Opening Bell: Eason revamp, Ireland's debt problem, Ibec's Brexit-proof plan

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The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has said that the State must refinance €52 billion in debt by 2020, more than the entire pre-crash national debt, the Irish Independent reports.

NTMA head Conor O'Kelly said yesterday that the interest bill is trending towards €6bn and could fall as low as €5bn. However, he believes the country remains highly indebted and vulnerable, with €52bn in repayments due to mature between October 2017 and October 2020.

He told the Oireachtas Budgetary Oversight Committee:

"Just to put that in context, that maturing debt is in excess of the total national debt that existed in 2007.

"So the interest rate environment, while we're refinancing that debt during that period, will be critical in determining what the long-term overall cost of the national debt is in terms of interest bill."

According to O'Kelly, Ireland is only above Greece and Portugal when it comes to the interest-bill-to-Government-revenue gauge and Government-debt-to-revenue gauge.

"This is still a very indebted country," he said.

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Eason has announced a €7 million investment that will see it revamp stores and unveil digital initiatives over the next three years.

The famous Irish bookseller has earmarked roughly €2m to upgrade many of its 36 company-owned stores, with a further €1m going to "omnichannel" initiatives that integrate its physical stores with its digital and online presence.

The future of its warehouse near Dublin Airport is also under review, with some or all of its activities potentially being outsourced.

Its 55 staff there have been told of the possible plans, with Eason already seeking about 10 redundancies at the St Margaret's facility.

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Economic uncertainty could cost Ireland dearly in the future, according to Ibec.

The business group, which is holding a keynote conference in Dublin today, is warning that we risk creating long term economic and social problems unless we invest now in transport, housing, health and education.

CEO Danny McCoy has said we risk missing a 'once in a generation' chance if we allow fear and austerity to dictate our economic policy.

"We can only control the things we can control and the known known is that we have the opportunity to invest in a bigger and better Ireland," said McCoy.

"Brexit will bring many unknowns. There will be losses, there will be opportunities. But if we don't get ready for the opportunities, then it will only be a loss. So I think that Brexit is a very serious issue, but the way to Brexit-proof ourselves is to build for a bigger and better Ireland."

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AIG has decided to open an operation in Luxembourg to write business across the European Economic Area and Switzerland in what is an early loss for Dublin when it comes to post-Brexit business opportunities.

Ireland had pitched to become the home of the operation, with senior executives at the US insurance giant meeting both Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Financial Services Minister Eoghan Murphy last year.

Anthony Baldwin, AIG Europe chief executive, said:

"Luxembourg, a founding member of the European Union, offers us a secure location in a stable economy with an experienced and well-respected regulator in continental Europe close to many of our major markets."

AIG plans to have the Luxembourg subsidiary and a dedicated UK company up-and-running from 2019.