Opening Bell: Irish services bounced in December, China remains volatile, Sainsbury eyes Argos takeover

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Ireland's services sector ended 2015 on a strong note as the Investec Purchasing Managers' Index of service activity registered a score of 61.8.

This was down slightly from the record score of 63.6 in November, but it continues a period of undisturbed growth which has lasted three and a half years. Any score above 50 indicates growth.

The index covers all services, from banks to hotels and restaurants, Investec Ireland chief economist Philip O'Sullivan commented on the figures:

"Within the survey we see evidence that improving conditions, both at home and abroad, are supporting growth in new business.

"With the expectations component continuing to stand well above the series average, Irish services firms remain bullish about their future prospects. Given the positive outlook for Ireland's key trading partners and the domestic resurgence, we share this confidence."

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Asian markets calmed somewhat over night as China's Shanghai Composite Index closed up 0.3%.

This came after record New Year's losses on the market and intervention from Chinese authorities who pumped 130bn yuan (€18.4bn) into the country's financial system through its open market operations after Monday's sell-off.

China has also announced the extension of a ban on the sale of stocks by large shareholders which was due to expire on Friday. These rules were first introduced in early July after a short spell of panic selling.

International markets recovered yesterday with the S&P 500 in the US closing up 0.2%, while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose by 0.6%.

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British supermarket group Sainsbury's has made an approach to take over Home Retail Group which controls Argos and Homebase.

This bid was rejected as the group said that it "undervalued Home Retail Group and its long-term prospects."

Sainsbury responded by saying that it is now "considering its position" - adding that there is no guarantee that it will table a formal offer.

Under UK laws the company now has until February 2nd to decide if it will make an offer.

Sainsbury's has been trialling Argos concessions in some outlets, and said that the two firms offer "complementary products."

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Dunnes Stores has streamlined its Byzantine corporate structure, centralising the previously disparate ownership of its Irish stores.

The company announced last month that it would merge 16 parts of its corporate structure into one entity.

If the family ever chooses to sell part of the business, this structure would make such a deal easier.