Northern Ireland’s private sector is experiencing a surge in business activity and confidence, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The survey, which asks firms about issues such as staffing levels, exports, and new orders, is considered a reliable indicator of economic performance and suggests that the private sector started 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.
The impact of the political developments in Northern Ireland on sentiment should become apparent in February’s survey, according to Ramsey. 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. 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