Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland retailers 'enjoyed bumper Christmas'

Belfast xmas shopping
Image caption In December, the retail sector had its sharpest monthly increase in business activity in more than 10 years, according to the survey

Northern Ireland retailers had a bumper Christmas, a bank survey has suggested.

The Ulster Bank surveys private sector activity every month, in what is considered a reliable indicator of the economy.

It shows that in December the retail sector had its sharpest monthly increase in business activity in more than 10 years.

The figures also suggest that employment continues to increase in the retail sector.

The bank's chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said the last three months of 2016 showed "the strongest set of quarterly retail sales figures in the survey's 14-year history".

He added: "Demand from the Republic of Ireland is boosting exports and retail sales considerably.

"As a result, Northern Ireland's retail sector continues to post the fastest rates of job creation of all the sectors."

Weak pound

However the survey continued to point to growing inflationary pressures, as the weak pound increases the cost of imported goods and materials.

Selling prices at retailers rose at the fastest pace since the survey began in January 2003.

The UK retail sector as a whole appears to have had a good Christmas.

Major supermarkets, department stores and fashion chains have reported year-on-year sales increases.

Consumer spending has been supported by an increase in unsecured debt, such as credit cards.

Total unsecured debt in the UK for 2016 reached £270bn, a record high.

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