Coronavirus: NI economy sees 'fastest and deepest' decline ever

By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

Industry stock picImage source, Getty Images

The Northern Ireland economy is enduring its "fastest and deepest" decline ever, Ulster Bank’s chief economist has said.

Richard Ramsey’s comments came as the bank’s monthly survey showed the steepest ever fall in activity.

Since 2002, the bank has conducted a monthly survey of a representative sample of firms.

The March survey showed activity collapsing, with April likely to show an even worse result.

"It is worth pointing out that 80% of the respondents in the Northern Ireland survey replied before the prime minister announced the full UK lockdown on 23 March," he said.

"The April survey will be the first full month that the UK, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland economies will be under full lockdown conditions.

"Therefore, the pace of contraction will accelerate further to fresh record lows."

'Alarming rate'

Every month, the bank asks businesses about things such as new orders, exports and staffing.

This is used to create a numerical index with readings of more than 50 indicating expansion and under 50 indicating contraction.

Image source, Ulster Bank
Image caption,
Richard Ramsey is the chief economist at Ulster Bank

The headline seasonally-adjusted business activity index fell from 46.5 in February to 29.1 in March.

Mr Ramsey said: "Significantly, it is the services sector that is enduring the most alarming rates of decline.

"Given what has happened to the local hospitality sector this is perhaps not surprising."

It will be several months before there is official data to show the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Northern Ireland economy.