Gloomy sentiment and slowdown sparks further layoffs in North

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 00:00

FEWER ORDERS and fears over economic prospects sparked a fresh round of job cuts at private sector firms in Northern Ireland last month.

Firms shed jobs at their fastest rate since June 2011, according to the latest Ulster Bank purchasing managers index, which measures the health of the private sector in the North.

In contrast, the bank said the UK economy as a whole recorded its highest rate of growth in employment levels in 11 months.

Northern Ireland firms were fighting a losing battle to win further business, according to the latest economic analysis.

“Companies reported a solid fall in new order intakes during the month, with survey participants largely attributing this to fragile client demand,” the survey noted. “The rate of decline in new work was the sharpest since last September.”

This was also at odds with trends identified in the UK economy in general, which pointed to output growth.

The PMI survey also suggested there was a further decline in the the North’s private sector output in January, with the rate of decline faster than it was in the Republic.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank in the North, said that although there was evidence to suggest some local firms had improved output, exports and employment, overall these firms were outnumbered.

The survey showed retail was the only sector in the North to record a rise in new business last month, while construction and services suffered the biggest declines output and employment.

The research also highlighted that the manufacturing sector contracted slightly in January.

There were some welcome improvements though for the North’s businesses last month when it came to costs and prices, according to Mr Ramsey.

“Input cost inflation, although still strong . . . eased to its lowest rate in 14 months. The pricing power of local firms improved in January with the price of goods and services rising at the fastest rate in five months,” he said.