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Good growth rate for Northern Ireland services and manufacturing in second quarter


Richard Ramsey

Richard Ramsey

Richard Ramsey

Northern Ireland's economy had a stronger start to the year than previously reported with the services sector at a 10-year high, according to new data.

Output surveys on manufacturing and services from the NI Statistics and Research Agency showed healthy growth rates for the second quarter of 2018, with some figures for the first quarter revised upwards.

Northern Ireland's services sector saw continued and faster growth between April and May, rising from a 1% growth rate during January and March to 1.3% in the second quarter - the fastest rate of growth in one and a half years.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "The upshot of this is the economy has had a strong start to the year and indeed stronger than previously thought."

Service sector output was also 3.4% above the same quarter a year ago and is at a 10-year high, outperforming the UK average rate year-on-year.

Mr Ramsey said Northern Ireland's stand-out performer was the transport, storage, information and communication sector, which saw activity grow 5.7% over the quarter and 11.9% over the year - well above the UK average.

"These represent the fastest rates of growth that the sector has experienced and output has never been higher," he said.

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Key drivers were tourism, manufacturing exports, film production and the cyber security sector.

After a record first quarter, the pace of growth in the retail, accommodation and food service sector slowed in the second quarter, but still outperformed the rest of the UK over the year.

"Despite a squeeze on consumer incomes, this sector has benefited from the tourism boom and a boost in cross-border trade due to the weak pound," added Mr Ramsey.

Business services and finance, which accounts for one-third of private service sector activity, remained the weakest performer. Output fell 1.2% over the quarter and remains just 1.1% up over the year.

"The sector remains a shadow of its former self with activity a whopping 30% below its property and credit-fuelled peak of almost 12 years ago," said the economist.

Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector grew for the third straight quarter, with output accelerating from 0.6% to 0.9% in the second quarter.

The 0.6% growth represents a revision of the original 0.2% fall reported for Q1 earlier this year.

"This growth only brings output marginally above the Q2 2017 figure," said Mr Ramsey.

"The closure of the JTI tobacco plant in Ballymena had a huge impact on industrial/manufacturing output."

On a more positive note, manufacturing saw record highs within a number of sub-sectors. Basic and fabricated metal products surged by 7.3% over the quarter and posted an annual rise of 12.5%.

Engineering activity fell back from recent highs, but the machinery and equipment sector hit a 10-year high during April to June.