Business owners in Northern Ireland are suffering less at the hands of the recession than their counterparts south of the border, new research revealed today.
While almost three out of four companies in the Republic reported a drop in turnover in the first quarter of the year, the figure was substantially less in the province, at just over 40%.
The comparative analysis was undertaken by InterTradeIreland and was based on interviews with 1,000 business owners on both sides of the border.
InterTradeIreland’s strategy and policy director Aidan Gough said there were signs of growing optimism in Northern Ireland that the worst of the downturn had passed.
“The picture across the island is of a marked differential emerging in business performance North and South,” he said.
“There are signs that the recession is bottoming out in Northern Ireland where fewer firms reported falls in turnover than last quarter.
“However, southern companies continue to be more pessimistic.”
In terms of job losses, more than a quarter of business had cut jobs in the past three months, but InterTradeIreland said the pace of decline appeared to be slowing.
In Northern Ireland 14% of companies shed staff between January and March while in the Republic the figure was 38%.
Sixty per cent of firms south of the border said they had reduced their prices in response to the fall in demand for goods and services while in the north it was 30%.
Labour and energy costs and rates were cited as the biggest challenges to company competitiveness.
Cash flow also remained a big issue with 51% of survey respondents saying it was taking their customers longer to pay.
A similar number who had successfully applied for credit claimed that the process was more difficult and took longer, with 30% of companies in the Republic reporting that they only got a proportion of what they had applied for.
Only 5% of businesses claimed that the economic downturn was actually having a positive impact of their business.
Almost all of these were based in Northern Ireland, reflecting the competitive edge arising from the weakness in sterling, the organisation said.