According to research by Ulster Bank, businesses in Northern Ireland experienced significant growth in their order books last month, leading to a surge in confidence and increased business activity. The survey, which is widely considered a reliable indicator of economic performance, suggests that the private sector began 2024 on a stronger footing than it ended 2023.
The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsay, noted that optimism was at a 32-month high and that the increase in business confidence was the biggest surprise in the latest survey. He attributed this renewed optimism to new product launches and larger orders. In particular, local firms were most optimistic about future production levels as of May 2021.
Ramsay pointed out that political developments in Northern Ireland could have an impact on sentiment, and this would become apparent in the February poll. Three of the four sectors – manufacturing, services and retail – saw an increase in business activity in January, while only the construction sector recorded a decline. Ramsey highlighted a significant increase in domestic demand as one of the key factors driving this growth.
In addition to increased activity and optimism, there were also signs of job creation as manufacturing, service and construction firms hired more staff last month. Retailers were the only sector to cut staff for the first time in more than a year. Overall, these findings point to a positive start to the new year for Northern Ireland’s private sector.