Activity rises but orders and jobs slip to seven month low

Northern Ireland’s businesses remained comforably in growth as a whole during February though rates of expansion in output, new orders and employment all eased over the month according to the latest data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI report.

The latest report - produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit also revealed that inflationary pressures intensified, with sharper rises in both input costs and prices charged.

“Northern Ireland’s private sector continued to report broadly favourable business conditions in February,” said Richard Ramsey, chief economist for Northern Ireland at the Ulster Bank, said:

“However, there was a moderation in the rates of growth in a number of key indicators. Local firms reported an easing in output growth but the rate of expansion remained robust and above the pre-recession historical average.

“Confidence about the year ahead, new orders and employment all fell to seven-month lows.

“All sectors saw an easing in the rates of expansion in orders with the slowdown most marked amongst services and construction firms, though this follows multi-year highs.

“Meanwhile manufacturing was the only sector to report faster rates of output growth last month with activity growing at its fastest rate in almost three-and-a-half years.”

In employment terms it was the 37th successive month that firms increased their workforce numbers though again the pace of job creation eased with manufacturing and services firms seeing the biggest slowdown in their rates of hiring.

“Indeed the rate at which service sector businesses are increasing their headcount slowed to an 18-month low.

“Overall, whilst the numbers suggest that the local private sector continued to grow in February, there were clear indications of a slowdown, with a dip in optimism about the year-ahead also evident.

“With the prospect of trade wars between Europe and the US, alongside the uncertainty about a range of political issues, this is perhaps to be expected.

“Indeed it would be unsurprising if this trend of easing back further from the multi-year highs at the start of the year continued in the months ahead.”