Belfast Telegraph

2017: Stories that hit the headlines in Northern Ireland business

The second half of the year is dominated by trans-Atlantic trade dispute for Bombardier.

JULY: NEW BUSINESS IS JUST A HEARTBEAT AWAY

Belfast industrial titan Harland and Wolff reported an operating loss of £6m on turnover of £8.3m for the year to December 2016. The performance compared to profit of £3.3m and sales of £66.7m a year earlier. The one-time shipbuilder, which now focuses on renewables, said it was an "unacceptable" year.

Chief executive Robert J Cooper said: "The downturn in the oil and gas market coupled with the delay in approving new offshore wind farm licences in recent years has proven to be a great challenge to all economic sectors, including manufacturing. H&W have for the early part of this downturn secured and completed significant projects in the offshore energy markets, be that oil and gas or renewable, however 2016 was a particularly challenging year."

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) said it had contingency plans in place to cope if global construction giant Carillion - which carries out maintenance work for the NIHE - collapsed. It came after plc Carillion issued a profits warning

B-Secur, which created software to identify individuals using their heartbeat, won a £3.5m investment. The funding was made up of £1.5m from Accelerated Digital Ventures (ADV), £0.75m from the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund (NI) and the remainder from private investors. B-Secur provides biometric security to customers in the UK, Ireland and US across many sectors. It was set up in 2002 by Colin Anderson.

Titanic Island, the firm behind Titanic Quarter and its landmark tourist attraction, said it was well-equipped for the future after two refinancing deals - including one with Irish businessman Dermot Desmond, which gave him 50% of Titanic Quarter when one of his investment firms pumped in £28.7m. Titanic Island's 2016 accounts showed revenues of £10.5m, down from £11m in 2015.

AUGUST: NOVOSCO LAND LIVERPOOL HOSPITAL DEAL

Cloud-computing firm Novosco landed a new deal with a hospital in England. The Belfast firm's work allows the Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust to genetically test newborn babies, allowing the trust to detect genetic conditions or illnesses and treat them. It was part of a busy year for Novosco, led by Patrick McAliskey, as it moved into new offices and reported 12% turnover growth to £23m, and pre-tax profits of £2.4m.

FinTru founder and chief executive Darragh McCarthy said he hoped to grow its Belfast operation to 1,000 staff - five times its current workforce - as the financial firm's boss revealed plans to become a global outsourcing giant in Business Telegraph.

Business bodies in Northern Ireland continued to air their fears over Brexit and in particular the prospect of a customs border. Seamus Leheny of the Freight Transport Association said his industry had much to lose with the prospect of new administrative burdens for those moving goods across the border. Glyn Roberts of Retail NI said a customs border was unlikely to go down well with any business sector.

It was a busy year for openings in the hospitality sector and in August, we revealed that coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons was aiming to open between 15 and 20 of its stores at various sites around Northern Ireland.

Changes continued in the financial services sector as First Trust got ready to sell off several of its branches, including its former Belfast High Street location.

SEPTEMBER: JOB FEARS FOR NI AEROSPACE WORKERS

Aerospace giant Bombardier, which employs around 4,000 people in Northern Ireland, was rocked by a trade dispute with rival Boeing, interpreted as the consequence of US President Donald Trump's protectionist economic policy. A 2016 deal to sell 75 of its narrow-bodied passenger jet the C Series - the wings of which are made in Belfast - to US customer Delta Airlines prompted a complaint by Boeing to the US Department of Commerce. Boeing alleged that Bombardier had received unfair state aid, including from the UK government, and that the jets had been dumped at low-cost prices in the US. In response, the department - led by Secretary Wilbur Ross - imposed tariffs of nearly 300% on US imports of the C Series. The tariffs cast doubt on the viability of the C Series's crucial US order and prompted a global debate on the Donald Trump administration's economic agenda.

Moy Park's new owner said it is "committed" to retaining the chicken giant's Northern Ireland headquarters and workforce after taking the firm over in a $1bn deal. The Craigavon-based business, which employs more than 6,000 staff, was bought by US-based Pilgrim's Pride Corporation from Brazilian giant JBS. Janet McCollum, chief executive of Moy Park, said the "announcement is a positive development for Moy Park and all our colleagues employed across the business". Pilgrim's Pride is a subsidiary of JBS, which had owned Moy Park since 2014.

It was a big year for Marks & Spencer as it marked a half-century in Northern Ireland. Chief executive Steve Rowe travelled to celebrate the landmark with staff at its Donegall Place store, Belfast. It also announced a store for Marlborough Retail Park in Craigavon, its 21st in Northern Ireland. Pre-tax profits jumped from £25.1m to £118.3m in the six months to September but M&S also revealed a 0.1% fall in like-for-like sales in its food division. Much hope has been pinned on its festive performance.

A construction firm invested £15m in a new hotel, and a major mixed-use retail development, after completing a project at Belfast International Airport. Moorefield Contracts in Dunadry is building a new £5m hotel near the airport, and a £10m development in Dungannon.

KFC tycoon Michael Herbert took on 27 new restaurants in the UK and Ireland.

OCTOBER: CAN AIRBUS ALLIANCE SAVE C SERIES?

Boeing's trade dispute with Bombardier took a dramatic turn when the Canadian giant announced a strategic tie-in with pan-European rival Airbus. The companies will cooperate on the manufacture of the C Series, and Airbus will take a majority share in the venture, which will see C Series parts assembled in a plant in Alabama in the US - a move which both parties hope will circumvent import tariffs imposed by the US.

And the deal was given a broad welcome in the province as having the potential to safeguard the jobs of the 1,000 Bombardier staff in Belfast who work on the assembly of C Series wings.

The move also brought the potential for Belfast Bombardier staff to work on other Airbus projects. Bombardier boss Alain Bellemare said: "This partnership should more than double the value of the C Series programme and ensures our remarkable game-changing aircraft realises its full potential."

Later in the year, it emerged that Boeing is considering a tie-in with Brazilian planemaker Embraer in a challenge to its rivals' alliance.

Bombardier's trade dispute with Boeing wasn't the only concern for its workforce. In October, the company also announced it will shed 280 jobs in east Belfast. Bombardier's news is compounded by news that oil giant Schlumberger is considering closing its Newtownabbey plant with the potential loss of 220 jobs.

Developments continued for the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland as Merchant Hotel owner Beannchor unveiled a new rooftop bar at its Bullitt Hotel, also in Belfast city centre. The group also continued to expand its Little Wing pizza chain during the year, opening up in a former Bank of Ireland branch in Newtownards.

The construction of new hotels across Northern Ireland is set to increase the province's number of hotel rooms to more than 10,000 in a £0.5bn investment, according to a report by the NI Hotels Federation. It estimated that the new hotels will generate over 6,700 jobs during construction. The federation said there are 8,030 rooms in 138 hotels. But by 2020, there will be 151 hotels with 10,010 beds.

NOVEMBER: INTEREST RATES UP AFTER TEN-YEAR LOW

The Bank of England's nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) led by Mark Carney voted7-2 to raise rates from 0.25% to 0.5%, which marked the first increase since July 2007. The quarter-point rise reversed the emergency cut seen in the aftermath of the Brexit vote shock in 2016 as the Bank sought to head off turmoil in the economy. The timing of the rise divided opinion, with Paul MacFlynn of the Nevin Economic Research Institute calling it "ill-advised", while Dr Esmond Birnie of the Ulster University's economic policy centre called it "painful but necessary". During the year, inflation reached 3.1% with more interest rate increases likely.

Friends, family and business contacts of Waste Systems Ltd founder Nishi Ward mourned his loss following a quad bike accident on his farm in Plumbridge, Co Tyrone. Mr Ward's company manufactured equipment for separating waste. At his funeral, the father-of-four was described as "a significant employer in the area and ... very much a leading light and talented businessman".

NI Water took full ownership for clean water production in the province after acquiring Kelda Water Services' holdings in four plants for some £100m. The sale saw NI Water pay English company KWS £28m for the equity and acquire around £80m debt.

Canadian mining giant Dalradian said around 350 jobs could be created as it applied for planning permission for its controversial goldmine in west Tyrone. Work is expected to begin within 18 months if permission is given.

DECEMBER: FAREWELL TO BUSINESS LEGEND SIR BILLY

The final weeks of 2017 brought sad news as Hastings Group chairman Sir Billy Hastings died aged 89. Months before, the Northern Ireland entrepreneur had celebrated as the firm's newest venture, Belfast's Grand Central, won planning permission for a 304-bedroom hotel in Belfast's Bedford Street. He was laid to rest in a family ceremony with a memorial service planned in the new year. The Hastings group includes Great Victoria Street landmark the Europa, and five others around the province.

Business welcomed a deal between the UK and 27 EU member states over the future of the border with the Republic of Ireland. There is to be no hard border. The deal paved the way for the UK to start negotiating a trade deal with the 27.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "The phase one agreement can hopefully mean we can move on to a more positive conversation, not only between the UK and the EU, but between business and the politics also."

Negotiations had focused on agreeing the future status of EU nationals in the UK, the UK's financial obligations to EU, and the future status of Northern Ireland. Ann McGregor of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "Business will particularly welcome the commitment made towards no hard border on the island of Ireland, and they will also be relieved that the UK market, as well as the all-island market, will be protected. However there are details that need to be confirmed swiftly in the new year when negotiators move on to the big questions around our future trade relationship with the EU."

The London Stock Exchange welcomed its third Northern Ireland plc as Fusion Antibodies floated on the Alternative Investment Market. Its plans to float were first revealed in Business Telegraph. The first day of trading on December 18 saw the company's original market valuation increase from £18.1m to just over £27m.

Business Telegraph revealed that US tech firm MACOM Technology Solutions was shutting its Belfast base with the loss of around 20 jobs due to "changing market conditions".

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