Egis homes in on Irish infrastructure with JB Barry acquisition

Egis homes in on Irish infrastructure with JB Barry acquisition

Egis CEO Laurent Germain (left) and Barry MD Liam Prendiville shake on it
Egis CEO Laurent Germain (left) and Barry MD Liam Prendiville shake on it

Together, the two companies will represent “one of the largest multidisciplinary consultancy, engineering and operations firms in Ireland,” said Egis.

JB Barry & Partners employs over 180 staff across four office locations in Ireland. The organisation’s current leadership team and expert staff are expected to stay in post with no changes to the delivery of its existing projects.

The acquisition means growth for both partners in Ireland and enables them to gear up to support major infrastructure projects planned as part of Project Ireland 2040, the Irish government’s national framework that includes plans for new ‘smart’ cities, climate change programmes and improvements to critical transport, water and energy infrastructure.

Together, Egis and JB Barry operate across the full lifecycle of major infrastructure projects from design to construction oversight and operations. Egis has had a presence in Ireland for 20 years, employing more than 500 staff and delivering major infrastructure projects such as the operation, maintenance and asset management of 470km of Irelands strategic road network, including the Dublin Port and Jack Lynch Tunnels. 

For over 60 years, JB Barry & Partners has been active in a range of infrastructure sectors including water services, development and structures, transportation and energy.

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Notable projects include upgrades to the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant near Dublin (the largest treatment facility in the country), planning the development of the N/M20 Cork–Limerick multimodal transport corridor, and acting as contractor’s designer for the N22 Baile Bhuirne to Macroom road development.

The two organisations are currently working together on several projects in the rail and light rail sectors, including the planning and detailed design of the Luas Finglas in Dublin and the Galway–Athenry capacity feasibility study.

Egis group chief executive Laurent Germain said: “This significant investment in Ireland will support our continued growth and enable us to deliver world-leading civil engineering projects at a greater scale for our clients.”

Liam Prendiville, managing director of JB Barry & Partners, added: “Joining Egis is a natural next step in our organisation’s development and will give us the capacity to respond to larger domestic and international tenders and offer our existing clients new added value services, particularly in digital transformation, asset management, smart cities and sustainability.

“We are immensely grateful to our clients and supporters over our long history and we hope you will join us in embracing the next chapter in our development. We sincerely believe that it is good news for clients and staff alike”.

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Mortgage Rates May Drop Despite Fed Rate Increase

Mortgage Rates May Drop Despite Fed Rate Increase

The Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate one-quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, the same level of an increase as in its previous meeting seven weeks ago. Repeating that small hike might not seem dramatic, but after a turbulent couple of weeks for the global economy, the 25-basis-point boost is a pretty big deal.

In early March, the economic data seemed to indicate a larger rate hike would be warranted at this month’s meeting and Fed Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged the long road to lower inflation could be “bumpy.” However, the economy hit some massive bumps days later, with two significant bank failures sowing chaos in the markets. In addition to prompting the Fed to recalibrate, the upheaval caused a stampede into bonds, which could push mortgage interest rates downward, even as the Fed continues to raise rates to quell inflation.

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How the Fed’s plan was knocked off course

Following a 25-basis-point increase at the January/February meeting, it seemed likely that the Fed would yank interest rates upward more decisively at the beginning of this month. That’s because economic data kept showing the economy running hot and the rate of inflation remaining brisk. February’s consumer price index found inflation at 6%. 

On March 7 and 8, Powell spoke before Congress, emphasizing that the Fed’s decision-making would be data-driven, seemingly laying the groundwork for larger rate hikes.

“If the totality of the data were to indicate that faster tightening is warranted, we would be prepared to increase the pace of rate hikes,” Powell remarked. Markets took this as a sign that a 50-basis-point increase could be the outcome of the March meeting. 

Then the U.S. experienced its second-largest bank failure in history, as a rash of depositors scrambling to withdraw funds collapsed Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. (Disclosure: NerdWallet banked with SVB before its closure.) Then, scarcely 48 hours later, the third-largest bank failure occurred, with regulators taking charge of Signature Bank and SVB. This sent markets into turmoil over fears of a wider-spread banking crisis. 

Suddenly the Fed’s path forward was much less obvious, especially because rate hikes had played a role in the demise of Silicon Valley Bank. SVB’s liquidity crisis arose when depositors panicked following an announcement that the bank had sold bonds at a loss. SVB lost money on those longer-term bonds because higher interest rates made those assets — purchased when interest rates were significantly lower — less valuable.

“The collapse of two large banks drives home that we do have problems in the banking system, which could get worse if the Fed moves too aggressively going forward,” Dean Baker, senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in an email last week. “It looks like the actions taken by the Fed and Treasury have stemmed the panic, but there is no doubt that the rapid series of rate hikes over the last year have increased risks in the financial sector.”

Why mortgage rates could actually fall

Mortgage rates had been on an upward trajectory in 2023, with annual percentage rates, or APRs, on 30-year fixed-rate loans firmly in 7% territory right around the time Powell spoke before Congress. But as bank failures upended the markets, mortgage rates took a tumble.

That’s because rattled investors began looking toward the relative security of government bonds. With interest rates high and economic uncertainty looming, bonds seem like a safe place to park assets. That’s pushing up bond prices, which tends to lower fixed mortgage rates. 

With the Fed apparently toning down today’s rate hike, mortgage rates could plateau. Or, if anxious investors keep buying bonds, they could even fall. That’s something mortgage lenders may be open to, as interest rate increases keep pushing potential buyers out of the housing market.

And unless home buyers truly become acclimated to higher rates — which for now, they certainly aren’t — mortgage lenders arguably have every incentive to lower interest rates as soon as they can.

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“”I suspect my rental applicant may not be a legal resident… Can I ask for proof of status?”

“”I suspect my rental applicant may not be a legal resident… Can I ask for proof of status?”

Legal Hotline Spotlight

Q: I received an application for a rental property I manage. I suspect the applicant may not be a legal resident of the United States. Can I ask for proof of legal status, such as a green card or work visa?  

A: Federal Fair Housing Law and Virginia’s Fair Housing Law do not include as a protected class “immigration status.” However, “national origin” is a protected class. Therefore, if a landlord or a property manager is asking only people of a particular national origin for proof of immigration status, then that could be a fair housing violation. Also, even if a landlord or property manager adopts an objective and neutral policy and the result has a disparate impact on a certain protected class, then there could be a fair housing violation.  

The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act allows landlords and property managers to request a driver’s license (or other similar photo identification) and a social security number or individual taxpayer identification number issued by the IRS. (VA Code § 55.1-1203(B).) This provision is designed to provide a safe harbor for a landlord or property manager to use financial criteria to determine eligibility without running afoul of the fair housing laws. 

What is the Legal Hotline?

The Legal Hotline is a member benefit that has been supporting members for over 25 years. Our team of lawyers answers your important questions about real estate transactions quickly and accurately (usually within three business hours!).

Bonus! Here are some tips to help make the Legal Hotline work for you!

Information accurate as of 03/22/23

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Government announces winners of £1.8bn retrofit funding pot

Government announces winners of £1.8bn retrofit funding pot

The government has announced the allocation of £1.8bn in funding to improve the energy efficiency of an estimated 115,000 homes across England.

Local authorities, social housing providers and charities have been awarded a combined £1.4bn through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (£778m) and the Home Upgrade Grant (£630m) to install energy-saving measures from loft insulation to new windows.


An additional £1.1bn in match funding will be provided by the organisations themselves, with the money going towards vulnerable households and off-gas grid homes with an EPC rating of D or below.

Funding from the schemes will be rolled out from April 2023 to upgrade homes over two years, with the government claiming they could support roughly 20,000 jobs in the construction and retrofit sectors.

An additional £409m has been granted through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to help drive down emissions from buildings such as schools and hospitals.

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US activist promises not to make trouble in Vistry board room

US activist promises not to make trouble in Vistry board room

Jeff Ubben is the founder of Inclusive Capital Partners, a San Francisco hedge fund that made a hostile takeover bid for Countryside Partnerships last year. That resulted in Countryside running into the arms of Vistry. Vistry took over Countryside for £1.25bn last November.

Ubben, however, who had a 9% stake in Countryside, never went away. Inclusive Capital Partners (In-Cap) is Vistry’s second largest shareholder, representing a 5.9% stake worth around £150m. Tomorrow, 23rd March 2023, he becomes a non-executive director of Vistry Group.

Vistry chairman Ralph Findlay said: “I am very pleased to welcome Jeff to the board. His deep expertise and insights, particularly in impact and sustainability, will be of significant value as we continue to integrate our recent acquisition of Countryside Partnerships at pace.”

Jeffrey Ubben said: “The combination of a distinct model addressing the acute shortage of affordable homes in the UK alongside leading private housebuilding brands gives Vistry the scale, operating synergies, and resources to deliver societal benefits and great long term returns to shareholders. To work closely with CEO Greg Fitzgerald, whose experience and track record in this industry is exemplary, and also with the board in executing on Vistry’s compelling mixed-tenure approach to housing, is an opportunity to highlight how profitable growth can be linked to positive community impact.”

Ubben’s seat on the board carries particular conditions, however, to prevent him stirring up trouble. He has promised not to circulate statements to shareholders, not to requisition (or propose resolutions at) general shareholder meetings, not to try to get other directors thrown out, and to always use his shareholding to vote in agreement with any recommendations given by a majority of the board.

The arrival of Ubben in Vistry’s boardroom comes as the company posts result for 2022 showing 13% revenue growth to £2,729m but a 22% fall in pre-tax profit to £247.5m.

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The profit figure was after exceptional expenses of £153.9m (2021: £12.2m) including £97.0m fire safety provision and £56.9m costs related to the Countryside acquisition at year-end.

Adjusted to exclude these one-off costs, pre-tax profit was up 21% at £418.4m.

Vistry said that it was making progress with its post Grenfell remediation works. Of the 304 buildings identified as requiring remediation, work has been completed on 59. It is on site on another 30 and “engaged in the remediation process on 188” with 27 buildings to yet start. 

As at 31st December 2022, the group fire safety provision was £309.2m.  This includes a provision of £191.8m acquired through the combination with Countryside, a charge of £97.0m in the year covering additional requirements under the pledge and the developer remediation contract, and net spend of £4.8m on remediation work in the year.

Chief executive Greg Fitzgerald said of the acquisition: “The businesses have come together extremely well with a good cultural fit, and the integration process is making excellent progress.  As a result, we are confident of delivering annualised synergy benefits of £60m, ahead of our original target.”

He added: “We are focused on maximising the opportunities from our unique market position and increasing the supply of high quality housing across all tenures.  The resilience of our Partnerships business is reflected in its strong forward order book which gives us the confidence that the business will deliver growth in 2023 revenues in line with its strategy.  Housebuilding is focused on operational excellence to maximise its sales opportunity and has the expertise, embedded controls and disciplines in place to succeed.  Market conditions are improving and based on the assumption that private sales rates continue to trend towards levels seen in 2019, we expect group adjusted profit before tax for 2023 to be in excess of £440m.”

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Construction starts rebound on manufacturing, housing strength

Construction starts rebound on manufacturing, housing strength

Dive Brief:

  • Total construction starts rebounded in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $912.8 billion, a 6% rise, due to bustling building activity for manufacturing plants and homes, according to Dodge Construction Network. But after a massive dropoff in January, starts for the first two months of the year were still 17% below their 2022 levels and weakness in the commercial and institutional sectors pose cause for concern. 
  • Residential and nonresidential building starts jumped 11% and 9% in February, as single family homes posted their first gain in 13 months. Nonbuilding starts, which include infrastructure projects, declined 5%. While overall year-to-date numbers were down, for the 12 months ending in February 2023, total construction starts moved 9% higher than the previous year, according to the report. 
  • “February construction starts were a mixed bag that led to marginal growth,” said Richard Branch, chief economist for Dodge Construction Network, in the report. “Manufacturing starts continued to be very robust, showing signs of promise early into 2023. However, the downturn in commercial and institutional building starts could very well be the beginning of an anticipated slow-down.”

Dive Insight:

Residential building starts rose in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $320 billion. Single-family and multifamily starts jumped 4% and 22%, respectively. The largest multifamily structures to break ground in February were:

  • A $350 million mixed-use building in New York.
  • The $215 million Four Seasons condominium in Washington, D.C.
  • The $140 million Palomar Heights mixed-use building in Escondido, California.

Meanwhile, manufacturing starts ballooned 218% in February, largely due to the start of a $3.5 billion Honda EV battery plant in Jeffersonville, Ohio. Nonresidential building starts, boosted by manufacturing activity, increased in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $368 billion, according to the report. The largest nonresidential building projects to break ground in February were:

  • The $3.5 billion Honda EV battery plant in Jeffersonville, Ohio.
  • The $1.4 billion expansion of Concourse D at Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • The $500 million Apex-1 Sustainable Lithium-Ion battery plant in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Signs of weakness

But the downturn in commercial and institutional building starts could mark the beginning of an anticipated slowdown as the construction sector grapples with both higher interest rates and weak economic growth, said Branch.

“While this ebbing should be comparatively mild, some construction verticals could face extreme stress as the year progresses,” Branch said. 

For example, commercial starts decreased 2% in February due to a drop in office and parking structure starts. That offset gains in retail, hotels and warehouse activity, according to the report. Institutional starts also tumbled in February, caused by a decline in education and healthcare projects.

Likewise, nonbuilding construction starts fell in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $225 billion due to a 30% decline in environmental public works starts and a 5% loss in highway and bridge starts, according to Dodge. 

On the other hand, utility and gas plant starts jumped 68% in February, while miscellaneous public works starts also inched 6% higher, according to Dodge. The largest nonbuilding projects to break ground in February include:

  • The $1.2 billion Trumbull Energy Center in Warren, Ohio.
  • The $540 million Merit SI Gulfstar solar farm in Wharton County, Texas.
  • The $530 million Mockingbird Solar Center in Brookston, Texas.

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