Most Northern Ireland manufacturers optimistic, but Brexit still biggest concern
Just over three-quarters of manufacturers in Northern Ireland have said Brexit uncertainty is the biggest issue affecting business.
And rising numbers of firms, surveyed by Manufacturing NI and law firm Tughans for their latest sectoral report said they fear Brexit will have a negative effect on business.
But the majority said they had increased sales in the last 12 months - though the percentage reporting rising sales had fallen from 74% in last year's survey to 58%.
There was also a drop in the percentage of firms expecting growth to pick up in 2019 from 57% to 47%.
Stockpiling before the first Brexit deadline of March 29 had also resulted in the investment of working capital.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "This is our third survey alongside Tughans and we are now clearly seeing trends develop.
"Of concern is that confidence is declining due to political uncertainty, particularly in regard to the UK's exit from the EU.
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"For the first time, the degree of stockpiling by manufacturers has been revealed with almost half of firms saying they've invested significant sums of working capital in an effort to insulate them from the potential crash out in March 2019.
"With the next deadline of October 31, at a time when storage is already under stress as retailers stock up for Christmas, we will have significant challenges to try to continue business as usual.
"Indeed, now 60% of firms believe Brexit will have a negative impact on their business up from 41% this time last year."
The survey was carried out by polling firm Perceptive Insight last month.
James Donnelly, head of corporate at Tughans, said: "Although not quite so positive as the December 2018 survey, the survey findings indicate that most manufacturing businesses locally are remaining optimistic.
"This is encouraging despite the ongoing challenges presented by political uncertainty, the rising cost of doing business and shortage of appropriate skills.
"Whilst the sector has embraced a stoical approach of just getting on with it, there is no doubt that if our local politicians could resolve the impasse that the local economy would benefit hugely."