Private sector growth within Northern Ireland is lagging behind the rest of the UK, a new financial report has claimed.
The region's private sector firms recorded the weakest performance in business activity after the North East of England where output fell, according to the July study for Ulster Bank.
However, the report also indicated success in securing new work from the Republic of Ireland amid sterling weakness, helping to boost total new business.
And according to the bank's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), which is a detailed monthly survey of companies, job creation was sustained at a moderate pace.
Richard Ramsey, chief economist for Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said the private sector notched up another month of growth in output, orders and employment.
He warned however: "Whilst growth is to be welcomed, we can't escape the fact that rates of expansion lag behind the UK averages for all of these indicators. Indeed, Northern Ireland's private sector firms recorded the weakest performance in business activity, after the North East of England where output fell."
Mr Ramsey said the overall tone of the latest survey is characterised by slower rates of growth.
While the private sector has been increasing its staffing levels for the last two-and-a-half years, last month the pace of job creation slipped to a six-month low.
Manufacturing output growth eased to a 14-month low, while employment fell for the first time in six months, the data found.
However, Mr Ramsey said with manufacturing firms experiencing a period of rapid expansion over the last six to nine months a slowdown is relative to these strong rates of growth.
Within the construction industry output, new orders and employment all fell in July and retailers have been reporting a weakening in demand in recent months.
But Mr Ramsey said that despite the ongoing political and Brexit related uncertainty, Northern Ireland's private sector "remains relatively upbeat."
"Almost one-third of firms expect to have more work in 12 months' time than they do currently. Indeed, optimists currently outnumber pessimists by more than two to one on this front," he said.