Northern Ireland

NI business conditions 'improving' says Ulster Bank chief economist

Northern Ireland's private sector has seen a "significant improvement in business conditions", according to a monthly snapshot of the local economy.

Companies reported their fastest growth in new orders for seven months in May.

"Furthermore, firms have continued to increase their staffing levels at a faster rate than the long-term average prior to the downturn," said Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey.

The bank surveys businesses on things like orders, exports and job creation.

'Encouraging signs'

Mr Ramsey added: "The latest survey offers encouragement after a disappointing start to the year.

"Despite these encouraging signs, the pace of Northern Ireland's recovery continues to lag behind the UK as a whole and most of the UK regions."

The recovery in new orders is down to increased demand within the UK market.

But the strength of sterling continues to present a big challenge for exporters into the Eurozone.

"Export orders fell for the fifth month in a row in May and have now been flat or falling since October 2014," he said.

The manufacturing sector is performing strongly, but "worryingly" the local construction sector saw new orders at their weakest level in two years, he said.

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