Downturn deepens in Northern Ireland private sector

Today sees the release of June data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled a deepening downturn in the Northern Ireland private sector. Brexit uncertainty led to sharper falls in output and new orders, with firms pessimistic regarding the 12-month outlook.

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New car sales up and down in June?

(up in Q2 y/y but down y/y in June)

New car sales are traditionally viewed as a key barometer of consumer confidence. Despite the labour market being the strongest it has ever been, consumer confidence – viewed through the lens of new car sales – remains uninspiring. Last month proved to be the weakest June for dealers in seven years with 5,170 new vehicles rolling out of showrooms. That was six per cent lower than last year. However, the latest figures follow the best May in 11 years and a mediocre April.  As a result, the second quarter still posted a respectable 2.7% y/y rise (+369 cars) and the strongest Q2 in three years.

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The economics of drugs, cigarettes and heavy metal

Economists are stereotyped as being, let’s say, not the most rock and roll people. But of late, those of us working on Northern Ireland have had reason to focus strongly on drugs, cigarettes and heavy metals. That’s because these are some of the subsectors of the economy and the manufacturing sector that have seen the biggest highs or are the most troubled.

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The £9 pint and the two-speed consumer…

About this time last year, the price of beer in Belfast’s now iconic Grand Central Hotel caused much reaction, with its Observatory Bar selling a pint for £8. Clearly, this is a niche indicator, but it led to questions by some observers in relation to what this said about the local economy, the strength of the tourism sector, and the spending power of local consumers.

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NI voluntary sector lagging behind in digital transformation

Despite some notable examples of excellent practice, Northern Ireland’s voluntary sector overall is lagging behind in terms of digital transformation and this is impacting on its ability to remain competitive and deliver services.

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House prices continue to rise but activity on the turn?

Northern Ireland Residential Property Price Index Comment

Northern Ireland’s housing market has been a source of continued positivity in recent years, with housebuilding, prices, transactions and mortgage activity all at multi-year highs.  Though the property market remains in recovery mode, rather than recovered, following the biggest residential property downturn in UK history.

Residential property price growth has been slowing in both the UK and Republic of Ireland markets. The latest Residential Property Price Index for Northern Ireland points to a similar trend. Residential property prices posted their first quarterly fall in two years in Q1 2019 with a 1.0% decline.  Annual house price growth eased from 5.1% in Q4 2018 to a more sustainable 3.5% in Q1 2019 – a rate that remains above consumer price inflation and broadly in line with average earnings growth. Lower rates of house price inflation (2-3% p.a.) are to be welcomed.

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A low but not quite the labour market nirvana it suggests

When analysing economies the world over, the unemployment rate is arguably one of the most important go-to statistics. It enables comparisons to be drawn and inferences made on the relative health of different economies. Today’s labour market statistics revealed that Northern Ireland’s headline unemployment rate fell to a jaw-dropping low of 2.9% in Q1 2019. This represents the lowest unemployment rate on record and the joint-second lowest of all the UK regions. Not only does it compare favourably with the UK (3.8%), but it is also below the likes of the United States (3.6%), the Republic of Ireland (5.4%) and Germany (3.2%). Japan is one of the few world economies with a lower unemployment rate (2.5%) than Northern Ireland.

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When China sneezes….

The old saying is that the US economy sneezes and the rest of the world catches cold. This phrase reflected the old influence and dominance of America in the global economy. However, since the worldwide recession a decade ago, China has had a spectacular rise and is challenging US hegemony. Indeed, the concerns now are about the Chinese Dragon spreading its economic germs.

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Farming takes centre stage but plenty of drama is unfolding in the background

In Northern Ireland, farming always takes centre stage during May, when all of the sector’s actors come together for the biggest show in town. Balmoral provides the opportunity to reflect on the performance of the industry since the last show and to look forward to the seasons ahead.

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