Thursday 22 March 2018

Business news in brief: Call for a commercial rates freeze

THE Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association called on all councils to freeze commercial rates for three years.

The association urged newly elected councillors to cut costs at councils to reduce or maintain current charges to give "business a chance to survive" while consumer spending remains low.

"The incoming councillors must ensure that they are adequately briefed on the range of issues facing the businesses in their area," said ISME boss Mark Fielding.

"Their priority must be to reduce administration costs so that commercial rates and local charges can be curtailed. A new approach to Local Government financing is required.

"The burden placed on the business community by the current system is not equitable, efficient, effective or economical. This will allow SMEs, the key players in local economies, to survive and maintain local jobs."

The second priority is to use their term in office to create a long-term vision and work towards a return to bustling main streets rather than the high vacancy rates and poor footfall currently in place, he added.



US conglomerate General Electric has improved its offer for French train and turbine maker Alstom, notably concerning the impact on jobs, an official at French President Francois Hollande's office said yesterday. The comments, which followed a meeting between Hollande and GE chief executive Jeff Immelt, signalled a change of tone from Paris. The French government had until now criticised GE's $16.9bn bid for Alstom's power arm and earlier this month passed a decree giving itself an effective veto on any deal. On Tuesday, Immelt told French lawmakers his group would make detailed commitments to increase jobs in France. He also said GE was considering a tie-up in rail signalling that would give Alstom control of that business, addressing concerns that a sale would weaken the once-bailed out engineering group by reducing it to its smaller transport arm.



British retail sales grew at a slower pace this month, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry suggested yesterday. The CBI's monthly distributive trades survey's retail sales balance eased in May to +16 from +30 in April and below economists' forecasts of +35. The survey of 136 firms showed retailers predict a sale pick-up next month, with the index for expected June sales at +29. "Although that growth was at a slower rate than expected, the fact we've seen a steady increase for six consecutive months is a sign we're heading towards sustainable growth and strengthening consumer optimism," said Barry Williams, chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel. Consumer demand, buoyed by a strengthening housing market, has been the main driver of Britain's recovery. In the CBI's quarterly survey, the business situation index was +13 in May, down from +18 in February.



China is an appealing market for pharmaceutical firms and medical-equipment makers, with spending in the industry expected to nearly triple to $1 trillion by 2020 from $357bn in 2011, according to consulting firm McKinsey. In a 2014 healthcare reform plan on its website, China's cabinet, the State Council, said it aimed to relax limits on foreign investment in hospitals on the mainland. The plan would include "reducing restrictions on the percentage of foreign ownership in medical JVs and collaborations". The move would increase the number of locations where Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau investors could set up wholly-owned medical centres, and let overseas investors set up wholly-owned hospitals in areas like the Shanghai free trade zone.



Eurozone banks mainly stocked up on sovereign debt in April but Ireland bucked the trend, data from the European Central Bank showed yesterday. Italian banks bought €9.4bn in government debt in April after a €2.1bn increase in March, marking the largest monthly rise since last June. At a market value of €430bn, Italian banks' holdings of government bonds remain the largest in the eurozone. Dutch banks bought €3.5bn worth of government bonds in April, after buying €596m's worth in March – the largest monthly rise since February 2012. Irish banks decreased their government debt holdings by €3.4bn, with the market value falling to €48.1bn. Greece also saw a decrease, with banks selling €256m of sovereign debt. Adjusted for market value, Greek banks' sovereign debt holdings fell to €15bn.



Nestle is boosting its emerging skincare business by buying the rights to several dermatology products from Canada's Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc for $1.4bn in cash. The Swiss food giant took a deeper dive into healthcare in February by taking over the Galderma dermatology joint venture it had with L'Oreal, hinting that more deals would follow. "With this deal we have acquired key strategic assets to extend Nestle's activities in the field of specialised, medical skin treatments," the Swiss group's chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said. "This move will reinforce Galderma's leading position in the industry when it becomes Nestle Skin Health by allowing it to complete its geographic footprint for its strong portfolio of brands and leading medical solutions globally."



Music streaming service Spotify will ask some of its 40 million users to re-enter their passwords and upgrade their software in coming days after detecting unauthorised access to its internal systems and data. Chief technology officer Oskar Stal said in a blogpost that it has found evidence of attackers accessing just one user's data, which did not include payment or password information. But, as a precaution, it intends to ask "certain Spotify users" to re-enter their log-in credentials, and upgrade their Google Android app. Spotify said it was not recommending any action yet for users of Apple iPhones or devices based on Microsoft's Windows. The intrusion was the latest to hit a major tech company recently.

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