Belfast Telegraph

Black December for manufacturing as job losses worst in two years in Northern Ireland

By Margaret Canning

Jobs in manufacturing in Northern Ireland fell at their fastest rate in nearly two-and-a-half years during December, a survey said today.

Findings in the Ulster Bank's monthly purchasing managers index (PMI) follow negative headlines for manufacturers in Northern Ireland, with lay-offs at major firms like aerospace giant Bombardier and generator manufacturer Caterpillar NI.

In November, tyre giant Michelin said it would be closing its entire Northern Ireland operation with the loss of 860 jobs in 2018.

And last week, Bombardier announced a further 60 job losses among its agency staff.

However, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the headline findings of the survey were positive, despite caution over manufacturing.

And he summed up 2015 as a year of two halves, with marginal growth and falling exports in the first half.

But the second half of the year saw expansion in both new orders, output, exports and employment in all sectors.

December marked the eighth month in a row of increasing business activity, with output in manufacturing rebounding after a three-year low in November.

The rate of expansion in new orders picked up for all sectors - encouraging firms in construction, services and retail to take on new staff.

In fact, manufacturing was the only sector in which employment did not grow during December.

However, the rate of growth for new orders was slower than in the UK as a whole.

But the news for manufacturing wasn't all bad for December, with new orders as well as output returning to growth after shrinking in November.

But Mr Ramsey added: "This improvement may yet prove to be a blip rather than the start of an improving trend.

"Indeed, manufacturers reported an acceleration in job losses in December with staffing levels falling at their fastest rate since June 2013."

And he added: "Given the large scale redundancy announcements made last year, but yet to take effect, this trend is expected to continue." Services - a sector covering everything from restaurants to law firms - had its 10th month in a row of growth, and hiring was stronger than it had been pre-downturn.

Retail also saw employment growth, despite a blip in retail sales and another decline in retail orders. And construction employment increased for the third month in a row, as did output and new orders growth.

But Mr Ramsey cautioned that the growth related to activity in Great Britain for our construction firms, rather than Northern Ireland.

And overall, Mr Ramsay said there were clouds on the horizon during 2016, as heralded by Chancellor George Osborne in a speech last week warning that households must prepare themselves for an increase in interest rates.

Volatility in China has also created concerns for some firms in Northern Ireland who trade with companies with direct exposure to the global powerhouse.

Belfast Telegraph