Sunday 24 September 2017

The Punt: Plan for office development beside airport fails to take off

Carl Icahn
Carl Icahn

The cityscape near Dublin Airport may have to do without three large office blocks that had been planned by a development firm called Eastground Investments.

The company is owned and was previously controlled by former Green Property executive Simon Murray, but joint receivers were appointed to the firm by Zurich bank in 2011.

Eastground had secured planning permission in 2008 to build three adjacent office blocks. One was to be between five and six storeys high and extend over 12,500 sq m. The second, called the Atrium Building, would be between six and seven storeys high and cover 9,800 sq m.

The third, Tower Building, would be 10 storeys high and have a gross floor area of 9,200 sq m. But the company had to apply for an extension for the permission this year to Fingal County Council.

The council told Eastground that it wanted additional information, including that the company demonstrate the proposed development would not have adverse environmental impacts.

But Eastground failed to submit the additional information, said the council, resulting in the application to extend the planning permission being denied.

Mr Murray was one of three executives who sued Green Property in 2005 claiming a share of cash resulting from the firm's stockmarket delisting in 2002. The case was settled in 2006.

Holmes move takes him close to home

TRINITY graduate Colm Holmes is coming closer to home after being named as chief financial officer for Aviva's UK and Ireland general insurance business.

Holmes joins Aviva from Zurich where he was group treasurer and head of capital management. It's a long way from Grant Thornton, where the young Holmes started back in 1988 after getting a degree in business and economics.

At Zurich, Holmes held responsibility for managing a $10bn business, which underwrote life and health reinsurance among other things.

The boys at Aviva seem to be rolling out the red carpet for the chartered accountant.

His new boss, chief financial officer Pat Regan, gushed that Holmes would be "adding bench strength to the broader finance community at Aviva", while Holmes himself is said to be "tremendously excited".

The Punt can't help wishing that there will be similar cheers from the roof tops next time we change jobs.

Sceptic Icahn might like our stock market

The Punt has always had a sneaking regard for activist investor Carl Icahn, despite the proxy fights, so we sat up this week when Icahn said there was a chance the stock market could suffer a big decline.

The 77-year-old investor believes valuations are rich and earnings at many companies are fuelled more by low borrowing costs than management's efforts to boost results. "I am very cautious on equities today. This market could easily have a big drop," was how he put it before adding that share buybacks are driving results rather than profitability.

Icahn added that profits are not coming because the companies are well run, but because of low interest rates.

The Punt wonders what, if anything, he would make of the Irish stock market, which is currently the best performing in Europe.

While it is certainly heartening to see the recent gains, some valuations are looking decidedly frothy these days while profits remain illusive, despite the low rates enjoyed by many businesses at the moment.

Time will surely tell but the recent scepticism about bubbles in everything from gem stones to Dublin's trophy houses can only be a good thing.

Irish Independent

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