Gloomy economic outlook predicted
Northern Ireland's economy will not return to growth until next year or beyond, a survey of accountants has suggested.
The region is still firmly in recession and becoming "disengaged" from any recovery in Great Britain, the report said.
Major issues affecting business confidence were lack of political stability, shortage of demand and difficulties in accessing finance, the Chartered Accountants Ulster Society added, warning uncertainty was holding back spending by consumers and investment by businesses.
Society chairman Darren McDowell said: "This survey shows that Northern Ireland's economic recovery has still some considerable way to go. Our members feel it may be 2014 or beyond before we see some positive growth.
"While there may be somewhat positive signs on IT, agriculture and for exporters, it looks as though the year ahead will continue to be challenging for local business."
The survey of almost 400 accountants found that 56% viewed the prospects for Northern Ireland business in the year ahead as poor, with only 6% optimistic, while 91% felt Northern Ireland was performing worse than the rest of the UK.
Some 63% supported the creation of a single Department of the Economy, and half advocated an Invest NI dedicated small business unit and a quarter sought separate agencies for large and small firms.
According to the accountants' survey, 85% of members believed businesses were putting new investment or expansion plans on hold because they could not access finance.
The construction outlook was considered poor over the next year by 84% of members.
Most chartered accountants felt bank loans and overdrafts have become more difficult to obtain in the past year. Trade credit was also viewed as less available. Finance was a particular issue for small firms, the construction and services sector. It was less of a problem for manufacturers but more so for exporters.