Thursday 21 September 2017

With bright future ahead, Murphy has a reason to be happy

David McCarthy, IL&P group
finance director, at the interim
results yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
David McCarthy, IL&P group finance director, at the interim results yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Laura Noonan

Laura Noonan

AS far as slips of the tongues go, it was pretty apt. Rounding up yesterday's results briefing, Irish Life & Permanent finance boss David McCarthy unwittingly referred to his chief executive as "happy". As in "myself and happy will be happy to take any questions".

Amid peals of laughter, the error was quickly corrected to "myself and Kevin", a belated reference to Irish Life & Permanent's often-embattled chief executive Kevin Murphy.

Mr Murphy's somewhat grim demeanour might not have screamed 'happy', but he must surely have been smiling on the inside yesterday as shares in his group rose as much as 8pc amid expectation-thrashing results.

Against expectations of trading losses in the €90m region, IL&P returned losses of just €10m. As Mr McCarthy put it, "it's not often that you're pleased to report a loss, but we think that this is quite a good outcome".

Insurance arm

IL&P's life insurance arm, the mainstay of the group, grew trading profits by 40pc as investment money flowing into its asset management arm doubled and its core life insurance business stabilised.

Even the embattled banking arm Permanent TSB managed to attract some positive commentary as its €150m of write-offs came in below expectations and day-to-day profits came in higher.

It was a far cry from a year ago when IL&P, still shrouded in controversy for its role in propping up Anglo Irish Bank's balance sheet, announced record first-half losses of €220m.

That legacy was firmly out of view yesterday, as Mr Murphy and his lieutenants talked effusively about the bright new future in store for IL&P as the market approaches normality.

Not only is IL&P confident in restoring its life insurance business to its former glory, the group is also casting itself as a kingmaker ahead of a wave of industry consolidation.

Mr Murphy and his crew yesterday unveiled a list of no fewer than six potential acquisitions, including building societies EBS, Irish Nationwide and ICS, fellow insurer New Ireland and the fund management offshoots of AIB and Bank of Ireland.

The bid for EBS is already in play. Mr Murphy declined to be drawn on where the others would rank in terms of IL&P's priorities, but the institution's appetite for a serious acquisition spree rang through loud and clear.

Much of that shopping spree would have to be funded raising fresh capital, but IL&P appears less wary about going to the market than many of its peers.

While Anglo and AIB have insisted the Government's bank guarantee schemes must be extended for another year, Mr Murphy yesterday said that IL&P's plan was to "get off the guarantee as rapidly as possible".

The bank has already raised €270m without the cushion of the State, and hopes to raise more "unguaranteed" money later in the year, Mr Murphy revealed.

IL&P is also in the happy position of not having to scale the so-called "wall of debt" weighing on so many other institutions' minds for September. Tens of billions of debt are due to mature before the end of the month, reflecting two-year loans that were given to the banks under the original guarantee scheme in September 2008.

IL&P has €3.5bn of debt like that, but it has already secured another €3.5bn in debt to replace it, making the September deadline a non-event for Murphy and Co.

The IL&P boss might not be answering to 'happy' yet, but there's a fair chance the name might grow on him.

Irish Independent

Also in Business