A third of companies saw export sales fall at end of 2011
Almost a third of Northern Ireland businesses have reported a downturn in exports in the last three months of 2011, according to a new survey.
The poll of 600 companies, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, showed that 30% had experienced a drop in export sales.
Exporting has been trumpeted as the route to reviving the Northern Ireland economy.
Some 38% of firms said export sales had remained the same in the last two quarters of last year.
But while 40% expected turnover to rise,30% expected turnover to dip in 12 months.
Commenting on the survey's findings, Ann McGregor, Northern Ireland Chamber chief executive said: "What the survey shows is that most exporters are effectively treading water, some are beginning to experience a slowdown in business.
"Concern about the likely impact of global recession on sales abroad, especially over the next few years, led us to launch our Export First programme last year."
Some 34% expected sales to rise, but 36% feared a downturn.
On overall sales throughout the United Kingdom, 26% said these had increased, 29% reported a decrease and the remainder reported no change in the last quarter on the previous three months.
A total of 60% of companies said employment levels remained constant in the last quarter.
The percentage of companies reporting new jobs increased slightly, by 2%, to 21%, but companies reporting a decrease in employment also rose slightly, from 17% in the third quarter of last year to 18% in the last quarter.
Fewer companies (14%) expect to be adding jobs in the current quarter, down from 16%.
Companies seeking recruits reported difficulties in key areas such as experience and skills. Most (58%) said finding suitable managerial staff had been difficult.
The survey was carried out by Belfast-based Perceptive Insight as part of the Chamber's Export First initiative, which is backed by Northern Bank, A-amp;L Goodbody and ASM.
Number of companies whose exports fell in the last quarter of 2011