Business activity in Northern Ireland has decreased at its slowest rate for four months.
The private sector is still awaiting its first month of growth in almost four years. But manufacturing helped stem the pace of the decline, an Ulster Bank survey said.
Local firms reported reduced work in September, with Northern Ireland the only part of the UK not to record growth, the report added.
Richard Ramsey, chief economist for Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said: "The pace of decline was much slower than that recorded in August and that was largely driven by the manufacturing sector. It was a similar story with new orders, while the employment index recorded its highest reading since March 2008."
Despite this, firms still reported job losses, the Purchasing Manager's Indexes said.
The decrease in Northern Ireland private sector employment levels compared favourably with four other UK regions.
Manufacturing remains Northern Ireland's best performing industry outside agriculture and was the only sector to record growth in output and new business, while construction and service industries are significantly shrinking, with more than a third of firms reporting a decline in exports last month.
Mr Ramsey added: "Local manufacturing firms reported price reductions for the first time this year in September.
"As Sir Mervyn King warned last week, the economic outlook looks even more challenging now than it did last month, with the Bank of England responding accordingly.
"A return to private sector growth in Northern Ireland still looks some way off."