Power generation and industrial emissions drop by 8.7% – EPA

New figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that greenhouse gas emissions from Irish power generation and industrial companies fell by 8.7% last year. 

This mirrors a decrease of about 8.9% across Europe in 2019 and comes despite the country’s strong economic growth during the year.

The EPA said the decrease in emissions was due to a significant 12.3% drop in power generation emissions as a result of the strong presence of renewable energy – mainly wind generation – and less use of fossil fuels in the country’s energy mix. 

It also noted that emissions decreased by 65% cent from the ESB coal-fired plant at Moneypoint in Co Clare. 

Today’s figures show that the cement industry saw a 2% decrease in emissions last year, while the dairy industry reported a 3% fall and emissions from pharmachem industries also decreased by 0.4%.

But aviation emissions rose by 2.8% to 12.77 million tonnes, the EPA added. 

Dr Maria Martin, EPA Senior Manager, said 2019 was the third year in a row to record a fall in greenhouse gas emissions from participants in the EU Emissions Trading System.

“This reflects a positive move to lower use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and an increase in renewables,” she said.

“Aside from power generation, the reductions have been more modest in other sectors and attributable to a small number of players, with an increase recorded from aviation,” Dr Martin stated.

“We need to see consistent reductions in emissions across all sectors to reach our goal of a low-carbon economy,” she added. 

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton welcomed today’s EPA figures, adding that emissions from the country’s largest energy users have fallen from a high of 20.3 tonnes of CO2 in 2008, to 14.1 tonnes last year.

“These results show that it is possible to break the link between economic progress and carbon emissions. Last year, the economy grew by 6% but our electricity and major industrial emissions fell by 8.7%. It is welcome progress, but we must do more,” Mr Bruton said. 

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Covid-19 welfare subsidies may be tapered – Donohoe

Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has said that at the end of the 12-week introduction period he will be “tapering and changing” the Covid-19 pandemic welfare subsidies.

Mr Donohoe said the welfare subsidies “cannot be sustained indefinitely”, but they can be sustained for long enough to allow incomes to be protected “for as long as possible”.

The minister said the Government wants to give the 40,000 companies availing of the Wage Subsidy Scheme “a fighting chance”.

He said the Government wants to avoid cutting core social welfare rates and wants to protect public pay, but this it contingent on the global economy and Covid-19.

Confidence in public health will underpin how economic re-growth is achieved, he added.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the minister said that he “is not applying any pressure” on decisions about a return to work and will be guided by public health experts.

He said the current unemployment rate of 22% is “horrific” for those who have lost jobs, but added that he hopes to see it reduce to 14% by the end of the year.

Mr Donohoe said we have to look at the consequences of different choices.

But if the virus takes longer to contain it will take longer to return to growth, he cautioned.

In a worse scenario, the economic deficit could increase further and unemployment will grow if a return to working is slower.

Minister Donohoe said we are “facing a very big economic challenge” in circumstances that only a few weeks ago we all thought were unimaginable.

He said that with time, patience and focus we will recover our health and rebuild our economy.

Mr Donohoe also said he is confident we will not return to where we were between 2008 and 2012 in the world economy, but we will have to make decisions about what we can do and what we can not do.

He said to have confidence about the economic future, we need to have confidence about our public health.

This will happen though “transparent honest communication” led by public health experts and supported by politicians.

ESRI says economic bounce back not likely to happen

The director of the Economic Social Research Institute has said the Government’s economic forecast released yesterday is “bleak” and that is without considering for another surge in virus cases going forward.

Dr Alan Barrett said that in a rapidly evolving situation this is the most up to date official forecast that will underpin economic policy going forward.

Dr Barrett said that even a few weeks ago “we were clinging to the hope of a v-shaped recovery”, where sections of the economy that were “turned off” would bounce back when the economy was turned back on.

But he said it seems that bounce back will not happen now.

Instead, we will have a gradual lessening of restrictions and that delay presents a much starker picture, he stated.

Dr Barrett said there is a huge amount of uncertainty around the forecast and that is without considering what will happen if there is a new surge and further restrictions are re-introduced.

He said tax increases will depend on how long the economic recovery takes and how many people return to work and help to reduce the enormous deficit.

Borrowing ‘ad infinitum’ is not sustainable, according to Dr Barrett. Even with a pretty healthy recovery there is an understanding that the world has changed, he added.

He said issues such as the postponement of elective surgeries in hospitals will require a build up in demand for spending on public services and therefore it is hard not to foresee tax increases down the road.

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Oil hits lowest this century as coronavirus crisis hammers demand

Brent crude oil rose today after slumping below $16 a barrel to its lowest since 1999, supported by voluntary as well as the prospect of forced production cuts to tackle a glut caused by the coronavirus crisis. 

This month, OPEC+ agreed new oil output curbs but global measures to prevent the virus spreading have driven demand down more steeply. 

The price drop is also expected to drive output curbs for economic reasons or due to a lack of storage. 

International benchmark Brent crude, which fell 24% in the previous session, touched $15.98 a barrel at one stage today, hitting its lowest since June 1999. But it had recovered to stand at $19.72, up 39 cents or 2%, this afternoon. 

US West Texas Intermediate was up nine cents, or 0.8%, at $11.66. 

“Overall, we are at price levels which will have a strong impact on production worldwide,” said Olivier Jakob, oil analyst at Petromatrix. “We are getting close to $5 a barrel for some crude grades.” 

The prospect of supply outstripping demand for several months, at least, led to two of the wildest oil trading days in history this week. The US contract fell into negative territory for the first time ever on Monday. 

“Be prepared for more surprises in this broken oil market,” said Rystad Energy’s head of oil markets, Bjornar Tonhaugen. 

Today’s low for Brent took prices back to a time when OPEC was also tackling a supply glut and business and consumers were concerned – unnecessarily as it turned out – about the Millennium Bug affecting computers after the turn of the century. 

In the latest sign of excess supply, the American Petroleum Institute yesterday said that US crude inventories rose by 13.2 million barrels. 

Although OPEC+ agreed this month to reduce output by 9.7 million bpd, starting from May, producers are already considering further steps. 

Saudi Arabia this week said it was ready to take extra measures with other producers. Iraq made similar comments, although the next formal OPEC+ meeting is in June.

The US and other countries also said this month they would pump less, bolstering efforts by OPEC+. 

But in a development that raises doubt over a formal US supply cut, two of three Texas regulators yesterday delayed a vote to force producers to curtail output. 

Katie Martin, Markets Editor with the Financial Times, said recent events on oil markets could not simply be written off as a technicality over contract rollovers.

“Everything is under pressure. Brent is down 40% this week. It’s at its lowest since 1999.”

She said the oil sell off was causing traders in other asset classes, particularly equities in the US, to pause for thought.

“US markets had a huge run higher as the central banks threw the kitchen sink at it. The stock market is telling you all is well in the world, the oil market is telling you that the global economy is in crisis. Which one is right?,” she said.

Katie Martin suggested that there might be another pullback on markets on the back of what is happening in the oil trade.

Wall Street put in two days of losses this week after markets there recorded their first back-to-back weekly gains since early February last week as investor optimism about the pandemic appeared to grow.

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Europe’s banks brace for bad debt build up from coronavirus crisis

Europe’s banks are expected to have to set aside billions for potential loan losses as well as take profit hits because of the coronavirus crisis when they start reporting results over the next two weeks. 

The region’s banks were already under pressure before the crisis with high costs, low returns, and demands to fix outdated technology. 

Mergers, which could potentially relieve those issues, have been difficult to pull off because of national barriers. 

The largest US banks, which reported earnings last week, set aside $25 billion for credit losses in the first quarter, raising questions about whether European banks would follow suit.

Italy’s UniCredit became the first major euro zone bank to write down the value of its loans to reflect the economic impact of the coronavirus. 

Italy’s biggest bank by assets said it would book around €900m in additional loan loss provisions in the first quarter. 

Analysts over the past 30 days have revised upward by almost 130% their expectations for loan loss provisions in 2020 by Europe’s most important banks, according to a Reuters analysis of data from Refinitiv. 

At the same time, analysts have cut by more than 40% their full-year profit forecasts for those banks, which include global banks like HSBC, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, the data showed. 

Regulators have said they will be lenient in enforcing accounting rules on expected loan losses, but there is pressure on European banks to be realistic about the looming downturn. 

Lower profitability than their Wall Street rivals will mean European banks have less room for manoeuvre. 

“Those US banks make huge amounts of money,” said Rob Smith, financial services partner at KPMG. 

“European banks don’t have that luxury of revenue and income to absorb such significant increases” in loan loss provisions, he said. “That in turn that will dictate their approach.” 

Though banks are not legally obliged to come up with the bulk of provisions now, “prudence is a recommendation that should be followed” given the current environment, a person with knowledge of the matter said. 

The vulnerability of European banks to the outbreak was highlighted this week by the credit rating agency Fitch, which disclosed that it had taken 116 rating actions on Western European banks, mainly revising their outlook to negative. 

The flood of European bank earnings will provide only a partial snapshot of how they are faring so far during the crisis, which began in earnest as the first quarter was well underway. 

Credit ratings agency S&P said management disclosures and comments would be “more revealing than the results themselves.” 

Italian banks, which have worked hard to tackle the legacy of previous recessions, are expected to start raising provisions against loan losses in the first quarter as the economy heads for a contraction which the International Monetary Fund estimates could reach 9.1% this year, analysts say. 

Italy’s banks have the highest exposure among European lenders to small and medium-sized businesses, which are likely to suffer the most from a prolonged lockdown as the country battles with one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks. 

Morgan Stanley estimated the crisis risks saddling Italian banks with up to an additional €60-80 billion in impaired loans over the next two-to-three years, an up to 45% increase on the current stock. 

Spain’s banks will also report an increase in provisions, analysts said. 

Santander said earlier this month in a US regulatory filing the pandemic may cause “us to experience higher credit losses” there. 

Analysts said that a near standstill in Spain’s economy would first have a direct impact on the banks’ mortgage books, which account for around 40% of their credit portfolios, and on their consumer books, which make up for 8% of lending. 

The Bank of Spain said on Monday that the country’s tourism-dependent economy could shrink as much as 12.4% this year if the coronavirus lockdown lasts 12 weeks. 

At French banks, any higher loan loss provisions are expected to be “manageable”, Jon Peace, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said. 

Deutsche Bank is the only major European lender that analysts forecast to post a loss for the full year of 2020 as it goes through a costly restructuring. 

The crisis has made it difficult for the bank to predict whether it will meet its financial targets after years of losses. 

Analysts as of last week had nearly doubled their expectations for Deutsche Bank’s first-quarter and full-year provisions for credit losses compared with early March, according to consensus forecasts published on the bank’s website.

Moody’s has highlighted that Deutsche Bank is among the global Europe-based investment banks that is most vulnerable to loan-loss charges. 

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Over one million now dependent on State income support

Over one million people are now either fully or partially dependent on the State for income support, according to the latest figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. 

584,000 people are now receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment introduced just over a month ago. 

The latest figures indicate that 50,000 of those are receiving the €350 payment for the first time this week. 

Payments will be in their bank accounts or at their local post office tomorrow. 

Those figures come on top of the 212,000 on the Live Register receiving standard Jobseekers’ Benefit of €203 per week. 

In total, 796,000 people are totally reliant on the State for their income.

The figure at the end of February was 182,000 – meaning unemployment has more than quadrupled in seven weeks. 

Separately, 46,000 employers have now registered with the Revenue Commissioners for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), which is subsidising the pay of 281,200 employees.  

When those on the Covid-19 Pandemic Payment, those on Jobseekers and those in the TWSS are added up, 1,077,200 people are now completely or partly dependent on the State for income support.  

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty referred to this figure as “unparalleled in our nation’s history”. 

She described the situation as a temporary health emergency, adding that many sectors of the economy would be able to switch back on relatively quickly once the danger has passed – but also warned of longer-term consequences. 

“Some sectors will be slower than others to recover and we will also have a challenge with youth employment as many young people who could have expected to have entered a buoyant jobs market will now face a much more complex environment,” Ms Doherty said.  

She said her department was already planning for the “post-pandemic environment”, and is considering the best measures to help every worker to get back into the labour force as quickly as possible.  

According to the Department, since the Covid-19 Pandemic Payment was launched on 16 March, it has processed 662,000 applications for the payment or for an alternative jobseekers’ payment. 

51,000 applicants subsequently closed their Covid-19 Pandemic Payment, mostly because their employers had taken people back onto the payroll to avail of the wage subsidy scheme.  

52,000 payments have been withheld, either because the applicants were still in employment, had not been in employment prior to making the claim, were covered by the wage subsidy scheme, were not resident in the State, or had submitted incorrect bank or PPSN details. 

32,000 have been medically certified to qualify for the €350 a week Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit Payment, which applies to people who have diagnosed with the virus or have been advised by a GP to self-isolate. Normal non-Covid Illness Benefit is €203.

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Land prices fell by 6% last year as experts warn of negative Covid-19 impact

The price of agricultural land dropped by 6% last year, according to the latest review from the Society of Chartered Surveyors and Teagasc.

The average price for an acre of land nationally was €8,823 in 2019, down from €9,346 in 2018.

Munster recorded the biggest yearly fall in selling price at 9%, while selling prices fell 6% in Leinster and just 1% in Connacht/Ulster last year.

Today’s survey also reveals that the average price per acre without a residence last year in Leinster was €10,224 an acre, with Munster on €9,719 and Connacht/Ulster on €6,527.

The survey of 163 chartered surveyors from all over the country was conducted in December and early January 2020, before the outbreak of Covid-19.

Miah McGrath, Chair of the SCSI’s Rural Agency Group, said the report’s findings reflected the fall in farm output prices and increased demand from farmers to lease land. 

Mr McGrath cautioned that Covid-19 remained the great unknown in terms of developments this year. 

“The sudden emergence of the Covid-19 crisis and the speed at which it has moved has created a negative demand shock for farming, ” he said. 

Noting that while consumption of food within the home has increased, he said this has been more than offset by reduced consumption outside the home. Meat and dairy commodity prices have fallen as a result.

“The short-term economic impact is likely to be quite negative, but the effect on land prices will probably depend on the duration of the crisis and this makes it very difficult to predict future price moves,” he added.

Miah McGrath said that up to this Brexit had been a major concern for farmers with 74% of SCSI members believed fears over Brexit deterred buyers, while 63% believed it deterred sellers. 

He said that given the negative economic effect Covid-19 will have, the importance of the EU and the UK agreeing a trade deal this year, is now more important than ever. 

“Purchaser confidence is likely to remain weak until more clarity on both issues emerges,” he added.

This year’s report includes a long-term price series for land sales and land rental prices which has never previously been publicly available. 

The data, from Smith Harrington, shows that over the last 50 years the price of an acre varied from a low of €290 in 1970 to a high of over €20,000 in 2007 at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

Prices then fell to between €9,000 to €10,000 in recent years.

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Construction resumes on social housing projects

Construction is resuming on 35 social housing projects to ensure local authorities can deliver accommodation for people currently in emergency accommodation or at risk of homelessness during the current pandemic, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed.

However, the Construction Industry Federation has warned members that if they do not comply rigorously with health and safety regulations, sites will be closed down again. 

In a statement to RTÉ, the Department said local authorities had identified a number of social housing projects which were in some cases “substantially complete with minor snagging or other works to be completed”. 

It said the units in 35 schemes across 14 counties would provide valuable emergency solutions and critical accommodation for those needing to self-isolate or cocoon, and facilitate social distancing. 

The Department, the Housing Agency and the Housing Delivery Coordination Office (HDCO) have established a process where the relevant local authority will apply through the HDCO for a designation that a specific project falls within the meaning of essential activity under the health regulations. 

It states: “In applying for that designation the Local Authority confirms that the works are essential, the homes can be completed quickly and that they will assure themselves that all the necessary Covid-19 public health requirements can be met on-site.”

A spokesperson for the Department said some of this work may have already resumed.

Meanwhile the Construction Industry Federation has warned members that if they breach health and safety regulation when the first building works resume, all sites may be shut down. 
                                                                                                                                                                                In a letter to relevant developers entitled “Recommencement of Social Housing Classified as Essential Projects”,  CIF Director Housing, Planning & Development Services James Benson highlights a new Standard Operating Procedure and a “Residential Sector Back to Work Implementation Framework around Covid-19 prevention measures on site, which can be accessed online. 

The letter notes that the new processes involve “…radical changes to how work is carried out and how employees travel to work, work, and return home. As with most measures, personal responsibility is critical to successfully stopping the virus.”

The letter then goes on to issue a stark warning: “However, as an employer, the equation is simple: if the SOP & BTWIF guidance is not followed by employees, they are at risk and our understanding is that construction sites will be shut down again.” 

The CIF letter notes that before the construction industry was shut down, “… images of crowded sites and employees in high viz not maintaining physical distancing, effectively made it impossible for the Government to keep sites open.”

The letter confirms that the CIF, the Irish Home Builders Association and An Garda Síochána are still fielding regular calls from members of the public reporting companies at work, and advises members to “go above and beyond what’s normal and do whatever it takes to ensure employees comply with the SOP and attached documents.”

The letter then outlines a series of steps for construction firms to implement including familiarisation with the new SOP and Framework, carrying out a safety review, appointing a Covid-19 Compliance Officer, changing traditional work practices where necessary to ensure compliance. 

Only workers who have successfully completed induction in the new procedures will be given digital cards.

Workers must travel to work individually “where possible”, and employers must ensure workers do not congregate on the way to the site, onsite or leaving the site or take lunch in groups. . 

They are also advised to consider branding vehicles and sites as “essential services”, informing the local Gardai, and appointing a person to speak to the public if queries arise. 

The CIF goes on to tell members:  “Carrying out these measures whilst working will keep these sites open.  It will also help make the case to Government, Health Authorities and other public sector clients to open other sites and the wider industry at a suitable time in the future.  Failure to do so could see sites shut again for the duration of the pandemic, potentially months; a disastrous scenario for you, our sector, the industry and the wider economy.”

The housing projects are in Carlow, Cork City, Cork County, Dublin City Council, Fingal, South Dublin County Council, Kildare, Kilkenny, Louth, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow.

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Fuel prices are falling while everyone’s at home

The price of a litre of fuel has fallen significantly in recent weeks. However, with personal movement restricted to within a two kilometre radius of everyone’s home, the benefit of the price reduction is not being felt by many, other than those who need to carry out essential work.

Why are prices falling and how much longer could motorists benefit from this situation?

A perfect storm

Price movements on forecourts are pretty much dictated by the vagaries of international oil markets.

Government taxation makes up a large portion of the price of a litre of fuel, but that element does not change significantly.

Taxes are pretty much baked into the equation. So when there’s a shock to the global oil supply, that is when we generally see prices moving upwards or downwards.

Oil prices globally started to taper off towards the latter part of last year, according to Job Langbroek, Resource Analyst with Davy Stockbrokers.

The effects of the US-China trade war shifted seamlessly into the Covid-19 crisis, which resulted in a sharp fall off in oil demand early this year, he points out.

That demand shock then spread to the rest of the world as air transport ground to a halt and the traffic of goods by sea and land gradually stopped.

On top of that, the oil producing nations of OPEC and Russia couldn’t agree on continuing a strategy of capping daily oil production in order to support the oil price.

The production caps, which had been in place since late 2016, had seen the price of a barrel of Brent crude – the international oil price benchmark – stabilising at between $50 and $70, having dipped as low as $30 dollars in the preceding years.

“OPEC asked for an additional cut to counteract an obvious forthcoming Covid-19-related fall in demand,” Job Langbroek explained.

“However, this was allegedly too much for Russian oil groups, resulting in the collapse of the three-year-long deal. Oil prices responded predictably and crashed.” 

The price went as far south as $25 a barrel, then stabilised at around $30 on the conclusion of an agreement between the sides that’s promising a collective production cut of up to 10 million barrels of oil a day – amounting to about 10% of global demand prior to the pandemic.

In recent days, however, prices have fallen again with Brent sitting at around $28 a barrel at the time of writing.

How does that affect what I pay for my petrol?

There’s generally a lag in the time it takes for oil prices to fall and for that to make its way onto the forecourts.

The AA carries out a monthly study of fuel prices and it found that the cost per litre dropped dramatically here in the month of March.

According to the AA’s figures, the price of a litre of diesel fell by 16 cent during the month, bringing average prices to 116.9 cent per litre.

Petrol prices were 15 cent lower at 126.5 cent. That saw fuel prices falling to their lowest in four years.

The price of petrol increased slightly – by 0.4 cent – in early April, the AA reported in recent days, but diesel prices have remained static.

The striking of the agreement by OPEC and Russia may support prices in the longer term, but, as Conor Faughnan, Director of Public Affairs with the AA points out, price rises are likely to stay fairly muted while the uncertainty over the true economic effect of Covid-19 lingers.

“While a jump of $10 in crude oil prices could lead some to worry about a surge at the pumps, we need to remember that oil prices are still significantly below the levels of $60-$65 per barrel that we were seeing in 2019 and early 2020,” he said. 

“The long-term future of where prices are heading remains unclear and really won’t start to reveal itself until we have a full understanding of the extent of the economic damage caused by COVID-19, but in the short-term we can expect prices not to deviate too much from where they currently are if all other things remain equal.”

That’s great. But why is fuel still so expensive if oil is so cheap?

In a word, tax! According to the AA, the bulk of what we pay at the pump goes directly to the Exchequer.

“Crude oil only accounts for about 20-25% of what we pay at the pump for a litre of fuel. The rest consists largely of taxation,” Conor Faughnan explains.

If you pay €1.25 for a litre of petrol, according to the AA’s calculations, about 85 cent goes to the government in the form of taxes with the remaining 40 cent being split between the exploration company that extracted the oil from the ground, the refinery, the wholesaler and the retailer, who sells the fuel to you.

In fact, the retailer ends up with about 4 cent per litre in the current pricing environment.

And it’s not a situation that’s unique to Ireland. According to the AA’s charts, we’re around average in the league tables in Europe when it comes to pricing per litre of fuel with Eastern European countries, as well as Spain and Luxembourg, generally coming in cheaper and central European economies, including France, Italy and the Netherlands, coming in significantly more expensive.

Why does it take so long for fuel prices to fall, but they appear to go up overnight?

Usually when we see a sharp increase in fuel prices, it is as a result of a taxation hike in a budget, for example. In that situation, the price rise generally takes effect at midnight following the unveiling of the budget.

As regards oil prices, fuel pricing follows the Brent crude benchmark pretty faithfully, according to the AA.

There is generally a lag between the Brent price falling and that saving making its way through to the forecourts, but there is little evidence to suggest that the retailers are profiting off price falls or price gains.

A major study of fuel prices here carried out by the National Consumer Agency over 10 years ago found that fuel retailers do not artificially inflate prices. 

So how long can we expect the current low prices to last?

There does not appear to be much hope that the agreement to cap output by OPEC and its allies will drive the price of oil any higher, if at all. In fact, it’s fallen back again in recent days.

“This may be the largest ever cut, but we’re living through an unprecedented event and demand has fallen off a cliff,” Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst with Oanda said. 

“It’s no surprise to see oil prices paring back the early April gains to sit not far from their lows.”

Job Langbroek of Davy believes it will be several months, at the earliest, before prices can start to get back on an even keel. 

“Given the projected disease trajectory in main markets, it may well be mid-summer before oil demand begins to improve,” he said.

However, with the IMF now forecasting a severe recession of the magnitude of the 1930s Great Depression, the pickup in the demand for crude may be slower than many would have hoped, Oanda points out in a trading note.

So lower fuel prices might be with us for the medium term.

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House prices stable in February, before coronavirus disruption

New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that residential property prices increased by 1.1% nationally in the year to February. 

The CSO said this compares with an increase of 1.1% in the year to January and an increase of 4.3% the same time last year.

Today’s figures lag a coronavirus-related collapse in housing transactions. 

While the February data suggested a continued stabilisation in the market in the first two months of the year, a series of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus were implemented in March with a stay-home order in place at least until May 5. 

Activity has collapsed as a result, Davy Stockbrokers chief economist Conall MacCoille wrote in a note today.

Just 700 transactions were added to the Property Price Register in the week to April 15, almost 40% lower than the weekly average in January and February.

Estate agents had stopped viewings before the restrictions were tightened late last month.

Mr MacCoille said the restrictions could push transactions to a negligible level and even prevent the CSO from publishing a house price inflation reading for April. 

“Ultimately, a functioning housing market will require the COVID-19 business restrictions to be relaxed – making questions on where house prices go redundant for now,” the economist said.

“It is possible that transactions could bounce back in Q3 if the restrictions are relaxed, but almost certainly not sufficient to make up for the disruption early in the year,” he added. 

House prices have stabilised over the last year having shot up for five years following a strong economic recovery from a property crash a decade ago. 

Prices, which were down 0.1% month-on-month in February, are 17.9% below their 2007 peak. 

However the economic shutdown has more than trebled the unemployment rate to 16.5% – at least temporarily – and consumer sentiment suffered its largest monthly drop on record in April, a survey showed earlier this week. 

The Central Bank has estimated that gross domestic product could fall by 8.3% in 2020 and that unemployment could reach 25% before falling back to 12.6% at the end of the year, assuming the current containment measures last three months.

Today’s CSO figures show that Dublin residential property prices decreased by 0.1% in the year to February, with house prices seeing no change and apartments increasing by 0.8%. 

The highest house price growth in Dublin was in Fingal at 3.4%, while Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown saw a decline of 2.9%. 

Residential property prices in the rest of the country rose by 2.4% in the year to February, with house prices up by 2.5% and apartments rising 0.5%. 

The CSO said that the region outside of Dublin with the largest rise in house prices was the Border at 7.6%, while at the other end of the scale, the South-East saw a 1.2% decline in prices.

Today’s figures show that property prices nationally have increased by 83.1% from their trough in early 2013. 

Dublin residential property prices have risen 93% from their February 2012 low, while prices in the rest of Ireland are 81.5% higher than at the trough in May 2013.

The CSO said that consumers paid a median price of €260,000 for a home in the 12 months to February.

Today’s figures show that the Dublin region had the highest median price of €370,000. Within the Dublin region, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown had the highest median price of €525,000 and while South Dublin had the lowest at €346,000.

The highest median prices outside Dublin were in Wicklow at €325,368 and Kildare at €310,000, while the lowest price was €104,250 in Leitrim.

Today’s figures show that in the year to February, 45,340 household dwelling purchases were filed with Revenue. 

Of these, 32% were purchases by first-time buyer owner-occupiers, while former owner-occupiers purchased 52.9%. The balance of 15.1% were bought by investors. 

Revenue data shows that there were 960 first-time buyer purchases in February, an increase of 5.8% on the 907 recorded the same time last year. 

These purchases were made up of 243 new homes and 717 existing homes.

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Over 45,100 employers registered for wage subsidy scheme

There are over 45,100 employers registered with Revenue for the Covid-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, according to the latest figures from Revenue.

Over 30,800 employers have already received subsidy payments under the scheme, and over 281,200 employees have already received at least one payment.

Today, Revenue has generated further subsidy payments under the scheme worth €34 million. These payment will be in the bank accounts of the majority of the respective employers by the next banking day.

The cumulative value of payments made under the scheme is €300 million, which includes €26 million in income tax paid that has been refunded over the same time.

Small and medium sized enterprises represent 83% of businesses whose employees are availing of the payment. Dublin has the largest share of employers availing of the scheme (28%), followed by Cork (11%), Galway (5.6%) and Kildare (5.2%).

More than 25% of employees availing of the payment work in the wholesale and retail sector, followed by manufacturing (15.6%), accommodation and food services (12.9%) and construction (12.3%).

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