Northern Ireland’s private sector saw a significant increase in business activity and confidence due to strong growth in their order books last month, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The survey, which asked firms about various issues such as staffing levels, exports, and new orders, is considered a reliable indicator of economic performance and suggests that the private sector began 2024 in a stronger position than it ended 2023.
The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, stated that optimism was at a 32-month high and that the surge in business confidence was the biggest surprise in the latest survey. He noted that local firms were most optimistic about future output levels since May 2021, and this positive sentiment was evident across all four sectors. Ramsey attributed this renewed optimism to the launch of new products and higher orders.
Manufacturing, services, and retail sectors reported an increase in business activity in January, with only the construction sector reporting a fall. Ramsey highlighted a notable pick-up in domestic demand leading to the first rise in new orders in eight months. Additionally, manufacturing, services, and construction firms all took on more staff last month while retailers reduced their staffing levels for the first time in more than a year. Overall, these findings suggest that Northern Ireland’s private sector has had a positive start to the new year.