Scorching summer heats up economy
Business activity in Northern Ireland has risen for the first time since the start of the credit crunch six years ago, figures have indicated.
The research showed that the economy surge also delivered employment gains, with the size of the workforce increasing in July, the first upward move since the turn of the year.
The data was outlined in the Ulster Bank's latest Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which provides a bench-marked assessment of economic activity in Northern Ireland every month. The index linked the spike in economic activity with a marked rise in new orders received by businesses.
Companies also credited the scorching summer as a factor in heating up the economy.
While business activity is on the up, the rate is still lagging behind growth figures for the rest of the UK.
Input costs for essentials such as fuel and raw materials also rose in July, which saw some companies increase their product prices.
Assessing the latest index figures, Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said: "It is clear from the latest PMI that Northern Ireland experienced something of an economic heatwave in July. Not only did the sun have its hat on, but the local economy has put its recovery hat, shades and shorts on.
"Last week marked the sixth anniversary of the official start of the credit crunch. During the 71 months that have elapsed since then, the Northern Ireland PMI has been a reliable, albeit gloomy, barometer of economic conditions for local firms. Positives, as far as the PMI is concerned, had been in short supply over this period. However, the July 2013 survey is littered with positives.
"Business activity, new orders, exports and employment all increased in July. Overall, almost one third of firms surveyed reported a rise in activity last month. Local firms saw business activity increase at its fastest rate in 70 months with all sectors of the economy experiencing robust rates of growth.
"The better weather conditions were cited as one factor while improved client confidence across the UK was another. The surge in new business orders in July suggests business activity should remain buoyant in the near term. Export orders also increased for the first time since January 2008."