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STATE CAR BOOT SALE TO GO ON AS BUST banks beg for MORE

What lies in store for us in 2014? Will it be a good or a bad year for consumers and businesses? Here are my economic and financial predictions for the year ahead.

1) UK and US interest rates will rise

Finally, more than six years after the Great Recession first struck, there are clear signs that both the British and American economies are recovering strongly.

The Fed is already talking about "tapering" – cutting back – on its policy of quantitative easing in the US. Bank of England governor Mark Carney is also making bullish noises about the British economy.

When one translates these comments from central banker-speak into plain English, it is clear that both the Fed and the Bank of England are getting ready to raise rates.

2) The dollar and sterling will rise in value against the euro

Higher US and UK interest rates will push the value of the dollar and sterling higher against the euro on the foreign exchange markets.

This will be good news for Irish exporters, whose goods will be more competitive in export markets, but bad news for consumers who will pay more for imported goods.

3) Higher inflation caused by a weaker euro will lead to all-out war within the ECB

Last November's interest rate cut, which was rammed through in the face of fierce German opposition, demonstrated conclusively that the ECB council is split down the middle.

This situation will worsen in 2014 with Germany and its Dutch, Austrian and Finnish satellites demanding higher interest rates to choke off higher prices in their countries and the rest of the Eurozone resisting these demands.

The future of the single currency – if it has one – will be determined by the outcome of this battle.

4) NAMA will be broken up

The recent controversy surrounding NAMA, with allegations that former staff members had leaked information on borrowers to commercial rivals, has brought its previously invincible status to an end.

With the property market slowly recovering, the politicians will be taking a much closer look at NAMA in 2014. This is likely to result in it being wholly or partially broken up, with the management of at least some of its €32bn property portfolio being hived off to outside managers.

5) The property market recovery will pause

After six-and-a-half years of falling prices, the property market (left) bottomed out in 2013, with prices rising by 6.1pc in the 12 months to October.

This may be as good as it gets for the time being. With new mortgage lending down by more than 95pc from its 2006 peak and the pool of cash buyers – more than a third of all purchasers – likely to dry up, the housing market will pause for breath in 2014.

6) At least one of the Irish banks will require more capital following the ECB stress tests

The ECB is due to publish the results of its stress tests of the Eurozone banks, including the Irish banks, this year.

With a third of all mortgages either in arrears and/or having been restructured, half of all SME lending distressed and lots of other bad loans on their books, most analysts expect that the State will have to pump even more money – on top of the €64bn which the banking crisis has already cost the taxpayer – into our broken banks as a result of the stress tests.

7) A hole in its pension fund will sink at least one major Irish company

The pension sector is in crisis. A combination of increased longevity, poor investment returns and government raids has left most company pension funds in serious deficit, with estimates of the combined shortfall running as high as €25bn.

With many companies not having the cash to plug the holes in their pension funds and the trade unions getting bolshie on the issue, expect at least one big-name company to come to grief over the issue in 2014.

8) The end of milk quotas will lead to a wave of dairy mergers

With milk quotas set to expire at the end of March 2015, stand by for a sizeable wave of mergers and acquisitions in the dairy sector this year.

Only Glanbia, which is already the largest dairy processor, is certain to survive in anything resembling its current form in 12 months' time.

9) The need to find more capital for the banks will lead to further privatisations

In 2013 the Government flogged off Irish Life, Bord Gais Energy and the National Lottery for a combined total of more than €2.8bn.

The national car boot sale will certainly continue this year as the ECB stress tests force the Government to find more cash.

Possible sale candidates include the national electricity grid, the gas pipeline network, Dublin Airport Authority, Irish Water and the sea ports.

10) Retail sales will finally begin to recover

This will be the year in which retail sales (left), down by more than a quarter since 2007, begin to recover. With more people at work and the economic outlook improving, shoppers will return to the main streets and malls.


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