Just before the occasion of Saint Patrick's Day, which honors Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, the country has one more reason to celebrate. The economy expanded 7.8% in 2017, up from 5.2% in 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The figure came in stark contrast to 14.8% decline in 2010.
Personal Consumption Expenditure in Ireland grew 1.9%, which alleviates worries regarding subdued inflation. Consumer spending on goods rose 4.6% while industrial output jumped 8.9%. However, growth was mainly driven by the all-important ICT sector which marked a substantial 16.8% growth. Ireland has remarkably lowered its debt-to-GDP ratio from 89.4% in 2013 to just 66% in 2016.
Employment grew 3.1% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2017. This is just 12,000 jobs short of the all-time employment high. The employment rate nudged up to 68.3% in the fourth quarter of 2017, up from 67.1% in the year-ago quarter and was at the highest level since the second quarter of 2008.
With this, the country became the European Union's fastest-growing economy for four successive years. Notably, the Eurozone growth rate was 2.3% last year. Several economists are bullish on the Irish economy, thanks to solid jobs data, strong consumer spending and a pickup in global growth (read: Will ECB Exit QE After September? ETFs to Gain).
However, the CSO issued a warning that the headline rate was “distorted by the activities of multinationals and could not be relied upon as an accurate gauge of activity. Instead, it pointed to a 3.9 per cent increase in “modified” domestic demand, which strips out the impact of aircraft leasing and intellectual property imports, as a more reliable indicator.”
Notably, gross national product (GNP), which eliminates cross-border flows by multinationals, grew 6.6%. Against this backdrop, a look at some top-ranked Irish stocks makes sense.
Allegion Plc (ALLE - Free Report)
The Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) company operates as a provider of security solutions for homes and businesses. It hails from a top-ranked Zacks Industry (top 35%). The stock has a VGM Score of C.
CRH Plc (CRH - Free Report)
The Zacks Rank #2 company manufactures cement, concrete products, aggregates, roofing, and other building materials. It belongs to a top-ranked Zacks Industry (top 9%). The stock has a VGM Score of A.
Fly Leasing Limited (FLY - Free Report)
The company is engaged in acquiring and leasing modern, high-demand and fuel-efficient commercial jet aircraft under long-term contracts to a diverse group of airlines throughout the world. The stock has a Zacks Rank #2 and it comes from a top-ranked Zacks Industry (top 43%).
Seagate Technology Plc (STX - Free Report)
The Zacks Rank #2 company offers a portfolio of hard disc drives, solid state drives and solid-state hybrid drives. It belongs to a top-ranked Zacks Industry (top 18%). The stock has a VGM Score of A.
Ireland ETF in Focus
Investors intending to play the broader Irish market can also tap this fund.
iShares MSCI Ireland Capped ETF (EIRL - Free Report)
This fund offers exposure to equities based out of Ireland and is thus a pure play on the Irish economy. It has AUM of $70.9 million and charges 49 basis points in fees a year. The fund bears significant concentration risk, evident from the fact that it holds a mere 27 securities in its portfolio.
Materials, Consumer Staples, Industrials and Consumer Discretionary hold a double-digit weight in the fund. The top three holdings for the fund are CRH Plc, Kerry Group Plc, and Paddy Power Betfair Plc, with 22.4%, 13.6%, and 7.4% allocation, respectively. The fund has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) (see all European Equity ETFs here).
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