Northern Ireland’s private sector began 2024 with renewed optimism and a significant increase in business activity, thanks to strong growth in order books last month, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The survey, which collects data on issues such as staffing levels, exports, and new orders from firms across the region, is a reliable indicator of economic performance.
The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, attributed the surge in business confidence to the launch of new products and higher orders. He noted that local firms were most optimistic about future output levels since May 2021. Ramsey also pointed out that domestic demand led to a notable pick-up in new orders after a period of stagnation.
According to Ramsey, the impact of political developments on sentiment will become apparent in February’s survey. Three of the four sectors – manufacturing, services, and retail – reported an increase in business activity in January, with only the construction sector reporting a fall. This suggests that domestic demand was driving growth across all sectors except construction.
Manufacturing, services, and construction firms all took on more staff last month than they did for over a year ago. Only retailers reduced their staffing levels for the first time since early 2023. Overall, these findings suggest that Northern Ireland’s private sector is heading into 2024 with positive momentum and strong prospects for growth.
Ramsey stated that optimism was at its highest point in 32 months due to this renewed confidence and surge in business activity. The launch of new products and higher orders has contributed significantly to this positive sentiment across all four sectors.
However, Ramsey cautioned that there are still challenges ahead for Northern Ireland’s private sector. Political instability could lead to uncertainty and slow down progress made so far.
In summary, while Ulster Bank’s survey shows promising signs for Northern Ireland’s private sector heading into 2024 with increased business activity and optimism among local firms thanks to strong growth in order books last month