Northern Ireland firms 'struggling to secure work after EU vote'
Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK not to see growth in business activity last month, new figures have shown.
According to the latest purchasing managers' index (PMI), businesses here remained flat in September, while every other UK region saw a small increase in activity.
And it was the construction sector dragging the numbers down last month.
Output and new orders in Northern Ireland's private sector stagnated in September amid a reluctance among customers to commit to spending.
However, most companies and sectors continued to hire more staff, aside from the construction sector.
Retailers posted a solid increase in activity, while manufacturing output rose by a small amount.
But the services sector remained unchanged, while construction firms recorded a marked and accelerated decline.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey, said that while growth in the UK economy as a whole continued to recover from the vote for Brexit, the latest PMI data signals that "firms in Northern Ireland are facing a more difficult time of things at present".
"Data for August had shown a return to growth of business activity, but this has been followed in September with a month of stagnation," he said.
"Moreover, local firms have yet to see a return to new business growth since the referendum, with new orders broadly unchanged in the latest survey period."
But he said there were a "couple of bright spots within the latest set of numbers which provide some cause for encouragement".
"Firstly, the rate of job creation picked up, suggesting that firms maintain some optimism that workloads will start to rise again in the coming months," he said. "Secondly, companies continued to see the benefit of a weak pound in export markets, with new business from abroad increasing at the sharpest pace in more than two years."
Speaking about the manufacturing sector, Mr Ramsey said there were "signs of weakness" with new orders falling for the first time in seven months. He said the overall picture is "one of firms struggling to secure new work in the wake of the vote to leave the EU".