Belfast Telegraph

Construction firms expanding amid positive signs of recovery

By Jamie Stinson

Construction has seen a boost here during the start of this year but Northern Ireland businesses in general are still being outperformed by those in the Republic.

More than half of construction firms said they were expanding in the first three months of the year, according to InterTradeIreland's Business Monitor survey.

More generally there were positive signs of recovery as 88% of companies said business was growing or stable.

Sales across businesses fell from 39% to 32% in the first three months of the year, even though exporters saw an increase in their figures.

The gap in sales between exporters and non-exporters has continued to widen, despite being almost level two quarters ago.

The hospitality industry - which includes hotels, bars and restaurants - appeared to struggle in the first quarter of 2015, with just a third of firms reporting growth.

But Northern Ireland is still well behind the Republic in terms of business confidence, with only a third of firms looking to expand compared to almost half in the Republic.

According to InterTradeIreland, this could be explained by the belief that the Republic has gone through its austerity and the economy has already firmly made it out the other side. Aidan Gough, strategy and policy director at InterTradeIreland, said overall business confidence was heading in the right direction.

"Results in this Business Monitor reinforce the generally positive pictures that have been apparent since the middle of 2013 with 88% of firms saying they are either stable or growing," he said.

"Of course, the fact that 45% are stable with just 43% growing, explains why the much-vaunted 'feelgood' factor seems hidden."

Exporters continue to improve their performance, Mr Gough said. "Sales performance of exporters continued to outstrip non-exporters and remained very strong," he said.

But currency is continuing to play a major role in cross-border business between Northern Ireland and the Republic, due to the weakness in the euro.

"The volatility and fluctuation of the exchange rate may be having a temporary effect on cross-border trade," Mr Gough said.

"While current exchange rates are a significant issue for only a small number of firms, this is an issue which has been growing in importance, rising from 2% at the start of 2014 to 6% this quarter.

"This quarter, the report showed that there were more firms experiencing a decrease in cross-border sales in the last 12 months than those reporting an increase."

Meanwhile, regarding Northern Ireland's construction industry, just last month John Armstrong of the Construction Employers' Federation, which represents around 1,000 firms across Northern Ireland, said there was a skills shortage within the construction industry here.

And he said not enough homes were being built.

Belfast Telegraph