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Live Register sees another fall in January – CSO

The number of people signing on the Live Register fell in January to the lowest level since the start of 2008, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

The CSO said the Live Register fell by 1,300 in January to bring the seasonally adjusted total to 183,900. 

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of men signing on the Live Register showed a monthly decrease of 0.8% in January, while the number of women fell by 0.5%. 

Today’s CSO figures also show that the number of long term claimants on the Live Register fell by 14.3% in the 12 months to January.

Meanwhile, the level of youth unemployment decreased by 6.2%, with the CSO noting that annual decreases in people under the age of 25 signing on have now occurred every month since July 2010.

Figures from the CSO earlier this week showed that the monthly unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.8% in January from 4.7% in December. 

The Live Register is not designed to measure unemployment as it includes part-time workers – those who work up to three days a week – as well as seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB) or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA).

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Record number of startups are formed here

Almost 23,000 business startups were formed in Ireland last year, according to a report from company intelligence firm CRIF Vision-net.

This is up 1.2pc on 2018, and is the highest number of startups over a 12-month period in CRIF’s 29-year history.

Startups exceeded company closures by more than 10,400 in 2019.

Firms operating in the professional services space accounted for the majority of companies being formed, responsible for just under 4pc of all startups last year.

This was followed by financial sector companies and social and personal services businesses.

Christine Cullen, managing director of CRIF Vision-net, said despite challenges around the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and “the fact that Ireland is now in a mature stage of growth… our latest figures show that the Irish economy is continuing to grow”.

Dublin remains the most attractive spots for business startups, with almost half of all newly established firms locating in the capital last year.

Cork, where 10pc of startups were set up in 2019, was the second most popular location, followed by Galway, Limerick and Kildare.

Meanwhile, last year’s company insolvency figure is down 18pc on the previous year, according to the report.

As well as being the most common sector for businesses setting up, professional services proved to be the most insolvent industry. This was followed by the wholesale and retail sector.

CRIF’s database in Ireland has information on nearly 596,000 companies and almost 582,000 business names and sole traders.

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Consumer sentiment climbs to six-month high

Consumer sentiment hit a six-month high in January, buoyed by the reduced risk of a disorderly British exit from the European Union.

But sentiment was still sharply lower in January than it was a year ago.

Ireland has remained the European Union’s fastest growing economy during three years of Brexit talks, but consumer confidence faltered when it seemed that the UK could leave without agreeing to a withdrawal deal. 

KBC Bank Ireland’s consumer sentiment index increased to 85.5 in January from 81.4 in December, the third consecutive monthly rise. 

The index was significantly higher than the seven-year low of 69.5 in October but well below 98.8 a year ago. 

“While Brexit-related fears have eased somewhat in recent months, the January reading suggests that consumers remain nervous about the general economic outlook and their own financial prospects,” said Austin Hughes, chief economist at KBC Ireland. 

The recent uptick “looks to be a relief rally rather than a fundamental rethink of their circumstances by Irish consumers”, he said. 

All five elements of the index improved in January relative to December, with the largest gain in relation to jobs, the survey showed.

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US trade deficit falls in 2019 for first time in 6 years

The US trade deficit fell last year to $616.8 billion, the first time the gap has narrowed since 2013 as imports, particularly from China, declined more than exports, according to government data released today. 

As President Donald Trump’s trade confrontations escalated in 2019, the total trade gap shrunk by nearly $10 billion as exports fell by 0.1% and imports dropped 0.4%, the Commerce Department reported.

Excluding services, the US deficit in goods fell by nearly $20 billion to $866 billion last year, as imports of Chinese products hit by Trump’s punitive tariffs dropped 17.6%, according to the report. 

That decline was offset by big increases in imports from top US trading partners Canada, which surged 42%, and Mexico, which jumped 26%. 

The narrowing of the US trade gap comes after a year when the deficit reached its highest level in a decade. 

In addition to the trade conflicts, the strong US dollar put American exports at a disadvantage, while China’s slowing economy weakened the yuan and boosted exports from that country. 

And while that was the goal of Trump’s trade policy, it is not necessarily good news because a drop in exports often reflects a slowing economy. 

In fact, growth in the world’s largest economy slowed in 2019 to 2.3% compared to 2.9% in 2018, as business sharply curtailed investment due to the trade uncertainty.

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Economy off to strong start in 2020, services PMI shows

The country’s services sector grew at the fastest pace in seven months in January, a new survey today showed.

This was the second survey this week to suggest the euro zone’s fastest-growing economy made a strong start to the year. 

A slowdown in manufacturing activity in Ireland threatened to spread to the services sector as recently as October but some certainly around Brexit has helped solidify seven years of uninterrupted growth over the past three months. 

AIB’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for services rose to 56.9 from 55.9 in December, well above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction. 

The expansion was driven by the strongest growth in new orders since the end of 2018 and followed a PMI survey for manufacturers that showed a rebound in activity for just the second time in eight months. 

“This report, combined with the marked improvement in the manufacturing PMI in January, indicates that the Irish economy got off to a good start in 2020, helped by less uncertainty around Brexit,” AIB’s chief economist Oliver Mangan said.

The services sector covers areas as diverse as communication, financial and business services, IT and the tourism trade. 

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Euro zone factories still struggling but green shoots emerging – PMI

Euro zone factory activity contracted again in January but did so at its shallowest rate since mid-2019, according to a survey which suggested the worst may be over for the bloc’s battered manufacturing industry. 

IHS Markit’s final manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to a nine-month high of 47.9 in January.

This was just above a preliminary reading of 47.8 and edging closer to the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction. It had stood 46.3 in December. 

An index measuring output that feeds into a Composite PMI, due on Wednesday and seen as a good guide of economic health, climbed to 48 from 46.1, its highest reading since June. 

“Euro zone manufacturing started 2020 with green shoots of recovery in sight,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit. 

“The improvement adds to our view that the euro zone economy could see growth strengthen in the coming months, meaning the European Central Bank will hold off with any policy changes and instead focus on its strategic review,” he added. 

Last month the European Central Bank left policy unchanged but launched a broad review of its policy that is likely to see new President Christine Lagarde redefine the ECB’s main goal of price stability and how to achieve it. 

The ECB has struggled for years to get inflation anywhere near its just below 2% target and factories again cut prices last month. The output prices index fell to 48.6 from December’s 48.9. 

Forward looking indicators like new orders, quantity of purchases, employment and future output all improved last month.

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Businesses experiencing significant skills shortage

New research reveals that Irish businesses are experiencing the worst talent shortage since 2006, with three-quarters unable to fill vacant roles.

The latest survey by the Manpower Group says the skills gap increased more than five times over the past decade, jumping from 5 per cent in 2009 to 27 per cent now.

The survey of over 1,000 employers across Ireland finds that the Skilled Trades sector – such as electricians, welders & mechanics – is suffering the most acute talent shortage.

It also shows that organisations with over 250 employees are experiencing the most notable skills deficits.

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Unemployment edges up in January – CSO

The unemployment rate rose slightly in January, according to the Central Statistics Office, but continues to fall on an annual basis.

The seasonally-adjusted rate stood at 4.8% last month – up 0.1 percentage points compared to December.

However it is 0.3 percentage points lower than the rate recorded in January 2019.

Last month the seasonally-adjusted number of people unemployed was 120,200, which is 3,300 higher month-on-month but 4,000 lower over the year.

Meanwhile there were 36,200 under 24s unemployed in January, giving a youth unemployment rate of 11.8% in the month.

That is up 2,800 (0.7 percentage points) on December but 500 (0.6 percentage points) lower year-on-year.

According to the CSO the unemployment rate for males was 5% in January, while the female rate stood at 4.6%.

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Lending to households rises for third year in a row – Central Bank

Lending to households grew for the third year in row last year, mainly on the back of growth in home mortgages, new figures from the Central Bank show today.

The Central Bank said that household lending rose by 2.1%, or by €1.9 billion, in 2019.

The annual growth rate in lending to buy a home stood at 1.9%, or €1.4 billion, in the year to the end of December, up from growth of of €1.1 billion, or 1.4% in 2018. 

During the month of December alone, net lending to Irish households reached €360m. 

Today’s figures also showed that consumer lending increased by €16m in December.  

On an annual basis, new lending exceeded repayments by €571m, or 4.3%. 

The Central Bank noted that loans terms between one and five years continued to drive consumer-related lending.

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Manufacturing grows for just second time in 8 months – PMI

Manufacturing activity grew for just the second time in eight months in January amid greater certainty around Brexit and signs that a slowdown in euro zone economic activity may be bottoming out.

Six years of unbroken manufacturing growth came to an end in June as a slowdown in global trade and uncertainty over Britain’s departure from the European Union finally caught up with manufacturers here.

After briefly rebounding in October, the AIB IHS Markit manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed to 51.4 from 49.5 in December. 

The pick up in output was even stronger, with the sub index expanding to 51.7 from 48.7 a month earlier. 

The corresponding flash PMI survey for the euro zone as a whole rose to 47.5 from 46.1, its highest since August, data showed last month. 

AIB’s chief economist Oliver Mangan said the positive data, coming the week of the general election, appeared to reflect the good gains both in the euro zone and Britain, as well as certainty around Brexit after Britain left the bloc on Friday. 

“Furthermore, firms believe that the prospects for the coming year are also improving. However, difficult EU-UK trade talks this year could test this greater optimism, as may the continuing subdued growth prospects for the global economy,” the economist said.

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