Private sector in North ended 2017 on ‘a high’, says survey

Ulster Bank PMI survey finds lift in export orders and job creation in Northern Ireland

Belfast docks

Belfast docks


Output, orders and job creation in Northern Ireland grew at their fastest rates in three years during 2017, according to a new economic report which shows the North’s private sector ended the year on “a high”.

Ulster Bank’s latest PMI survey published Monday also highlights that the North’s private sector took advantage of “enhanced price competitiveness”, thanks to sterling’s continuing weakness and the improved global economy, to deliver a resounding upbeat performance during 2017.

Key winners, thanks to the currency factor, were manufacturers who saw a significant lift in export orders, according to Ulster Bank. Retailers also continued to welcome increased numbers of cross-Border shoppers.

But it was the North’s construction sector which recorded the fastest rates of both new jobs and business activity – hitting a 22-month high during the year. This mirrored the performance of the service sector, where new orders grew at a 21-month high.

According to Richard Ramsey, Ulster Bank’s chief economist in Northern Ireland, December proved to be one of the best months of the year for local firms with a “marked expansion in new orders”. That, in turn, created a build-up of backlogs of work and stronger job creation despite the fact that rates of both input cost and output price inflation also remained high.

Mr Ramsey said: “Private sector output and export orders both recorded their fastest rates of growth in a year. Meanwhile order books as a whole – ie, UK demand alongside exports – expanded at their fastest rate in 40 months.

“The latter bodes well for further growth in business activity and employment opportunities in 2018,” Mr Ramsey added.

But he also warned that the outlook is not quite so rosy for the North’s public and third sectors as government spending cuts impact.