Belfast Telegraph

Pharmaceutical sector grows 22% to defy recession

By David Elliott

The services and pharmaceutical sectors are helping pull the Northern Ireland economy out of recession, according to latest government statistics.

Figures from the Department of Finance and Personnel show both are benefiting from beneficial exposure to overseas markets with the chemical and pharmaceutical industries hitting a record high in the third quarter of last year despite other areas of manufacturing struggling.

The sector, which includes firms such as Antrim-based Randox and Craigavon's Almac, has now expanded by 22% in the last four years during a period when the economy has contracted sharply.

And the private services sector, which includes companies involved in the likes of IT, consulting and other knowledge-based industries, was the only area of the economy here to grow for two consecutive quarters in the third quarter of 2012.

"The latest batch of data is a reminder that despite the challenging economic conditions, some sectors 'have never had it so good'," Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said. "Pharma and software services are two examples."

A strong performance by both helped private sector output grow by 0.8% for the period, according to a composite index of the services, construction and manufacturing sectors produced by Ulster Bank, a result which bodes well for the performance of the Northern Ireland economy as a whole.

It's the first time in five years private sector output and services output have grown.

The figure doesn't include the agriculture sector but given it's had a relatively solid 12 months, the overall picture is looking rosier than it has for a number of years.

Still, there are plenty of weak spots, notably in the building trade.

The sector continues to decline and is now 42% below the peak reached in the first quarter of 2007.

And while some areas of manufacturing have managed to improve, it remains 16% below its pre-recession highs in 2008.

After pharmaceuticals, the food and drink industries have also performed well while engineering, Northern Ireland's largest manufacturing sector, has also witnessed a robust recovery of 36% since the trough in the third quarter of 2009.

But others, particularly those exposed to construction or to the Republic, have struggled.

The rubber, plastic & non-metallic mineral products sector fell by 38% between the second quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2012 and the fabricated metal products and wood products sectors have seen output decrease by almost one third over the same period.

The data gives an insight into the flavour of DFP's new economic indicator, the Composite Economic Index, which is due to launch on Thursday.

As well as measuring the production, services and construction sectors it will also gather data from the agricultural sector and public sector.