Jobs were cut in Northern Ireland last month at the slowest pace since April 2008, it has been revealed.
However levels of business fell faster than the month before with Northern Ireland underperforming the rest of the UK.
Despite the influx of shoppers from the Republic of Ireland local retailers experienced the sharpest fall in activity of all areas in December, a report by the Ulster Bank added.
The bank's chief Northern Ireland economist Richard Ramsey said the easing in the rate of job losses meant the decline in employment was less marked than in the rest of the UK. This continues the trend that has emerged since June last year.
"However, with the rate of decline in new orders accelerating for the second consecutive month in December, it will be some time before we see an overall rise in private sector employment," he warned.
"Indeed, Northern Ireland's under-performance, relative to the UK, is most marked in the level of new orders. The latest survey records the widest differential since the series began."
Meanwhile the corporate profits squeeze continues with pricing power being eroded as costs rise.
Mr Ramsey added: "Unlike their UK counterparts, Northern Ireland firms once again reduced the average prices of their goods and services for the 15th consecutive month.
"Overall, Northern Ireland firms continue to experience a more intense profit squeeze than UK businesses.
"This is most apparent within the manufacturing sector with Northern Ireland's higher electricity costs the main factor behind this."