An Untapped Irish Market

RitaOBrienTraditional banking in Ireland adheres to balance sheet lending, an approach which removes the actual “commercial” facet from talk of “commercial lending.” Irish SME’s have long presented blue chip debtor books to be refused credit lines owing to a disproportionate emphasis placed on bricks and mortar. This conservative banking strategy ultimately lead to inflated land and home prices, and ironically resulted in a calamitous property crash in 2008. One property, albeit fully mortgaged, entitled one to purchase another whilst the ‘stress testing’ rules became relaxed. Invoice discounting facilities provided by the Irish banks always decided eligibility or otherwise based on the client’s property portfolio. Most Irish suppliers to the multinationals have heavily invested in research and development, which is the reason why they secure contracts with corporate giants such as Google, and Facebook, yet the diminution of net worth caused by this investment is viewed by the banks rather shortsightedly as a reason to refuse them invoice discounting.

Much debate surrounds the presence of US multinationals in Ireland, specifically the rate of corporation tax which these companies are liable to pay. The Irish tax rules outline that if a company is resident in the country, that organisation’s worldwide profits will be taxed here and if residency is not established then the Irish government will tax that company only on its activities here. The irony which has been pointed out in some of these debates is that many of those large US multinationals ultimately increase their tax liabilities as most will be required to return their profits to the US which will initiate the respective tax burden then for that organization. Notwithstanding the fact that already a degree of financial scrutiny has been devoted to supporting or refuting the Irish Government’s position regarding this rate, most discussions have overlooked the significant lateral benefits Ireland’s economy has derived (and continues to derive) from hosting these organisations. Whilst companies may consider locating here owing to our low corporate tax rate they certainly decide to remain here in order to utilise other advantages Ireland offers. A significant part of the Irish receivable finance market has been our export business, which in turn continues to be heavily comprised of US multinational trade within Europe and with Ireland as their base. When Ireland’s banking system collapsed in 2008 and credit became unattainable, banks and independent operators providing invoice discounting facilities were suddenly forced to reign in on their existing books and cease advertising additional capacity for lending. It remains debatable whether this sudden lack of credit and its concomitant affects almost destroyed the SME sector in Ireland or whether this sector was simply vulnerable to the worldwide economic downturn and banking crisis in general. Eitherway the SME sector in Ireland was starved of cash and many businesses were forced to close otherwise profitable and viable entities solely due to a lack of credit. Small and medium sized businesses make up over 99% of business here and employ almost 70% of people in our country. The availability of receivable finance products and a wider suite of asset based lending solutions will continue to anchor the huge SME market in Ireland.  As credit loosens the SME sector will also become a convincing percentage if not the entirety of the Irish discounters’ business.

Historically our economy was stifled by high volume emigration and immense poverty. Partition in 1922 had the consequence of increased desolation for the border counties as one economy became split with jurisdictional, trade and logistical issues presenting themselves, not to mention the Troubles (1969-1994). Although agriculture comprised a large part of the country’s enterprise, throughout the 20’s, 30’s and right up to the 60’s farming was largely profitless and holdings were extremely primitive. Four factors helped determine the Irish economy and set the scene for our belated boom (mid 1990’s); an emphasis on agricultural produce exports given we had no natural resources, joining the EEC in 1973, a concerted effort on the part of successive governments to nurture a highly competitive generation of skilled people and consequent upon that, the decision of many large multinational corporations to base their headquarters here. The Peace Process of 1994 was hugely instrumental for our economic progress particularly our international standing. Co operative societies, initiated by Sir Horace Plunkett in the late 1800’s worked on the basis of farmers achieving maximum results by pooling all resources together. By 1914 there were over 90,000 members of these various societies, dairy groups and co operative banks. These associations which were run by farmers endeavouring to collate their skill set, supplies and expertise, became hugely profitable companies with a worldwide presence. One example of this is Kerrygold; a number one brand in Germany and a number one imported brand to the US. Kerrygold owns Pilgrims Choice which is the number two brand of cheese in the UK. Glanbia PLC, another success story rooted in the cooperative movement, invested €112m last year in performance nutrition and grain processing in South Dakota. Demand in China throughout 2013 for dairy produce continued to grow and overtake supply and it is expected that the ‘Avonmore’ brand of Glanbia PLC will be brought to Chinese, European and Middle Eastern markets shortly.

Food and agricultural sourced produce comprise a large part of our exports today and when export figures within Europe fell significantly in 2012 (by 12%) Irish agri-food exports increased by 8%. The exporting of food and drink has continued to rise throughout the last two years and our top 15 food and drink companies employ over 55,000 people directly. In 2013 41% of our food and drink exports were destined for the UK and 33% destined for the EU market owing to a general scarcity of meat in continental Europe. South and East Asia, as well as West Africa are the most rapidly growing markets for our dairy exports and the US is the fastest growth market for Irish alcohol. Our seafood exports to France and Spain are significant with Holland and Germany becoming most notable importers of our processed foods. Currently beef exports comprise approximately 30% of our food and drink trade and in 2013 99% of our beef was supplied to continental Europe. In money terms our beef exports to the UK in 2013 was worth €1.1 billion and to Europe the figure was approximately €960 million, an increase of almost 90 million on 2012 levels.

Ireland’s decision to join the EEC in 1973 heralded to date, four decades of vast improvement economically and a diminution in our overall dependence on agriculture. We are a small open economy reliant on exporting, therefore joining the EEC in 1973 which operates on a single market trading basis has created huge opportunities for us in this area. Additionally, the EU trade agreements enable Ireland to sell with greater ease in areas such as South Korea, South Africa and Central America. Our membership of the EU and the process by which Ireland has became a number one location for large US multinationals are two determining features of our economy, both intrinsically linked. Membership of the EU allows Ireland access to a network of 500 million customers across the continent; and the Euro currency continues to be a strong selling point for trading between Ireland and the larger economies.

In terms of education and training a huge focus was placed on areas such as information technology, communications, digital media, life sciences and financial services. Our workforce is renowned worldwide for its flexibility and extensive competency range particularly in these areas. In 2013 Ireland was the second largest exporter of computer and IT services in the world. Ireland is the European headquarters for many huge names in technology, pharmaceutical manufacturing and engineering, digital media, and financial services. As an off shoot from this many Irish companies have established in order to support or supply these large players. Direct by-products of US and other multinationals locating themselves here perpetuate the lucrative chain of business opportunity for other indigenous companies. Opportunities such as those created when Microsoft, IBM, Google, Yahoo, MSN and Adobe progressed to opening data centres in Ireland in recent years.

The area of life sciences has become hugely relevant for our economy both domestically and in terms of trade exports. Ireland is the preferred location for many large IT, communications, medical device and pharmaceutical operators. In 2012 exports for the pharma and medical device sector accounted for two thirds of our total manufacturing figure. In the same year we were the fifth largest exporter of pharmaceuticals worldwide and the largest exporter of the pacemaker device (2012) comprising 20% of global exports. Boston Scientific located its largest manufacturing plant in Galway employing over 2000 staff.

The opportunities existing now in Ireland for funders are huge; exporting is distinctly our dominant resource however there are lucrative contingencies for many other business types whether they are indigenous companies selling domestically or foreign businesses looking to forge new trade deals with Ireland. The Irish Software Association conducted a survey in 2013 and one of their findings when examining the IT and Communications sector was that funding remained a huge issue for most IT companies based and originated in Ireland. The recently announced Joint Venture between New York’s RMP Capital and Ireland’s only independent factoring provider Celtic Invoice Discounting, undoubtedly capitalizes on this presently untapped market opportunity. This alliance will utilise respective geographical locations and along with the high number of multi lingual personnel amenable to both organizations will provide a world class consultancy platform for companies across the globe looking to sell to and fund debtors in countries otherwise inaccessible for a myriad of reasons.

There are many reasons for doing and locating business in Ireland. We have nurtured a knowledgeable and skilled workforce boasting the lowest median age in Europe at 35. The rights and interests of venture capitalists and investors have always been prioritised and protected by Irish governments in a genuine spirit of enterprise. Opportunities also exist for companies who require a European base; Ireland as a location proves to be unquestionably advantageous. We have a young English speaking and highly skilled workforce, we are geographically positioned to access mainland and Eastern Europe, a low corporate tax rate in place and economic and political stability. Forbes 2011 listed Ireland as the best country in Europe to do business in and overall our reformist approach to globalisation is widely accepted as a key reason for the presence of so many international players.

Author:  Rita O’Brien, B.L., is a Barrister and Director with Celtic Invoice Discounting in Dublin, Ireland. Celtic Invoice Discounting is the largest independent invoice discounting company in the Republic of Ireland specializing in providing cash-flow solutions for small, medium and start-up businesses. As the only provider of transactional-based invoice finance in the Republic of Ireland, Celtic Invoice Discounting specializes in releasing the working capital tied up in the accounts receivables of a business.

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