Jaguar Land Rover mulls over finance choices

LONDON • Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), reeling from a US$4 billion (S$5.4 billion) writedown, a slump in China sales and uncertainty around Brexit, said conditions are not right for it to borrow from the bond market and that it is seeking alternative funding.

The luxury carmaker needs to raise US$1 billion within 14 months to replace maturing bonds while feeding an investment programme for electric cars that is burning through cash.

To support its needs, JLR could increase a receivables facility or turn to other bank financing, with further options including leasing assets and tapping export credit, treasurer Ben Birgbauer said in an interview.

JLR’s owner, Tata Motors, shocked investors last Thursday when it revealed the extent of the problems its British arm is having in China. Sales of Jaguar sports cars and Land Rover SUVs dropped 35 per cent in the world’s biggest car market in the nine months to Dec 31, sending the unit to a £273 million (S$480 million) loss and knocking as much as 30 per cent off Tata stock.

“Market conditions are less favourable in general and our bonds are trading below par, reflecting our recent financial performance,” Mr Birgbauer said. “We have always said we monitor the debt market and look to issue debt when market conditions are more favourable.”

Britain’s biggest carmaker is slashing 4,500 jobs, or about 10 per cent of the workforce, as it responds to slowing sales. That is on top of the 1,500 people who left the company last year. The measures will trigger a one-off charge of £200 million in the current quarter.

One major problem facing JLR in China is an ineffective dealer network, according to a presentation from the British business. Only 18 per cent of outlets are in so-called tier-one cities like Shanghai and Beijing, and more than one-third have been open for three years or less.

The company now plans to overhaul the operation, cutting back on deliveries to reduce stock and investing in measures to boost its brand, logo and slogans.

JLR says it can still grow global sales in fiscal 2020 with the help of other markets and the launch of revamped Range Rover Evoque.

Prior to last week, concerns about JLR’s performance had centred on the impact of Brexit and a government clampdown on diesel-powered vehicles in depressing British car sales.

Royal London Asset Management had already reduced its exposure to JLR in response to “Brexit-specific risks and their ability to maintain access to the financial markets”, said head of global high yield Azhar Hussain.

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Hungary mums of four to pay no income tax

Hungarian women with four children or more will be exempted for life from paying income tax, the prime minister has said, unveiling plans designed to boost the number of babies being born.

It was a way of defending Hungary’s future without depending on immigration, Viktor Orban said.

The right-wing nationalist particularly opposes immigration by Muslims.

Hungary’s population is falling by 32,000 a year, and women there have fewer children than the EU average.

As part of the measures, young couples will be offered interest-free loans of 10 million forint ($36,000), to be cancelled once they have three children.

Mr Orban said that “for the West”, the answer to falling birth rates in Europe was immigration: “For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine.

“Hungarian people think differently,” he said. “We do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children.”

While Mr Orban was delivering his state of the nation address, the latest demonstrations were being held in Budapest against his government’s policies.

About 2,000 people gathered in front of his office and others blocked one of the main bridges across the Danube river.

Correspondents say the biggest applause during his speech was for his announcement of a seven-point plan to increase the fertility rate.

Other points in the government’s plan include:

Mr Orban finished his speech with: “Long live Hungary and long live the Hungarians!”

The average number of children a Hungarian woman will have in her lifetime (fertility rate) is 1.45. This puts the country below the EU average of 1.58.

France has the highest fertility rate in the EU – 1.96 – and Spain the lowest at 1.33.

Niger in West Africa has the highest fertility rate in the world, with 7.24 children per woman.

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Ex-Corruption Fighter in Romania, Shortlisted for Top E.U. Job, Faces Foes at Home

BUCHAREST, Romania — When Laura Codruta Kovesi was in charge of Romania’s anticorruption agency, thousands of government officials and business leaders were successfully prosecuted in what became an important victory in the battle against graft in a country that ranks among the more corrupt in Europe.

But as an independent prosecutor, Ms. Kovesi also made powerful enemies. Romania’s justice minister, Tudorel Toader, instigated her removal from office last summer, accusing her of abusing her powers and damaging Romania’s image abroad by publicly drawing attention to the country’s corruption problems.

Now, Ms. Kovesi is in the running to be the first public prosecutor of the European Union, and Mr. Toader is leading a drive to scuttle her appointment. Earlier this year, Mr. Toader also proposed legislation that would allow politicians and others convicted of graft since 2014 to challenge the verdicts — something that could amount to an amnesty.

This struggle now playing out between two of the country’s leading judicial figures is a stark reflection of Romania’s muddled approach to corruption, which reaches the highest levels of politics and has festered for decades.

“I believe that the members of the selection committee don’t know the abuses committed by Laura Codruta Kovesi to the detriment of citizens, to the detriment of the rule of law,” Mr. Toader told journalists this past week after it was announced that she was the favorite among the three finalists for the European public prosecutor job.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, has long struggled with entrenched corruption and has been criticized heavily in recent years for attacks on democratic values. The country has taken steps to rein in high-level graft, notably under Ms. Kovesi’s leadership of the anticorruption agency, which won it praise from the European Union.

But more recently, the governing Social Democratic Party has pushed through measures curtailing the judiciary’s independence.

Mr. Toader’s proposal to allow challenges to corruption verdicts would likely benefit many politicians including Liviu Dragnea, the powerful leader of the governing Social Democrat Party who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for abuse of office a month before Ms. Kovesi was fired.

On June 21, Mr. Dragnea was found guilty of abuse of office for intervening to keep two of his party’s employees, who performed no state work, on the public payroll from 2006 to 2013, when he was a local council leader. The anticorruption agency — headed at the time by Ms. Kovesi — was instrumental in his prosecution.

Mr. Dragnea is appealing the verdict.

The public has pushed back against the government’s attempt to weaken the rule of law. In 2017, Romanians staged the largest street protests in a quarter of a century after an emergency decree was passed effectively decriminalizing low-level corruption. Antigovernment protests in Bucharest, the capital, last year turned violent when the police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

Ms. Kovesi served as chief prosecutor of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate from 2013 to mid-2018. The agency was created at a time when Romania wanted to show that it was making strong efforts to tackle graft.

Since parliamentary elections in December 2016, however, the government has regularly attacked the agency — and Ms. Kovesi in particular. Critics point to the agency’s reliance on court-approved wiretaps and have suggested political motives behind some of its cases.

“What she was trying to do during her two mandates was to show that the prosecutors have no fear, that they are independent and that they can get final convictions and those convicted will pay,” said Bianca Toma, program director at the Romanian Center for European Policies, a Bucharest-based think tank. “Politicians will always, in any country, try to limit the power of those trying to investigate them.”

Ms. Kovesi is now in the running to lead the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a new, independent agency tasked with investigating and prosecuting large-scale and cross-border crimes related to the European Union budget. The agency is expected to be operating by the end of 2020, with 22 of the bloc’s 28 member states signed up.

Ms. Toma said it was highly unusual for a member state to try to block one of its own citizens from such a powerful position in the European Union.

“It is even more unusual in the Romanian case, as this is not about politicians; this is about a high-level practitioner in the judiciary, so there shouldn’t be a place for politicians to play a role,” she said.

Ms. Kovesi could not be immediately reached for comment. But in an interview last June with The New York Times, before her ouster, she said that pressure on her office had increased “because of our investigations, because of our convictions.” She added that if the prosecutor’s independence were taken away, the job would become not merely more difficult, but impossible.

Mr. Toader said he would be sending information related to Ms. Kovesi’s dismissal to the justice ministers attending the European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs Council. She will be vetted this month by European parliamentary committees before a final vote.

Mr. Toader’s public opposition to Ms. Kovesi’s appointment has provoked strong reactions back home. The two largest opposition parties came out in support of her candidacy. Ludovic Orban, the leader of the largest — the National Liberal Party — urged Mr. Toader to stop his efforts to undermine her appointment, denouncing them as “harmful to Romania.”

Ms. Kovesi’s situation echoes, in some ways, that of Donald Tusk, the European Council president, who was re-elected in 2017 despite strong opposition from the government of his native Poland.

During a visit to Romania this past week, Gunther Krichbaum, a member of the German Parliament and chairman of its Committee on European Union Affairs, called on Mr. Toader to back Ms. Kovesi, noting that everything she had done was to fight for the rule of law and to combat corruption.

With the decision requiring only a majority vote, it is unlikely that Romania can block Ms. Kovesi’s appointment if it goes through.

“It’s an honor to have the chief antifraud prosecutor at the level of the Union,” said Monica Macovei, a former Romanian justice minister and now a member of the European Parliament. “It’s very bad for Romania itself, not only for the government, for them not to support a Romanian for such a position.”

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Remarkable tale of Hitler’s young Jewish friend

At first glance, the picture of the man hugging the beaming young girl appears to show a scene of great happiness.

But a closer look reveals a far darker tale: this is Adolf Hitler, the man behind the murder of six million Jews, and the little girl is Jewish.

Despite this, Hitler would go on to build a friendship with Rosa Bernile Nienau, which only ended when top Nazi officials intervened five years later.

And now this rare, signed image from 1933 is going up for auction in the US.

Alexander Historical Auctions, in Maryland, estimates the picture, taken by photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, could fetch as much as $10,000 (£7,500) when it goes on sale on Tuesday.

“The signed version is a never-before publicly seen piece,” auctioneer Bill Panagopulos told MailOnline.

“Hitler was very often photographed with children for propaganda purposes. The shocking thing about this piece is it seems he had a genuine affinity for the young girl.

“I was simply stunned.”

‘Hitler’s sweetheart’

It was a shared birthday which brought a little girl and the Nazi leader together.

According to the auction website, Rosa and her mother had joined the crowds outside Hitler’s Alpine retreat Berghof in 1933 on his birthday.

It is thought that when he discovered Rosa had the same birthday, he invited Rosa and her mother Karoline up to the house – where these photographs were taken.

Not long afterwards, it was discovered that Karoline’s mother had been Jewish, making Rosa Jewish in the eyes of the Nazi state.

But this did not dissuade Hitler from carrying on his friendship with girl, to whom he had sent a signed copy of the photograph.

“The dear and [considerate?] Rosa Nienau Adolf Hitler Munich, the 16th June 1933,” he wrote.

Rosa, it appears, later added her own stamp to the photo, drawing flowers onto the black-and-white image.

She would write to Hitler and his aide Wilhelm Bruckner on at least 17 occasions between 1935 and 1938, until she and her mother, a widow, were told to cut off contact by the Nazi leader’s private secretary, Martin Bormann.

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Hitler was unimpressed by the order, Hoffmann would later say.

“There are people who have a true talent for spoiling my every joy,” Hoffmann recalls the Nazi leader telling him in his book, Hitler Was My Friend.

The photographer includes a different picture of the two in his 1955 book, captioned: “Hitler’s Sweetheart – it delighted him to see her at the Berghof until some busybody found she was not of pure Aryan descent.”

The year after Bormann cut off contact, World War Two began. By the time it ended, six years later, six million Jews would be dead.

Rosa did not survive the war, either. She died of polio, aged 17, in a hospital in Munich in 1943, a decade after her first meeting with Hitler.

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Orban offers financial incentives to boost Hungary's birth rate

BUDAPEST (REUTERS) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced new tax and loan benefits for families on Sunday (Feb 10) as part of his government’s efforts to increase the birth rate while holding a hard line against immigration.

Orban, one of the most outspoken critics of mass immigration to Europe from the Middle East and Asia, added that he aimed to keep economic growth 2 percentage points over the European Union average in the next years despite an expected global slowdown.

There was no immediate government estimate for the cost of the new measures.

Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said on Friday (Feb 8) that new spending would be financed from general reserves or surplus revenues in the 2019 budget.

Orban’s ruling Fidesz party faces European Parliament and local government elections this year after a string of protests in recent months against the 55-year-old premier’s rule, although the party still leads in opinion polls.

The rallies were sparked by the passage of laws in December allowing employers to ask for up to 400 hours of overtime per year, and the creation of new administrative courts that will answer to the government and oversee sensitive issues.

As Orban gave his annual state of the nation speech on Sunday, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Presidential Palace in Buda Castle, while about a hundred demonstrators blocked a nearby bridge over the Danube river.

“There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration. For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine,” Orban said.

“But we do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children,” he said, announcing the incentives programme.

The new measures include the expansion of a loan programme for families with at least two children to help them buy homes, subsidies for car purchases and waiving personal income tax for women raising at least four children.

Women below 40 who marry for the first time will be eligible for a 10 million forint ($36,000) subsidised loan, Orban said. A third of the debt will be forgiven when a second child is born and the entire loan waived after the third child.

The 2019 budget targets a deficit worth 1.8 percent of economic output. In January, it posted a 244.5 billion forint surplus, the highest in two decades, data showed.

Zoltan Torok, an analyst at the Hungarian unit of Raiffeisen Bank, said that on first glance the measures could cost several tens of billions of forints, but they were unlikely to produce any drastic increase in the budget deficit.

Despite the street protests, Orban’s Fidesz party remains well ahead of its opposition rivals, according to the latest opinion polls.

The think tank Nezopont put support for Fidesz at 39 percent of all voters in January, largely in line with a 38-percent reading by the pollster Median.

While Nezopont said the fallout of Orban’s December reforms had no impact on support for Fidesz, the Median survey said Fidesz had lost over half a million supporters since October.

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Thousands Protest in Madrid Against Government’s Catalonia Policy

MADRID — Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital of Spain on Sunday against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s proposed talks to ease political tensions in Catalonia, in the largest protest Mr. Sanchez has faced as pressure mounted on his minority government.

In a protest organized by center-right and far-right opposition parties, demonstrators waved Spanish flags as they filled the Plaza de Colon in the city center of Madrid. Their slogan: “For a united Spain, elections now!”

“The time of Sanchez’s government has ended,” Pablo Casado, leader of the Popular Party, said at the protest.

The protest took place two days before the start of the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders, who face up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in a failed secession bid from Spain that they are accused of spearheading in 2017.

It also came as the government faced a key vote on Wednesday on its 2019 budget proposal, which will likely fail without the support of Catalan parties. But those parties have said that their vote for the budget is conditional on the Catalan talks, including the issue of independence, something the government will not include.

Failure by Parliament to approve the budget bill could prompt a snap election before the next scheduled vote in 2020.

The Socialist government’s proposal last Tuesday to appoint a rapporteur in talks among political parties to address the Catalan independence crisis galvanized the opposition, which has deemed it a betrayal and a surrender to pressure from Catalan separatists. The opposition has called for early elections.

Mr. Sanchez, who replaced a conservative government last June, holds just a quarter of the seats in Parliament and relies on backing from anti-austerity party Podemos, Catalan nationalists and other small parties to pass laws.

Center-right wing parties Popular Party and Ciudadanos organized Sunday’s protest, and the newly emerged far-right party Vox also participated.

Mr. Sanchez said on Saturday that the planned gathering would show a “Spain in black and white that simply proposes to go backwards.”

Ana Puente, a 73-year-old retiree, said on Sunday that she was protesting for a “united Spain.”

Raquel García, 76, who was carrying a Spanish flag, said, “The government is giving many things to supporters of Catalan independence and is going to break Spain apart.”

The government is squeezed on both sides of the Catalan issue: Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday that talks were on track to fail because Catalan pro-independence groups had rejected the government’s proposed framework. The Catalan groups want a referendum on independence included on the agenda, which Madrid will not accept.

Recent opinion polls have shown the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox could win a majority of seats in Parliament if elections were held, allowing them to replace the Socialist government.

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Thousands protest in Madrid against government's Catalonia policy

MADRID (REUTERS) – Thousands of people demonstrated in Madrid on Sunday (Feb 10) against Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s proposed talks to ease political tensions in Catalonia, in a protest organised by centre-right and far-right opposition parties.

Demonstrators waving Spanish flags filled the Plaza de Colon in the city centre in the largest protest Mr Sanchez has faced, with their slogan, “For a united Spain, elections now!”, a reminder of the pressure on his minority government.

The Socialist government’s proposal last Tuesday to appoint a rapporteur in talks among political parties to address the Catalan independence crisis galvanised the opposition, which has deemed it a betrayal and a surrender to pressure from Catalan separatists. The opposition has called for early elections.

Mr Sanchez, who replaced a conservative government last June, holds just a quarter of the seats in Parliament and relies on backing from anti-austerity party Podemos, Catalan nationalists and other small parties to pass laws.

The government faces a key vote next Wednesday on its 2019 Budget proposal, which will likely fail without the support of Catalan parties. But those parties have said their vote for the budget is conditional on the Catalan talks, including the issue of independence, something the government will not include.

Failure by Parliament to approve the Budget Bill could prompt a snap election before the next scheduled vote in 2020.

Centre-right wing parties Popular Party and Ciudadanos organised Sunday’s protest, and the newly emerged far-right party Vox also participated.

“The time of Sanchez’s government has ended,” Popular Party leader Pablo Casado said at the protest.

Mr Sanchez said on Saturday that the gathering would show a “Spain in black and white that simply proposes to go backwards’.

Ms Ana Puente, a 73 year-old retiree, said she was protesting for a “united Spain”.

“The government is giving many things to supporters of Catalan independence and is going to break Spain apart,” said Ms Raquel García, 76, who was carrying a Spanish flag.

The protest took place two days before the start of the trial of 12 Catalan independence leaders, who face up to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds for their role in a failed secession bid from Spain that they are accused of spearheading in 2017.

The government is squeezed on both sides of the Catalan issue: Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Friday talks were on track to fail because Catalan pro-independence groups had rejected the government’s proposed framework.

The Catalan groups want a referendum on independence included on the agenda, which Madrid will not accept.

Recent opinion polls have shown the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox could win a majority of seats in Parliament if elections were held, allowing them to replace the Socialist government.

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Woman 'completely eaten' alive by pigs in Russia

UDMURTIA, RUSSIA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – A woman from a village in the Malopurginsky district of Udmurtia, in Russia, suffered a gruesome death after she was eaten alive by pigs.

The 56-year-old unidentified woman was believed to have suffered an epileptic seizure and fallen into a pig pen on Feb 1, Russian media and Sky News reported on Friday (Feb 8).

When she fell in the pen, the pigs started attacking her. Her face, shoulders and ears were “completely eaten”, and the woman died due to blood loss, as per another report by news.au.com.

Her husband only found her body the next day, as he had gone to bed early because he was not feeling well.

“The opinion of forensic experts has been requested in this case,” a spokesman for the regional Investigative Committee said on the matter.

Detectives investigating the death said they had not seen such a “shocking case” in recent years.

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Mother's agony over tragic Kayden Fleck (5) on anniversary of his death

The mother of a five-year-old boy who drowned in a Co Antrim river has said it will be a struggle to go to the scene today – which marks the first anniversary of the tragedy.

Kayden Fleck was out playing when he fell into the River Braid at the Ecos Park in Ballymena on February 10, 2018.

Leanne Fleck said it will be a tough day and that if a family remembrance event is to be held at the river bank she may find it to tough to attend.

The 35-year-old said: “It’s going to be a hard day. Getting through Christmas was hard and getting through Kayden’s birthday without him was hard.

“We are thinking of having a family get-together and letting off a few wee balloons to remember him.

“My sister was saying we could either go to the graveside at Ballee Cemetery, or go to the Ecos Park, but I said there was no way I was going to the Ecos Park as I have not been back over there since.

“Everybody says that for me to move on it would be better for me to go the Ecos Park.”

She said she could perhaps be persuaded yet by family members to go to the river, but that it would be a struggle.

Leanne added: “Every time I pass over a bridge over the River Braid I get very anxious.”

Leanne travels in from Cullybackey on the train and then walks her children over Harryville Bridge – which crosses the Braid in Ballymena town centre – to bring them to primary school.

“I need to cross the river to get to their school and I get very anxious to this day. I get nightmares about what my wee one must have being going through and I think ‘why did it happen’ and ‘how did it happen’.”

Leanne – who is mum to Daniel (15), Kayden’s twin-brother Jayden (6), Amelia (4) – also has a baby girl, Ellieanna, who is “doing fantastic” at 11 weeks old.

She said that in a year of “ups and downs”, baby Ellieanna had brought “light” into their lives.

Leanne said their first Christmas without Kayden had been a “nightmare”, and it had also been tough on what should have been his sixth birthday last August.

She added that she and her husband Darrel’s first wedding anniversary on January 26 “didn’t really count” either, and that there will always be a shadow over her birthday on February 16, as little Kayden was buried the day before that date last year.

Leanne added: “Every day is a struggle for me but when I look at my other kids, it is them that keep me going.”

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Rent crisis: first sign of slowdown

Soaring rent prices are showing signs of slowing down for the first time in three years but remain at record high levels, according to a new housing report.

Housing experts said the rate of increases nationally is cooling, due to an improved supply of new homes and rent caps being introduced in areas of high demand.

Affordability has also been cited as a significant issue, with experts warning tenants may have reached a point where they will not be able to cover the cost of additional rent hikes.

Rent inflation fell from 12.4pc in mid-2018 to 9.8pc by year end, the slowest growth rate since 2016.

An analysis of the rental market by property website Daft.ie shows the average monthly rent nationwide at the end of last year was €1,347, an increase of €317 per month (31pc) compared with their Celtic Tiger high-water mark in 2008.

This represents a €600 per month (81pc) jump compared with when the market bottomed out in 2011.

Writing in today’s Sunday Independent, economist Ronan Lyons said Ireland was entering a critical three-month window which will demonstrate if the country has turned a corner towards real price recovery.

“We are still discussing substantial price increases, even if in percentage terms the increases in key markets have fallen below a noteworthy threshold,” he writes.

“One possible reason for the slowdown in inflation could be that the market has reached the limits of what tenants can pay.”

He suggests improved supply is also having an impact, with increased availability helping to stem price growth.

There were 3,641 properties available to rent at the start of 2019, an 11pc increase compared with last year. Supply in Dublin increased by 18pc in this period.

“This could indicate that the mild improvement in market conditions in Ireland’s rental market may continue,” writes Mr Lyons.

According to the most recent Census, 500,000 households are in rented accommodation – about one third of the country’s homes.

Housing charity Threshold yesterday said the “pace and extent of rent increases year-on-year remains unsustainable”.

Property consultant and market commentator Philip Farrell told the Sunday Independent the country has reached a point where tenants will not be able to cope with further hikes.

“The Rent Pressure Zones have had an effect on inflation because increases are restricted to 4pc. However, you are after seeing a period where rental figures have gone up by about 80pc in recent years. When you have a sustained period of increases like that, it has to level off at some point.

“It gets to a point where people simply cannot afford to pay any more. Rent prices are way out of kilter with mortgage values. If you were to buy certain properties the mortgage is likely to be less than the rent. That cannot be sustained.”

For example, the average cost of renting a three-bedroom house in Dublin 8 is €2,190. According to Daft.ie, monthly mortgage repayments for a similar property currently stand at €1,637 (with a 3.5pc variable rate for 30 years and 85pc loan-to-value ratio).

The number of properties available to rent nationally rose by 11pc last year, mainly in Dublin where demand is greatest. Mr Lyons said if this trend continued prices should drop further.

Read economist Ronan Lyons’s analysis of the rental market in today’s Sunday Independent

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