Monday 20 November 2017

Business confidential: All hail Paul O'Connell and the Stoke City billionaire

O'Connell could go way faster than that….even carrying two English loose forwards on his back
O'Connell could go way faster than that….even carrying two English loose forwards on his back Newsdesk Newsdesk

Even though he has retired, rugby legend Paul O'Connell better not forget how to deliver a bollicking.

O'Connell owns about 1pc of metered electricity firm Pinergy's parent New Measured Power, with his shares held via his Nellcon investment vehicle. Other shareholders at the firm include Peter Coates, the 25th richest man in the UK.

As well as owning a big blob of bookie Bet365, Coates is the chairman of Stoke City Football Club - home of Ireland striker Jonathan Walters.

Coates and his daughter backed Pinergy as part of a €12m funding round, which also saw former Horslips rocker Barry Devlin and Mainstream Renewables boss Eddie O'Connor become investors.

There's big potential for the pre-pay sector here as Ireland lags its European peers considerably - but O'Connell will need to dust down his epic motivational speech delivered to the Irish team before the historic match against England in Croke Park in 2007.

Back then, of course, Ireland went on to pulverise the men in white.

Pinergy could certainly do with some of his mojo. New switching figures from the energy regulator CER saw that Pinergy ended up with 119 net new electricity customers from September to December last year.

O'Connell could go way faster than that….even carrying two English loose forwards on his back.

Permanent TSB is in a worse place than even Twitter

Aidan Heavey's Tullow racked up a $1bn loss as it got smashed by oil prices. It says it has no problems with its debt mountain.

And Michael Carvill's Kenmare Resources defaulted on its debts at the start of the month.

But losing $1bn or defaulting - technically - on your debts isn't enough to make you the worst-performing share on the Irish market since the rout started on December 30.

Jeremy Masding's Permanent TSB has fallen off a cliff over the past six weeks. Shares have collapsed by more than 40pc. That's worse than Twitter, which looks in real trouble. It's twice as bad as Bank of Ireland's 21pc fall and not far off Unicredit's 50pc drop. At the moment, Italian banks are the investment equivalent of herpes because of bad loans.

Permanent TSB is trading at well below its IPO price of €4.50. Investors in the flotation have been hosed. Broadly speaking, most European banks are facing similar problems. The traditional business model is banjaxed. Banks are struggling to make profits from lending, and the prospect of Mario Draghi cutting rates further next month (or even introducing negative interest rates) will put margins through the wringer.

Fears that Europe is oozing towards recession means more and more loans are less likely to be repaid, which will see further bank losses. Other banks are being prodded by investors to see how much dumb money they shovelled out to the commodities sector and China - but Permanent TSB doesn't have that problem. It has issues over access to funding, with 33pc coming from Europe or wholesale markets. That's more than Bank of Ireland.

If that dries up again, Permo could be bunched.

Permo is also losing its growth story as the new Central Bank rules have turned off the tap for new mortgages. New car loans are hardly going to take their place as the bank's engine.

But Permanent TSB serves as a barometer for the Irish economy. It has been performing so strongly that we've taken our eye off the rear-view mirror. Europe and the UK - our biggest trading partners - are in the equivalent of a multi-vehicle pile-up. There's no way we won't be hit by flying debris.

Siptu dinosaurs creak open the door to new technology

I've no idea what a systems analyst does, but according to Morgan McKinley's salary survey, a newish systems analyst can earn €28,000 to €38,000 rising to perhaps €65,000 after five years.

A user interface designer starts off at €25,000 increasing to €55,000 to €65,000 after five years. A localisation specialist in the gaming industry will earn up to €45,000 after five years.

These are all skilled jobs - but they'll be less well paid than someone pushing down a button on a Luas tram if the Siptu dinosaurs have their way.

Siptu's pay claim for Luas drivers is off-the-charts bonkers. Demanding that the pay of an experienced Luas driver should skyrocket by up to 53.8pc from €42,000 to a potential €64,993 in 2017 is insane. Even for Siptu.

The trades union's case isn't helped by the fact that Luas operator Transdev, part of the giant French conglomerate Veolia, is making a complete mess of running trams.

It signed a new contract in 2014 and seems utterly unable to make any money out of it, losing €700,000 last year. Veolia is obviously much better at emptying bins than running trams.

But it's not a €24bn a year global business for nothing. The strike will ultimately hasten the case to get completely rid of drivers. Driverless car technology (such as that pioneered by Google) will extend to trams. Driverless subway and transit systems are already in operation in the US, China, Spain, Denmark and South Korea. German tram operators in Frankfurt (VGF) and Hannover (üstra) have already introduced driver assistance technology systems.

They figure that the reduction in the number of collisions will pay back the investment in two years. Researchers at Oxford University estimate that 45pc of current US jobs will be automated by 2033. Siptu's crazy demands may be just the incentive Veolia needs to redirect more money into these new technologies.


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