Northern Ireland’s private sector started 2024 in a stronger position than it ended 2023, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, stated that optimism was at a 32-month high and attributed the surge in business confidence to the launch of new products and higher orders.
The survey, which asks firms about issues such as staffing levels, exports, and new orders, is considered a reliable indicator of economic performance. In January, three of the four sectors – manufacturing, services, and retail – reported an increase in business activity. Only the construction sector reported a fall. Ramsey highlighted a notable pick-up in domestic demand leading to the first rise in new orders in eight months.
Manufacturing, services, and construction firms all took on more staff last month. Retailers reduced their staffing levels for the first time in more than a year. Ramsey expects the impact of political developments in Northern Ireland on sentiment to become apparent in February’s 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.