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Cooking and baking

Being the next Nigella or Dylan McGrath and throwing together a few currant buns or flapjacks is cheaper than going down the shops. But that's not going help your local cafe, or the domestic economy. eBay sales of cooking and baking equipment have dipped 2.3 per cent in the last year.

Buying racehorses is a sign of two things: absolutely insanity, and confidence in the future. The number of racehorses sold at Irish auctions rose 19 per cent to €81m last year, with exported Irish foaled horsies selling for almost €157m in other countries. That's a rise of 6.5 per cent. Given that the bloodstock industry had being contracting sharply since 2007, the return of mad optimism among the Barbour-wearing racing set is another step in the right direction. Roll on Cheltenham.

They are more important than Robbie Keane's knees, Richard Dunne's tummy and Shay Given's shoulder. Without healthy exports, the Stone Age beckons. The global slowdown -- helped by the worst bunch of political leaders in a generation -- should be hitting us harder. Last week's trade figures for November showed that goods export values rose to €8bn from €7.7bn in October. The October numbers were a bit worrying, so the increase is majorly positive. Imports fell, which meant that the trade surplus improved to its highest level in a gazillion years.

The latest Jones Lang LaSalle Irish Property Index shows that commercial real estate values actually rose by 1.2 per cent in the final quarter of 2011. Yep, prices actually increased. However, this was due to the 4 per cent reduction in Stamp Duty in the Budget. The office block market was also helped by the embarrassing Government U-turn on abolishing upward-only rent reviews. Bad news for shopkeepers, but doubles and trebles all around for rich property investors and Nama. The technical rise in commercial property prices moves us closer to a stabilisation of the market.

Obviously credit cards are the work of the Devil... but that doesn't mean that they are all bad. Switching from cash to plastic makes for a far more efficient economy. Unless you're in the business of nixers. Irish Visa cardholders spent €13bn last year, up a stonking 48 per cent on 2010. Now €1 out of every €8 spent is on Visa. The number of transactions rose 76 per cent to 157.9 per cent. The growth in pre-paid or debt cards is more positive than the growth in credit cards because it means that we are borrowing less money at scary rates.

Investors thought Ireland was way less risky last week and yields on government bonds fell to 7.7 per cent, the lowest level since the EU/IMF bailout. Austerity may be killing everything but the cockroaches on the island, but at least hedge funds think that we might be good for a few quid. But probably not this year or next year at these rates.

Sunday Indo Business