Northern Ireland’s private sector saw a notable boost in business activity and confidence thanks to strong growth in their order books last month, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The survey, which asks firms about issues such as staffing levels, exports, and new orders, is considered a reliable indicator of economic performance.
The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, stated that optimism was at a 32-month high and that the surge in business confidence was the biggest surprise in the latest survey. He noted that local firms were most optimistic about future output levels since May 2021, and this positive sentiment was evident across all four sectors. Ramsey attributed this renewed optimism to the launch of new products and higher orders.
Ramsey also highlighted that domestic demand led to an increase in new orders for the first time in eight months. Three of the four sectors – manufacturing, services, and retail – reported an increase in business activity in January, with only the construction sector reporting a fall. Ramsey noted that political developments in Northern Ireland could impact sentiment and he expects to see this reflected in February’s survey results.
Manufacturing, services, and construction firms all took on more staff last month while retailers reduced their staffing levels for the first time in more than a year. Overall, the survey suggests a positive start to the new year for Northern Ireland’s private sector.