NI firms 'saw strong finish to 2017,' says Ulster Bank

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

Image caption,
Ulster Bank's monthly survey is considered a reliable indicator of the local economy

The Northern Ireland private sector experienced a strong finish last year, Ulster Bank data has suggested.

The bank surveys private sector activity monthly, in what is considered a reliable indicator of the economy.

December's survey saw overall business activity expanding at the fastest monthly rate in a year, while new orders accelerated to a 40-month high.

For 2017 as a whole, output, orders and employment growth increased at their fastest rate in three years.

'Strengthening optimism'

The bank's chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said: "Local firms, most notably manufacturers, are benefiting from a pick-up in the global economy and the enhanced price-competitiveness resulting from sterling's weakness."

UK manufacturing as a whole saw significant growth in 2017.

The latest official figures showed manufacturing output is expanding at its fastest rate since early 2008 after recording a seventh consecutive month of growth in November.

Image caption,
Richard Ramsey said the weakness of sterling was helping NI exporters

Renewable energy projects, boats, aeroplanes and cars for export helped make output 3.9% higher in the three months to November than 2016.

Mr Ramsey said optimism among companies in Northern Ireland had strengthened to a three-month high as close to 35% of respondents predicted an increase in output over the coming year.

Government cuts

However he cautioned that a continuing squeeze on public spending would continue to act as a drag on the economy.

"Whilst the survey shows the Northern Ireland private sector moving into 2018 on a relatively strong footing, the same cannot be said for the public and third sectors, with government cuts impacting significantly on both."