Business activity in Northern Ireland returned to growth in July following months of decline - but while orders and output are in positive territory, the bigger picture is less rosy.
That was the bottom line in Ulster Bank's July Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), which tracks changes in four major economic sectors.
It said that overall output for businesses here expanded for the first time in 17 months to 54.5.
On a scale from zero to 100, anything above 50 signals an increase on the previous month.
However, firms reduced prices for the fourth time in four months and employment continues to decrease, albeit at a lower rate than other UK regions.
A closer look at figures shows that retail, construction and manufacturing activity rose in July to 63.4, 60.0 and 59.8 respectively. Services fared worse with a reading of 45.6.
Richard Ramsey, Ulster Bank chief economist Northern Ireland, said: "A further easing of lockdown restrictions in July helped secure growth in private sector activity for the first time in 17 months. Last month's expansion (54.5) was the fastest rate of growth in two years.
"New orders also rose, albeit modestly, for the first time since January 2019. This is driven solely by a pick-up in demand in the domestic market.
"The PMI data suggest that a two-speed recovery has emerged across the UK, which is closely linked to the speed at which lockdown restrictions have been lifted. All of the UK regions, bar Scotland, saw a return to growth in July. Northern Ireland's recovery has lagged behind England. Similarly Wales and Scotland trail further behind Northern Ireland."
Mr Ramsey said strong rates of output growth in three of the four sectors here marked "merely a rebound from abnormally low levels".
"Perhaps surprisingly, the services sector continued to contract at a significant rate. While over one-third of services firms saw a month-on-month rise in activity in July, an even greater number (40%) reported a fall. Clearly some firms have benefited from the reopening of the economy," he said.
"However, others are finding that their recently completed work is not being replaced by new business at a sufficient rate.
"Demand conditions may have improved but the squeeze on profit margins has intensified. Local firms have reduced their prices for the fourth time in five months in order to secure new work. This is despite the significant rise in input costs, notably Covid-19 related expenditure such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
"Despite a pick-up in demand, Northern Ireland, along with all the other UK regions, continued to reduce their staffing levels at a rapid rate. Although the pace of job losses amongst local firms was less marked than elsewhere. The phasing out of the furlough scheme is anticipated to lead to further redundancies in the months ahead.
"While the return to growth is welcome news it merely marks the start of a long road to recovery. There remains a huge gap relative to pre-pandemic levels of output/activity. Bridging this gap will take years not months."