub is essentially the country’s top tourist attraction, spearheaded by the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, which attracted more than 1m visitors last year, the fate of the suburban and rural pub is less certain.

The publication of the report was backed by a seminar in Dublin, launching a new ‘Support Your Local’ campaign.

Mr Foley said: “The first thing we are going to do is recognise that we are not going to save all the pubs.”

Of likely pub closures he said: “That is going to continue — there is not going to be a miracle solution.”

However, he said government could reduce excise duties to give more pubs “a fighting chance” and also urged action to reduce the price gap between alcohol for sale in pubs, and alcohol for sale in off-licences.

He also said education was needed to change attitudes towards alcohol abuse and to allow pubs to be places where drinking soft drinks and coffee was not just “tolerated”.

Bart Storan, campaign manager for ‘Support Your Local’, said “punitive excise increases in the last two budgets” had harmed pubs and thereby the tourism sector and needed to be reversed.

“Pubs are closing and the small businesses that make up the industry are struggling to stay afloat,” he said.

The report also highlighted how the Jameson and Midleton Distilleries, among others, attract thousands of tourists every year.

The research showed that Co Longford had the fewest number of pubs, at 87, from a national network of 7,315. By contrast, Cork has 980 pubs.

The report also listed the range of events sponsored by drinks firms, although Mr Foley admitted that Arthur’s Day had come in for some criticism in recent years.

Breastfeeding link to a mums’ mental health & postnatal depression


New mothers who successfully breastfeed their babies are less likely to get postnatal depression, new research suggests.

Expectant mothers who plan to breastfeed after they have given birth but are unable to are at the highest risk of developing the condition, experts found.


Around 13% of new mothers experience postpartum depression within 14 weeks of giving birth.

As well as posing serious mental health problems for the mother, it can have significant effects on the newborn’s cognitive, social and physical development.

Researchers said the effect that breastfeeding has on postnatal depression is not well understood, and they set out to investigate whether there is a link between the two.

The authors, from the UK and Spain, surveyed women who had 14,000 babies in the Bristol area during the 1990s when their children were two, eight, 21 and 32 months old.

They also examined whether the women suffered depression during their pregnancy so they could take into account previous mental health conditions.

Their study, in the journal Maternal and Child Health, found mothers who planned to breastfeed and who went on to do so were around 50% less likely to become depressed than mothers who had not planned to – and did not – breastfeed.

Those who planned to breastfeed but did not go on to do so were more than twice as likely to become depressed as mothers who had not planned to and did not.

“The lowest risk of postpartum depression was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and who had actually breastfed,” the authors wrote.

Neanderthals in Europe died out thousands of years sooner than some people thought

A study reveals


the Neanderthals, our heavy-browed relatives, spread out across Europe and Asia about 200,000 years ago. But when did they die out, giving way to modern humans?

A new analysis of Neanderthal sites from Spain to Russia provides the most definitive answer yet: about 40,000 years ago, at least in Europe.

That is thousands of years earlier than some scientists have suggested, and it narrows the period that Neanderthals and modern humans overlapped in Europe.

“After that, we don’t think there are any Neanderthals on the continent anymore,” said Thomas Higham, the deputy director of the radiocarbon accelerator unit at the University of Oxford in England.

The findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, run counter to claims that pockets of Neanderthals persisted in Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar until just 30,000 years ago, even as modern humans spread outward.

“This is a very strong compilation,” said Chris Stringer, who leads research on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and who was not involved in the research. “I think it kind of replaces the picture we had before.”

In 1995, researchers including Jean-Jacques Hublin, now at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, announced fossil evidence of Neanderthals living 30,000 years ago in a cave near the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Dr. Hublin said he had changed his mind as better radiocarbon dates became available. “To me, I’m ready to buy the new date,” he said.

Modern humans migrated out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago, and anthropologists have been trying to figure out what happened when the two groups encountered each other.

One of the reasons some researchers think Neanderthals survived longer on the Iberian peninsula is that there are no signs of modern humans living there at that time.

A recent analysis of Neanderthal DNA shows that Neanderthals and modern humans not only crossed paths, but interbred. For non-African people living today, 1 to 4 percent of their genome has Neanderthal origins.

The genetics suggest that interbreeding occurred about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, somewhere in western Asia.

“You’ve kind of got two parts of the story,” Dr. Stringer said. “There must have been a western Asia coexistence, which included interbreeding. Then there was a later coexistence in Europe, for which we have no evidence of interbreeding but possible evidence of some cultural contact between the groups.”

Dr. Higham, the lead author of the Nature paper, and his colleagues took advantage of advances in radiocarbon dating in testing samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 sites, mostly in Western Europe. The dating method takes advantage of unstable, radioactive carbon 14 atoms produced from the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays from outer space. The radioactive carbon combines with oxygen atoms to form carbon dioxide, and plants and animals take up some of it as long as they are alive.

But when they die, they absorb no additional radioactive carbon, and the carbon 14 disappears over time. The ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12, which is stable, thus tells the age and can be used to date bones and artifacts up to about 50,000 years ago.

Contaminants containing younger organic molecules can distort the dating. Dr. Higham said just 1 percent of modern carbon infiltrating a 50,000-year-old fossil would make it look 7,000 to 8,000 years younger. The researchers prepared samples that would extract collagen in the bone and remove the contaminants.

“What we find is often the dates get older,” Dr. Higham said. “We’ve managed to chip away at these erroneous younger Neanderthal dates to come up with a more refined, and we think accurate, estimate for when Neanderthals disappeared.”

Dr. Higham said his team would like to expand the research to Neanderthal sites in Eastern Europe and across Russia to Siberia. It is possible that Neanderthals survived later in those areas.

Some of the conclusions are tentative because many of the sites do not have bones of the actual inhabitants, and paleontologists are still debating whether it was Neanderthals or modern humans who made the tools found at some sites.

“This gives us a framework, basically, which allows us to ask more interesting questions,” said William Davies of the University of Southampton in England, who wrote an accompanying commentary in Nature. “About what the tools might mean, how they were used, what they tell us about Neanderthal interactions.”

The findings so far indicate that Neanderthals did not disappear all at once.

“I think we’ll see patchy disappearance prior to extinction,” Dr. Higham said.


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