A recent survey conducted by Ulster Bank has shown that Northern Ireland businesses experienced significant growth in their order books in January, leading to an increase in confidence about their overall economic outlook. The survey is a reliable indicator of economic performance and has revealed optimism at a 32-month high, with renewed confidence being linked to the launch of new products and higher orders.
The private sector in Northern Ireland started 2024 on a stronger footing than it ended 2023. This positive sentiment was evident across all four sectors, including manufacturing, services, retail, and construction. There was a notable uptick in domestic demand, which led to the first rise in new orders in eight months. In January, manufacturing, services, and construction companies all took on more staff, with only retailers reducing their staffing levels for the first time in more than a year.
According to Ulster Bank’s chief economist Richard Ramsey, the increase in business confidence was the most surprising finding of the survey. He also noted that local firms were their most optimistic about future output levels since May 2021. This outlook predates the restoration of Stormont and is expected to be reflected in February’s survey results. Despite the construction sector reporting a fall in business activity, the overall sentiment was positive and suggested growth across various industries.
Overall, this survey provides evidence that Northern Ireland businesses are experiencing strong growth and increased confidence about their economic prospects for 2024.