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Top 5 exporters account for over a quarter of all goods exports in 2017

Top 5 exporters account for over a quarter of all goods exports in 2017

New figures from the CSO show that the country’s five biggest exporters accounted for 26% of all exports in 2017 with the pharmaceutical sector the biggest exporter of goods.

The Central Statistics Office said that the five highest value exporters accounted for over €31 billion of all exports in 2017, while the top 50 enterprises exported 72% of total goods or €87.4 billion of goods.

Today’s figures show that the pharmaceutical sector accounted for 44% of the total value of exports in 2017, comprising €53 billion.

Manufacturing exports were worth €29.4 billion, while exports from the agri-food sector came to €17.9 billion, or 15% of total exports.

Today’s CSO figures also show that a total of 8,614 companies exported their goods in 2017.

There were just 289 large exporters (with over 250 employees) but they accounted for 68% of all exports in 2017.

Meanwhile, a total of 8,300 SMEs exported goods in 2017 with the total value of their exports amounting to €36 billion, or 30% of total exports.

The CSO said this includes 5,081 micro enterprises – businesses with less than ten workers – which exported €7.5 billion of goods.

Cicro enterprises accounted for 59% of exporters and 6% of the value of goods exported, the CSO said.

Meanwhile, the top five importers accounted for €12.9 billion or 16% of total imports in 2017, while the top 50 importing enterprises had imports of €39 billion, or 47% of the total.

The wholesale and retail sector was the largest importer in 2017, accounting for €26.8 billion, or 33% of the total of goods imported.

And the services sector, which includes aircraft leasing companies, imported €26.1 billion (32%) of goods.

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Risk of no-deal Brexit has never been greater – Coveney

Risk of no-deal Brexit has never been greater – Coveney

Tánaiste and Minster for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned Cabinet colleagues that at no point in the last two-and-a-half years has the risk of a no-deal Brexit been greater.

He said that while a hard Brexit could still be avoided, Britain had failed to come up with any solutions or answers.

Mr Coveney also said that no staff working on no-deal Brexit planning should be redeployed during the summer months.

The memo brought by Mr Coveney has been drafted against the backdrop of the breakdown in talks between the Conservatives and Labour in London.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there was detailed discussion at Cabinet today about Brexit and businesses are now going to be asked to step up their Brexit preparations.

Mr Coveney brought a memo on planning to Cabinet on a No deal Brexit.

Government ministers agreed that secondary legislation is needed in some areas and work needs to be done on EHIC (European Health Insurance Cards) and the Erasmus education programme.

The Taoiseach said that the staff are in place for Customs and Revenue and other areas where they are needed.

He said information campaigns informing businesses of the actions they need to take and the supports that are now available will be resumed.

He warned that there are businesses that are “perhaps taking the view that it is going to be alright on the night. And it may well be alright on the night but we cannot assume that.

“We will be asking businesses in particular to step up their planning and avail of the information, supports and advice and the funding that is already available.”

He was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath.

He asked if the Cabinet made any decision today to intensify and step up preparations and efforts to support companies and hiring extra Customs officials.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May will set out details of her “new deal” on Brexit in a speech at 4pm, Downing Street said.

She told a more than three hour long meeting of the Cabinet: “The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the vehicle which gets the UK out of the EU and it is vital to find a way to get it over the line.”

Her spokesman said the “new deal” includes alternative arrangements, workers’ rights, environmental protections and assurances on the integrity of the UK in the event of a backstop.

Separately, a disorderly conclusion of Brexit negotiations could “plunge the Irish economy into a recession,” according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It says such a conclusion poses the most immediate uncertainty to Ireland’s economy.

In its latest economic outlook, the think-tank also acknowledges that while new housing completions have been “catching up with demand”, there will continue to be shortages in the dwelling stock for some time.

It notes that despite having moderated recently, property prices remain high and foreign investors account for more than half of commercial property investment in Ireland.

The report, which contains analysis and projections for its 36 member countries and other major economies, says changes in the international tax regime, could affect Foreign Direct Investments by multinational firms, which would pose a significant risk for Ireland.

Economic growth, according to the OECD, is projected to remain robust, but to ease gradually to 3.9% in 2019 and 3.3% in 2020.

Additional reporting Ailbhe Conneely, Conor McMorrow, PA

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US delays Huawei ban for 90 days

US delays Huawei ban for 90 days

US officials have issued a 90-day reprieve on their ban on dealing with Chinese tech giant Huawei, saying breathing space was needed to avoid huge disruption.

A Commerce Department filing said the delay does not change the ban imposed by President Donald Trump on national security grounds, an action with major implications for US and Chinese technology firms.

Instead, it grants a temporary licence that will allow Huawei to continue doing business with American firms.

“The Temporary General Licence grants operators time to make other arrangements and (gives) the Department space to determine the appropriate long term measures for Americans and foreign telecommunications providers that currently rely on Huawei equipment for critical services,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

“In short, this licence will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks.”

The Huawei confrontation has been building for years, as the world’s largest company has raced to a huge advantage over rivals in next-generation 5G mobile technology.

US intelligence believes Huawei is backed by the Chinese military and that its equipment could provide Beijing’s intelligence services with a backdoor into the communications networks of rival countries.

For that reason, Washington has pushed its closest allies to reject Huawei technology, a significant challenge given the few alternatives for 5G.

Last week, President Donald Trump declared a “national emergency” empowering him to blacklist companies seen as “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States” – a move analysts said was clearly aimed at Huawei.

At the same time, the US Commerce Department announced the effective ban on US companies selling or transferring US technology to Huawei.

It is the implementation of this ban that has been delayed by 90 days.

But the Huawei fight is over more than just US national security. Washington sees Huawei’s rise as emblematic of China’s drive to wrest global technological and economic leadership from the United States.

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Unemployment rate revised sharply lower to 4.6% – CSO

The Central Statistics Office has sharply revised downwards unemployment rates for March and April, taking the level below 5% for the first time since the financial crisis over a decade ago.

Monthly unemployment rates have been subject to sharp revisions in recent quarters.

The CSO said today that the jobless rate in April had been revised down to 4.6% from the 5.4% previously estimated.

The change was as a result of a big rise in employment, with the CSO reporting that employment jumped by 3.7%, or 81,200 people, on an annual basis in the three months to March.

This compared with a 2.3% increase in the previous quarter.

The CSO’s Labour Force Survey figures – the official source of data for employment and unemployment – also reveal that unemployment decreased by 18,600, or 14%, in the year to the end of March.

This brought the total number of people who were without a job to 114,400 and marked the 27th quarter in succession where unemployment has declined on an annual basis.

Today’s CSO figures also show that long term unemployment, which refers to those people without a job for one year or more, accounted for 35.7% of total unemployment in the first quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, today’s figures show the total number of people in the labour force in the first quarter of 2019 stood at 2,416,300, an increase of 2.7% over the year.

The CSO said this compares with an annual labour force increase of 1.4% the same time last year.

Today’s figures show that the number of people not in the labour force stood at 1,480,200, an increase of 0.7% over the year.

The Labour Force figures also show that jobs growth has been broad based across construction (5.3%), industry (3%) and services sectors (4.5%).

Full-time employment was up 3.5% on the year, and employee jobs were up 5.3% on the year.

The CSO noted that female employment was up 5% on the year, associated with a sharp rise in the female participation rate from 62.3% to 64.3% over the past 12 months.

Commenting on today’s figures, the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform said they confirmed the strength of the country’s labour market.

“Today’s figures confirm that the labour market is no longer in a recovery phase and that we are now zeroing in on “full-employment”, as evidenced by the fact that the unemployment rate of 4.6% is the lowest since end-2005,” Paschal Donohoe said.

Full employment is where just about everyone who wants a job has one, putting upward pressure on wages.

Mr Donohoe said that while full-employment in the country is a welcome outcome, it also presents challenges for policy and he said policies that overheat the economy must be avoided.

“This means ensuring that the labour market remains open and flexible in order to support growth in jobs and living standards, while protecting our international competitiveness,” he said.

He said that greater participation in the labour market by those currently outside should also be encouraged. and policies that foster improvements in productivity are being prioritised.

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US announces six-month reprieve on car tariffs

US announces six-month reprieve on car tariffs

The White House has said that President Donald Trump is delaying a decision by up to six months on whether to impose tariffs on imported cars and parts to allow for more time for trade talks with the European Union and Japan.

It said, however, Mr Trump agreed with findings that imported vehicles and parts can threaten US national security.

President Trump faced a Saturday deadline to make a decision on recommendations by the Commerce Department to protect the US auto industry from imports on national security grounds.

Mr Trump directed US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to pursue negotiations and report back within 180 days and said if no deal is reached Trump will decide by then “whether and what further action needs to be taken.”

In a proclamation released Friday, Mr Trump said he agreed with a Commerce Department study that found some imported cars and trucks are “weakening our internal economy” and threaten to harm national security.

The auto tariffs face strong opposition in Congress, including from many prominent Republicans.

Reuters and other new outlets reported earlier this week that Trump was expected to delay the decision.

Automakers have strongly opposed the tariffs, saying they would hike prices and threaten thousands of US jobs.

Mr Trump’s proclamation said “domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports” and said a strong US auto sector is vital to US military superiority.

The reported cited statistics that US-owned companies’ share of the US automobile market has declined from 67%, or 10.5 million units produced and sold in the United States, in 1985 to 22%, 3.7 million units produced and sold in the United States, in 2017.

At the same time, the reports said imports nearly doubled, from 4.6 million units to 8.3 million units.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told President Trump that “successful negotiations could allow American-owned automobile producers to achieve long-term economic viability and increase R&D spending to develop cutting-edge technologies that are critical to the defense industry.”

Mr Trump had threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on imported cars and trucks.

Automakers warned the tariffs cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically raise prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

General Motors last year warned that import tariffs could cost jobs and lead to a “a smaller GM” while isolating US businesses from the global market.

Toyota Motor has said the tariffs “threaten US manufacturing, jobs, exports, and economic prosperity.”

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Oil rises after OPEC+ says to keep output cuts, Iran tension rises

Oil rises after OPEC+ says to keep output cuts, Iran tension rises

Oil prices rose to multi-week highs today after OPEC indicated it would probably maintain production cuts that have helped support prices this year, while tension continued to escalate in the Middle East.

Brent crude was up by 90 cents, or 1.3%, at $73.11 a barrel this morning, having earlier touched $73.40, the highest since April 26.

US West Texas Intermediate crude was up 71 cents, or 1.1% higher, at $63.47 a barrel. The US benchmark had reached $63.81 earlier, the highest since May 1.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said yesterday there was consensus among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied oil producers to drive down crude inventories “gently” but he would remain responsive to the needs of a “fragile market”.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei earlier told reporters that producers were capable of filling any market gap and that relaxing supply cuts was not the right decision.

US President Donald Trump had threatened Tehran yesterday, tweeting that a conflict would be the “official end” of Iran, while Saudi Arabia said it was ready to respond with “all strength” and it was up to Iran to avoid war.

The rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” that exploded near the US embassy.

OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from January 1 for six months to prevent inventories from increasing and weakening prices.

Brent touched $75.60 on April 25, while the WTI high for 2019 is $66.60, reached on April 23. As of today, Brent is up more than 35%, while WTI has gained nearly 40%.

Another bullish signal was a second week of declines in US drilling operations, with energy companies cutting oil rigs to the lowest since March 2018.

The rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by three to 802, General Electric’s Baker Hughes energy services unit said on Friday.

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Sterling rises off 5-month lows after biggest weekly drop this year

Sterling rises off 5-month lows after biggest weekly drop this year

Sterling inched above five-month lows today as British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a last-ditch attempt to get a Brexit deal through parliament before she leaves office.

However continued scepticism from the opposition Labour Party capped gains.

After failing three times to get parliament’s approval for her EU divorce deal, May said she will present a “new, bold offer” to lawmakers with “an improved package of measures” in a final attempt to secure a Brexit deal.

Though there is boad scepticism that any such deal will go through, sterling did rise 0.3% against the dollar today to $1.2754.

However that follows sterling’s 2.2% slump against the dollar last week, its worst week since October 2017.

The British currency was also up 0.2% against the euro today at 87.51 pence.

The leader of Britain’s opposition said he would not support May’s new attempt to push through her Brexit bill if it was fundamentally the same as the bill that had been defeated three times before.

This inability of the British parliament to compromise on Brexit has led the market to take a much more binary view on the outcome; divided between a so-called hard Brexit and a second referendum.

Adding to this feeling is a poll that showed Boris Johnson, a prominent leader of the Brexit campaign, as top choice among members of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party to replace May as prime minister.

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Euro zone April inflation confirmed at 1.7%

Euro zone April inflation confirmed at 1.7%

Euro zone prices rose by 1.7% in April, EU statistics agency Eurostat confirmed today, while slightly revising upwards its estimates for core inflation.

Eurostat said consumer prices in the 19-nation euro zone were 1.7% higher year-on-year, the same level as the flash estimate published on May 3, and up from 1.4% in March.

The acceleration offers some mild relief to the European Central Bank, which targets inflation of just below 2%, although the jump was likely related to the later timing of Easter this year.

On a Monthly basis, euro zone prices increased by 0.7%, as markets had expected, from 1% in March.

The core indicator watched closely by the ECB for its monetary policy decisions, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, rose to 1.4% in April on the year from 1% in March.

That compared with a flash estimate of 1.3%.

A narrower inflation indicator that excludes energy, food, alcohol and tobacco was also confirmed increasing to 1.3% from 0.8% in March. For this, the flash estimate had been 1.2%.

Inflation as a whole rose because of a 5.3% increase in energy prices, a 1.9% rise in the prices of services and a 1.5% hike of food, alcohol and tobacco prices..

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EU goods surplus with US eases, deficit with China widens

EU goods surplus with US eases, deficit with China widens

The European Union’s trade surplus in goods with the US decreased in the first three months of 2019, but its deficit with China widened, figures released today showed.

The 28-nation bloc’s surplus with the US slipped to €33.9 billion in the three months from January to March, from €36.2 billion the same time in 2018, EU statistics office Eurostat reported.

With China, the EU’s trade deficit expanded to €49.4 billion from €46.9 billion.

In the months from January to February, the EU trade surplus with the US had risen, while its deficit with China expanded.

The US has hit the European Union with tariffs and threatened more while complaining over the trade balance. Both Washington and Brussels have also complained that China wants free trade without playing fair.

Overall, the goods trade deficit of the 28-nation bloc increased to €24 billion in the first quarter from €9.6 billion a year earlier.

Energy imports were the chief cause of the deficit, especially from Russia and Norway.

However, the sharpest movements were related to trade from Turkey and South Korea, the EU’s trade balance with both turning from a surplus to a deficit.

For the 19-country euro zone, exports grew by 3.1% year-on-year in March and imports by 6%, leading to a decline of its trade surplus to €22.5 billion from €26.9 billion a year earlier.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the euro zone’s trade surplus also decreased to €17.9 billion in March from €20.6 billion in February as exports increased by 0.9% month-on-month and imports rose by 2.5%.

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EU fines five major banks for currency collusion

EU fines five major banks for currency collusion

The European Commission has today fined Barclays, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Japan’s MUFG and Royal Bank of Scotland a combined €1.07 billion for rigging the multi-trillion dollar foreign exchange market.

Banks have been hit with billions of dollars in fines worldwide over the last decade for the rigging of benchmarks used in many day-to-day financial transactions.

This has further damaged the industry’s fragile reputation after the financial crisis.

The European Commission said individual traders at the banks involved formed two cartels to manipulate the spot foreign exchange market for 11 currencies, including the dollar, the euro and the pound.

Citigroup was hit with the highest fine of €310.8m, while Swiss bank UBS was not fined as it had alerted the two cartels to the European Commission.

“These cartel decisions send a clear message that the Commission will not tolerate collusive behaviour in any sector of the financial markets,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The EU competition enforcer said most of the traders knew each other on a personal basis and set up chatrooms such as “Essex Express ‘n the Jimmy”.

The chatroom was given this name because all of them except “James” lived in Essex, to the east of London, and met on their train commute to the city.

The five-year investigation found nine traders spread across the banks exchanged sensitive information and trading plans in the chatrooms and occasionally co-ordinated trading strategies.

“The traders, who were direct competitors, typically logged in to multilateral chatrooms, and had extensive conversations about a variety of subjects, including recurring updates on their trading activities,” the Commission said.

The “Essex Express” cartel, which also involved a chatroom called “Semi Grumpy Old Men”, ran between December 2009 and December 2012.

The second cartel – called “Three Way Banana Split” and involving other chatrooms named “Two and a half men” and “Only Marge” – ran from December 2007 until January 2013.

Information traders swapped in the chatrooms included information on their clients’ orders, the bid-ask spreads for specific transactions, their open risk positions and other details of current or planned trading activities.

Occasionally the traders would co-ordinate trading activity, for example through a practice called ‘standing down’ whereby some of the group would temporarily stop trading to avoid interfering with others, the commission said.

JP Morgan and RBS both said they were pleased to have settled the cases and that they had since made changes to their controls.

JP Morgan said it related to the conduct of one former employee and RBS said it served as a reminder of how it had lost its way in the past.

MUFG said it had also taken measures to prevent are-occurrence.

Barclays and Citigroup declined to comment.

The “Three Way Banana Split” cartel, made up of traders at UBS, Barclays, RBS, Citigroup and JP Morgan, was handed a fine totalling €811.2m.

The Essex Express group involving UBS, Barclays, RBS and MUFG, was hit with a €257.7m fine, with the fine against Barclays the largest for this cartel at €94.2m.

Allegations of widespread manipulation in the spot foreign exchange market were first reported in 2013 after the Libor scandal in 2012 where traders were found to have been rigging the setting of interbank lending rates.

US and British authorities have since fined seven of the world’s top banks a total of around $10 billion for trying to manipulate foreign exchange rates.

Meanwhile, US prosecutors have charged a handful of former traders over forex-rigging.

Three former London-based currency traders were acquitted of all charges last October, although others await sentencing after convictions.

The UK Serious Fraud Office, meanwhile, dropped its own forex investigation in 2016, saying there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction of individuals.

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