Economic activity up but pessimism remains over Brexit, survey reports
Business activity in Northern Ireland has been better than expected throughout 2018 though export orders have slowed down, according to a key survey today.
The Ulster Bank Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for November said it had been a "relatively good month" across all sectors, with manufacturing the star performer.
However, confidence is low and Brexit is to blame, the survey reported.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said "rates of growth in November are slower than long-term averages and export growth very subdued".
"Also, confidence in the year ahead is pretty weak - lowest of the UK regions," he added.
Construction was the only part of the economy to record a drop in activity.
During November, there had been rising business activity and growth in both orders and staff numbers.
"Indeed, business activity and employment accelerated in November," Mr Ramsey said.
"Manufacturing is the main high-point of the latest survey, recording impressive rates of growth in orders books, employment and output."
But the economist said the last three months of the year were shaping up to have the slowest growth of just over two years.
In addition, export orders were growing at the slowest rate for a year-and-a-half, with November's pace of growth the weakest since the EU referendum.
Mr Ramsey said Brexit uncertainty could be affecting orders.
"This slowdown is clearly having an impact on sentiment for the year ahead. Business confidence improved in November from October's low, but this was solely due to the services sector," he said.
"Retailers and manufacturers saw their confidence levels hit new lows when looking to the year ahead, while construction firms, which have been experiencing falling output and orders, expect more of the same next year."
Northern Ireland's confidence was also being affected by a slowdown in the UK economy.
"Indeed, three regions of the UK, including London and the South West, saw output fall in November. The overall health of the UK economy is the most important driver of activity in the Northern Ireland private sector," Mr Ramsey said.
"This trend therefore does not bode well for Northern Ireland in 2019."
The PMI added: "Despite improving slightly in November, business confidence was the second-weakest since the series began in March 2017.
"Brexit was the foremost reason for pessimism."