Business Irish

Thursday 22 February 2018

PUNT: Crunch time for Apple makers

FAREWELL Foxconn, we hardly knew ye. Two premises in Ireland – at the Ballycurreen Industrial Estate in Cork and the Limerick Business Complex in Raheen, to be precise – have been little corners of Taiwan for the past number of years.

Now Foxconn Ireland is being voluntarily wound up. The Taiwanese company, a unit of Hon Hai Precision Instruments, makes Apple's iPads and iPhones and is of course no stranger to controversy.

First it was a string of suicides by workers at its plants in China, and even a riot at one of its factories last September. Foxconn, which employs about one million people in China and also makes products for firms including Dell, Sony, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, has been continually on the back foot.

More recently, it was news that children as young as 14 were working at one of its China plants that got it into trouble. The latest available accounts for Foxconn Ireland show it had total assets less current liabilities of just €594,000 at the end of December 2011. Last year, Hon Hai Precision Instruments reported revenue of $111bn (€85bn).

Boucher opens up to media

Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way.

That is never more true than when the bank boss is refusing to answer questions about the country's biggest lender.

Those questions are frequently lobbed by reporters and politicians who feel entitled to ask deep, probing and no doubt occasionally daft questions about a bank that has hoovered up billions in taxpayers' money, even if it is not as bad as most of its peers.

That's not the way the bould Richie (right) sees things.

Confronted with a question he's uncomfortable with, the Clontarf man's favoured responses are a point blank refusal to answer, or worse, the unenlightening stock answer repeated until the questioner loses the will to live.

BoI's long-suffering media handlers as well as the reporters who watch the bank have gotten used to it over the years, to the extent that it barely registers.

So there was some surprise when Mr Boucher offered something approaching an apology for those tactical evasions at a press conference after the bank announced its latest set of financial results.

It came after he was asked to provide guidance about when the bank might actually return to profit.

It is not that he does not want to answer.

Specifically it is because as a chief executive of a public company his every utterance is potentially market moving.

It is that he can't, not under market rules, US market rules in particular.

"Look, I don't want to end up in Rikers Island," he said, referring to the infamous New York jail.

Spread of 'can pay, won't pay'

LEADING academic Gregory Connor has put the cat among the pigeons. He has estimated that more than a third of mortgage holders who are in arrears are deliberately not paying.

This works out at close to 40,000 residential and buy-to-let mortgage holders who can meet their payments but are choosing not to pay.

These people are either diverting the little money they have to pay other debts, with some actually spending the cash that should paying off the mortgage on consumption.

Professor Connor is a distinguished academic. He is professor of finance at NUI Maynooth, but has previously held leading academic positions at the prestigious London School of Economics and the University of California at Berkeley.

He bases his calculations on Central Bank arrears figures and US research.

If his figures are anywhere near correct, they will present a considerable problem for the new Insolvency Service, which is the brain-child of Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

How will the new service, headed up by former Deloitte liquidator Lorcan O'Connor and designed to give relief to heavily indebted consumers, work out who is deserving of a deal, and who is a strategic defaulter? Prof Connor's findings should raise awareness about the undeserving debt-relief hopefuls.

Irish Independent

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