Belfast Telegraph

Blue skies, but clouds gathering

The performance of the Northern Ireland’s Top 100 companies was mixed as the economic boom turned to recession, and the downturn will impact on this year’s performances

By John Simpson

The performance of the Top 100 companies in 2008 has revealed many contrasting features.

In a welter of information which generally shows an expansionary economy, the first signs of the credit crunch, or recession, can be seen.

The prominent feature of this year’s listing is the arrival of Resource Services Group as the largest employer with headquarters in Northern Ireland.

Many of its employees are based in England as part of the Pall Mall Company. Resource is a labour intensive company which combines a need for large numbers of people for routine tasks.

Tesco remains high on the list, now in second place, but acknowledges that it has reduced its employment numbers.

Tesco business levels are assessed to continue to increase and the adjustment to the numbers employed is thought to be down to a smaller number of part-time employees who are now working on average for slightly longer hours.

Third placed company, Moy Park, is now owned by a Brazilian parent company. It continues to trade, making annual losses.

Banking reversals

The most dramatic sectoral feature is the fall in profitability of the four local branches of the clearing banks.

In previous years, the four banks were noticeable because of the size of the pre-tax profits that were attributed to this region.

The nature of the figures varies from bank to bank but all of them, save the Bank of Ireland segment results, have posted a sharp fall in profits.

Although the evidence is not complete, the deterioration in bank profits would be consistent with the setting aside of provisions against potential losses on bad debts that might exceed £400m.

Construction changes

The ‘blue sky’ giving way to darker clouds is seen in the trading results of the building firms and their suppliers.

Four of the five new entrants to this year’s list are firms that expanded with the construction industry boom.

However, the down-turn in building activity in the second half of 2008 and the start of 2009 is not fully reflected in their figures yet.

Belfast Telegraph