Northern Ireland’s private sector started 2024 on a positive note, with companies reporting a notable increase in business activity and boost in confidence due to strong growth in their order books last month, according to a survey by Ulster Bank. The bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, noted that optimism was at a 32-month high and that the surge in business confidence was the biggest surprise in the latest survey.
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 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.
Manufacturing, services, and construction firms all took on more staff last month, with only retailers reducing their staffing levels for the first time in more than a year. Overall, the survey suggests a positive start to the new year for Northern Ireland’s private sector.