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Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary

RYANAIR is on the prowl for a species it has rarely targeted in the past – the business traveller.

The carrier announced last week that it would be grounding fewer aircraft next winter as it uses its fleet to chase business flyers during the slower tourist season.

Special business fare products will be launched in May as chief executive Michael O'Leary eyes up the elusive corporate customer.

Ryanair shares soared nearly 8 per cent last Monday as the airline reported strong forward bookings, despite the carrier posting a €35m loss in the three months to the end of December.

"We'll be actively going after business traffic, or the traffic that doesn't pay for its own ticket," he said.

"At the main airports, there is a high proportion of business travellers, politicians, bureaucrats, (and) consultants. . . we have a major growth opportunity in the next 12 to 14 months."

3 IRELAND AWAITS O2 DECISION

3 Ireland's proposed €850m takeover of O2 Ireland was dealt a blow last week, after the European Commission lodged a statement of objections to the multimillion euro proposal.

It appears that the Brussels-based body is having fears about reduced access to the market for new entrants.

The commission is also understood to be considering fears that network sharing deals such as those active between Eircom and O2 Ireland might fall into doubt. A decision is expected from the European Commission by March 24.

GATES STEPS DOWN AS CHAIRMAN

Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates has stepped down as chairman, but will become a technology adviser to the company. Microsoft's appointment of a new chief executive, 46-year-old Satya Nadella, wasn't unexpected. But the change of role for Mr Gates was.

The markets didn't really react, as shares were flat after the announcement. PC sales, upon which Microsoft relies for much of its income, are in decline.

DEPFA TO BE SOLD AT HUGE LOSS

DEPFA bank, which famously became the biggest Irish bank after moving here in the 1990s, is set to be sold at around 6 per cent of its 2007 valuation.

German bank Hypo Real Estate has attracted bids of between €200m and €350m for its IFSC-based unit, Bloomberg reported this week.

Even at the higher end of the valuations, it is a fraction of the €5.7bn that Hypo paid to buy the specialist lender seven years ago.

Depfa was put up for sale as a condition of European Union approval for a €10bn bailout of its parent Hypo back in 2011.

First-round offers for the lender were received late last year, with second-round bids made ahead of a January 28 deadline.

A final round of bids and selection of a referred bidder could happen within weeks.

DRAGHI HOLDS FIRM ON RATES

HE didn't blink. Mario Draghi held firm.

The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged at a record low on Thursday when its governing council met for its monthly gathering in Frankfurt.

But it put markets on alert for a possible move in March, acknowledging that emerging-market turbulence could hit the eurozone.

"Developments in global money and financial market conditions and related uncertainties, notably in the emerging-market economies, may have the potential to negatively affect economic conditions," Mr Draghi, the ECB head, said.

"The reason for [the] decision not to act has really to do with the complexity of the situation. . . and the need to acquire more information."

If emerging-market turmoil persists, a move is more likely next month. A downgrade in the ECB's staff inflation estimate – already at just 1.2 per cent for 2014 – could yet prompt action.

Irish Independent