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New culture's on the money


Bank of Ireland Chief Executive Richie Boucher and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan

Bank of Ireland Chief Executive Richie Boucher and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan

Bank of Ireland Chief Executive Richie Boucher and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan

CULTURE vulture. It's not a description that springs to mind when we think of Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher. But Mr Boucher (above with Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan) or someone senior in his organisation, appears to be a bit of an arts enthusiast. The bank has announced its decision to make space in its iconic College Green branch in Dublin available to the State for 10 years, providing a venue for exhibitions and other cultural events.

The building has huge historical significance: it was the first purpose-built parliament in Europe and Ireland's House of Lords until 1801. Bank of Ireland has always guarded it zealously – ok, it's a bank, they guard them all, but you know what we mean. The bank has been repeatedly asked by politicians and lobby groups to hand the building to the State and has always refused. It even held out after taking billions from taxpayers in the financial crisis. So it's fair to see this 10-year deal is a fair old step for the lender.

So what's going on? The Punt blames Michael O'Leary. Not the old one, we're pinning this one on new Michael "Lovely" O'Leary.

With Ryanair hell bent on building a cuddlier brand, the suits on Mespil Road must have thought to themselves; "Why not Bank of Ireland?"

So now we have Lovely O'Leary and Bountiful Boucher – who'd have thunk it.

Hasenstab bets on new crisis

ONE person keeping a close eye on events in Kiev this week is Ireland's "Mr Bond" Michael Hasenstab.

It turns out the US investor famous for his "contrarian bet" the Irish economy would pull through the crisis without a debt default, turns out to be a big holder Ukrainian bonds.

Hasenstab and his employer Franklin Templeton are now household names here thanks to their massive punt on Irish bonds in 2011.

Crucially, the bet paid off. The investors reaped billions when bonds that had been picked up for a pittance in the crisis shot up in value as the rest of the world belatedly bought into the Irish recovery story in 2012 and 2013.

But can he do it again?

Franklin Templeton is thought to own as much as a third of Ukraine's internationally traded bonds.

Unlike Ireland, where Franklin Templeton rode in as other investors fled, the Ukraine investment was made pre-crisis. And it's a hell of a crisis.

It's driven a wedge between the US and Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other.

Unsurprisingly, bond yields are up on the news, and bond prices are down.

Franklin Templeton's scale means it can ride out short term volatility – as it did here – for the promise of long-term returns.

Still Michael Hasenstab & Co must be hoping that the drama in Kiev is the kind that heralds recovery and not the prelude to further chaos.

But I suppose that's why they call them contrarians.

Mueller's going full speed ahead

There's no standing still for Christoph Mueller. The Aer Lingus boss has another busy year ahead. A new cost-reduction programme has just gotten under way, while new routes to San Francisco and Toronto are opening up. The transatlantic aircraft will be kitted out with lie-flat beds and, just to keep everybody on their toes, the on-going pensions issue rumbles on and threatens strike action, and Ryanair appeals a UK competition watchdog ruling to reduce its stake in its smaller rival to 5pc from almost 30pc.

Aer Lingus is also in the final stages of negotiating an order for nine Airbus aircraft slated for delivery between 2018 and 2020.

Aer Lingus is also focusing on once again becoming a business-to-business service provider, and is in talks to sell its passenger service IT system to other airlines. Mr Mueller says he expects deals to be inked soon.

One of the winners out of this on-going transformation is Northern Ireland company Thompson Aero Seating, which is providing and fitting the new transatlantic lie-flat seating. Its clients also include airlines such as JetBlue and Air Canada.

Latest publicly available accounts for the firm show it made an after-tax profit of £3.5m (€4.2m) in the 12 months to the end of March 2013, when turnover doubled to £20.8m (€25.2m).

Irish Independent