Sales of new cars up, but figures fail to convince
Sales of new cars in Northern Ireland revved up slightly in February - but the province is still lagging behind other UK regions on the key economic barometer.
There were 4,524 new motors sold last month - up by 2.38% on February 2014.
Small but reliable cars continued to dominate, with the Volkswagen Golf the best selling car in February, with 180 sold, followed by the Ford Fiesta and Focus in second and third place.
That slight growth reversed two months of falling new motor sales in December and January.
But it was still distinctly underwhelming compared to an average growth of 12% for the UK as a whole. And at 10,800, the number of new sets of wheels sold over the year so far was nearly 2% lower than the same period a year earlier.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said our economic recovery was lagging behind of the rest of the United Kingdom in more than one respect.
"The recent incoming economic indicators (e.g. Ulster Bank PMI, claimant count unemployment) have shown a divergence in the pace of recovery between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
"This is also evident in the latest new car sales figures.
"Following January's blip (-5% y/y), year-on-year growth has returned in February, albeit at a relatively modest rate of just over 2%," he explained.
Growth had been much stronger in other parts of the UK - 13% in Wales, 14% for Scotland and 12.4% in England.
And in the Republic, new car sales had surged by 25%.
Mr Ramsey added: "It should be noted that the Republic of Ireland's strong rates of growth have been coming off extremely low levels.
"New car sales volumes in the Republic of Ireland over the last 12 months are still 43% below 2007 levels."
And while an upward trend evident in Northern Ireland's figures last year had now been restored, sales over the last 12 months were still 17% below 2007.
"It is noted that England, Scotland and Wales are currently reporting higher volumes of new car sales than prevailed before the recession.
"Falling food, energy and petrol bills coupled with pay rises will boost disposable incomes in the year ahead.
"In turn, this should lead to increased consumer spending, particularly on big ticket items such as new car sales."