Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Declining workload figures, but some Northern Ireland business sectors see signs of hope

As businesses in Northern Ireland anticipate a boost from next month's G8 in Co Fermanagh, the latest purchasing managers' index from Ulster Bank today shows another drop in business activity.

Despite growth in the UK and Republics' economies, the bellwether survey showed that workload for Northern Ireland's firm fell in April, with the rate of decline matching that of March.

Companies were still cutting staff numbers in April, with the rate of job cuts the fastest since October.

Many firms taking part in the survey said they were not replacing departing staff.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said new business was also down, and firms were finding their clients "reluctant" to commit to new projects.

But there was something to be cheerful about.

"Beneath the headline figures, it is noted that an increasing number of Northern Ireland firms have reported a pick up in business activity in each of the last six months," the economist said.

He added that there had been steady improvement in the services sector, which includes catering, restaurants and professional services firms.

"This sector has been contracting at a rapid rate over the last two years, but in March and April, the pace of contraction in business activity eased significantly to its slowest rate since March 2011."

In another good sign, he said service sector firms had raised their prices for goods and services for the first time since September 2008.

A weak sterling was helping manufacturing hold its own compared to the eurozone as a whole.

Mr Ramsey said: "Whilst manufacturing indices for output, new orders and employment fell in April, this followed a strong period of growth in first quarter of the year.

"Ongoing sterling weakness is a key factor behind the recent improvement in demand conditions within manufacturing.

"Our food and drink sector, which accounts for more than half of all manufacturing sales and one-fifth of exports, is likely to be the main beneficiary from sterling's weakness."

Overall, the PMI posted a decline in all sectors of the economy – manufacturing, services, construction and retail.

All four reported a fall in new orders, led by retail.

Export orders were also down, although the fall was slower than the slump experienced in March.

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