Bank of Ireland in £795m of new lending to Northern Ireland businesses

BANK of Ireland says it approved £795 million in new lending to Northern Ireland businesses last year - an increase of 26 per cent on 2014.

It became the latest major financial institution in the north to publish massively improved figures - Danske posted pre-tax profits of £140m in 2015 while in its third quarter Ulster Bank reported an operating profit of £114m for its all-island operations, underpinned by stronger new business volumes.

Ian Sheppard, regional director of business and corporate banking for Bank of Ireland in Northern Ireland, said the increase in activity had come from all sizes of business and from the majority of business sectors.

"We welcome the increased activity and are delighted with the growth in lending approvals," he said.

"We are particularly pleased to see the increase in demand for term loans as it shows the growing confidence of local businesses as they invest and plan for their long term future. Export focussed businesses were foremost in this space."

He added: "With a 4 per cent growth in Northern Ireland export sales in 2015, the potential of the export market remains and we continue to support all our customers entering new markets and trading globally.

"The agri sector is an important growth sector for Bank of Ireland and lending approvals were up 25 per cent on 2014 figures. Despite challenges in the dairy sector, increased demand was driven by opportunities in both farming and agri food businesses.

"There is evidence of a continued recovery in the local housing market, with funding approvals for residential development doubling year on year representing more than 600 new units planned for 2016 - and we expect demand to continue to grow in the year ahead.

"On balance the outlook for 2016 is a positive one. Momentum is evident with challenges and opportunities in key areas such as scalability, investment in innovation and exporting capability, including development of skills and confidence for entry into new markets."