Confidence in Private Sector Hits Nine-Month High

Confidence in the private sector in January rose to its highest level in 21 months, according to an Ulster Bank survey.

It is credited to the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.

While activity in the private sector continued to slow down last month, the rate at which it slowed down has eased.

It found business confidence was the highest since April 2018 and suggested that the re-establishment of Stormont was the main reason for optimism.

The construction sector is the most optimistic about the year ahead since March 2017.

Every month the bank surveys firms from across the private sector about issues like staffing levels, new orders and exports in what is considered a reliable indicator of economic activity.

“Clearly the decisive general election result and the passing of the Withdrawal Bill in Parliament provided a much-needed boost to business confidence,” said chief economist Richard Ramsey.

“Unfortunately, Northern Ireland wasn’t one of the nine UK regions to record business activity growth last month. However, the rate of decline did ease.”

Brexit uncertainty

He added: “The resurrection of Stormont has clearly provided a boost to business sentiment, and indeed all sectors now expect growth in business activity in a year’s time.

“What is of course key though is the extent to which this increasing business confidence translates into rising business activity.”

Mr Ramsey said: “Brexit uncertainty continues to be cited as the main factor behind the decline in new business from abroad.

“This issue is likely to remain until at least there is clarity on what the future trading agreement with the EU will be.”