Manufacturing slows as small NI firms feel impact of big closures
Activity in the UK's manufacturing sector weakened in the first quarter to its lowest level in a year, with some smaller Northern Ireland firms feeling the effects of high-profile closures in the sector.
The Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) showed a reading of 55.1 last month, slightly higher than 55.0 in February, and surpassing economist forecasts for 54.7. A reading above 50 indicates growth.
However, it was not enough to bolster first quarter results.
"The average reading over the opening quarter as a whole (55.1) was the weakest in a year, suggesting that the underlying pace of expansion has been generally slower since the start 2018," the report explained.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Northern Ireland trade body Manufacturing NI, said UK manufacturing was continuing to grow in tandem with UK, European and Asian markets.
But he added: "There is an increasing body of evidence that this growth is slowing as currency rates versus the dollar has recovered from the sudden drop after the EU referendum.
"The challenge for the sector now is to firm up customers won in the past 21 months and invest for the future, but with Brexit on the horizon, many are holding off.
"This slowing is being felt locally, where the impact of the loss of some larger manufacturing firms is having an additional negative impact on smaller supply chain firms."
The Northern Ireland manufacturing sector has suffered the loss of major producers such as tyre manufacturer Michelin and JTI Gallaher's, both in Ballymena.
And early 2018 has also seen the administration of Williams Industrial Services in Newtownabbey, and the closure of oilfield services firm, Schlumberger.
Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit which compiles the survey, said: "The latest PMI survey provided further evidence that UK manufacturing has entered a softer growth phase so far this year.
"Although the pace of output expansion ticked higher in March, which is especially encouraging given the heavy snowfall during the month, this was offset by slower increases in new orders and employment."