Northern Ireland manufacturing struggles as other sectors boom
Northern Ireland manufacturing is continuing to suffer tough times, but the bulk of the economy's other sectors are largely outpacing the rest of the UK.
Overall business output increased across Northern Ireland's private sector for the 10th month in a row in February, according to Ulster Bank's purchasing managers' index (PMI).
Activity and new orders across construction and the services sector shot up faster than almost any UK region - only outpaced by Wales and the East Midlands.
But despite the positive growth overall, manufacturing suffered a decline in activity, with production levels falling for the first time in three months.
Hiring increased across each of the sectors, aside from manufacturing, which saw a drop.
According to Richard Ramsey, Ulster Bank's chief economist, at a regional level "Northern Ireland fared comparatively better than almost every other UK region".
"Local firms reported a slight moderation in the pace of growth in output relative to January's 16-month high," he said.
"However, unlike the UK, the rate of growth was still broadly in line with the long-term average that pre-dated the economic downturn.
"The slowdown in the rate of job creation was more marked but remained above the pre-downturn longer-term average." According to the report, "improved market activity" was reportedly behind the increase, with some panellists highlighting strength within construction.
"Three of the four sectors monitored posted output growth, led by services where the rate of expansion was the fastest in 19 months," it said.
Speaking about the difficulties in the manufacturing sector, Mr Ramsey said: "At a sector level, local manufacturing continues to struggle, with output, new orders and staffing levels all declining last month.
"According to the PMI, Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector is enduring more difficult conditions than its counterparts in Great Britain."
"It should be remembered, however, that while Northern Ireland is currently enjoying stronger rates of growth than the UK as a whole, this is from a lower base and is at least in part due to us playing catch-up. The recovery until now has been slower and is therefore at a less advanced stage."