Output down for sixth month running in August

Today sees the release of August data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – suggested that Brexit and associated economic uncertainty led to ongoing declines in the Northern Ireland private sector during August. Marked reductions in output and new orders were recorded, while business confidence hit a new low and job shedding intensified. 

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New orders fall sharply again in July

Northern Ireland’s private sector reported a marked deterioration in business conditions in the second quarter. July’s PMI survey suggests more of the same at the start of the third quarter as output, orders, exports and employment continued to fall last month. The rate of decline across all of these indicators did ease in July relative to June.  However, the pace of contraction in output, orders and exports remained significant with output and orders falling at a faster rate than in any other UK region.

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Firms notched up their seventh successive monthly fall in staffing levels; albeit the pace of job losses in the latest survey was relatively modest. Indeed, a number of respondents’ efforts to hire were thwarted by a lack of suitable staff. Clearly the lack of supply of workers remains a key issue in the labour market rather than simply waning demand.

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that 2019 has been a year of decline for the retail sector.  However, there are actually now some signs that the rapid decline in sales is stabilising. Given the further depreciation in sterling, cross-border shopping is likely to play a more prominent role in the period ahead.

Manufacturing has seen a sharp reversal of fortunes in recent months with the sector posting the sharpest rates of decline in jobs, orders and output of the four sectors. Last month manufacturers reported their steepest fall in output since April 2009. The ongoing fog of Brexit uncertainty is one contributory factor alongside a global manufacturing slowdown.

Elsewhere, services firms, outside of retail, recorded a deterioration in business conditions in July. Significantly, services orders have been falling at an accelerating rate in each of the last five months. Indeed, July saw orders contract at the fastest rate in over seven-and-a-half years. It is a similar story for the construction industry with orders lurching lower again for the eleventh month running.

The employment picture remains the most positive aspect of the latest survey. But it is well known that the labour market is a lagging indicator of economic conditions. Shrinking order books, Brexit uncertainty and the ramping up of tensions between China and the US provide a formidable environment for local firms. Business conditions could well get worse before they start getting better.

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Chief Economist’s Weekly Brief – Waning US growth

A weaker than expected US employment report is adding to rising concerns about the global economy, fuelling expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut rates soon, possibly this summer. ECB president Draghi signalled the door is open for further monetary measures to support the weak Euro area economy, if needed.  

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Third successive monthly fall in activity

Today sees the release of May data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – indicated that the Northern Ireland private sector remained in contraction territory. Activity and new business continued to fall markedly, often linked to Brexit uncertainty. In turn, companies lowered their staffing levels again. There was some relief on the price front, as the rate of input cost inflation eased. That said, the extent of input price increases far outweighed that of selling charges again during the month.

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Sharpest fall in business activity since end of 2012

Today sees the release of April data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled that the Northern Ireland private sector moved deeper into contraction territory. Business activity, new orders and employment all fell to the greatest extents since the final quarter of 2012, with Brexit and a lack of government at Stormont impacting negatively on operations. Weakening demand led companies to raise their selling prices at only a modest pace during the month, despite continued sharp input cost inflation.

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Activity declines for first time since July 2016

Today sees the release of March data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – suggested that Brexit uncertainty pushed the Northern Ireland private sector into decline. Business activity decreased for the first time since July 2016, while the rate of decline in new orders gathered pace. This was also the case with regards to employment, which decreased to the greatest extent in almost six years.

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Export orders fall at their fastest pace in 69 months

Today sees the release of February data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – signalled that business activity in Northern Ireland rose only fractionally in February. The near-stagnation in output reflected Brexit worries, with total new orders falling for the first time in 28 months, new export business down sharply and business sentiment turning negative. Meanwhile, companies lowered their staffing levels for the second month running.

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Employment falls for first time in four years

Today sees the release of January data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – indicated that business conditions in Northern Ireland were subdued at the start of 2019 amid Brexit uncertainty. Business activity rose at the weakest pace in 28 months, while new orders increased only marginally. As a result, companies lowered staffing levels for the first time in four years.

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New orders stagnate in December

Today sees the release of December data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI®. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – pointed to no change in new orders at the end of 2018. Meanwhile, business activity and employment continued to rise solidly, albeit at weaker rates than in November. Both input costs and output prices increased at marked rates again, but inflationary pressures showed some signs of easing at the end of the year.

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The Big Economic Quiz of the Year

What were the economic highlights and lowlights of 2018? What will be good, bad and ugly in 2019? Who will be next year’s economic villain? What word would you use to sum up what you expect to see in the next 12 months? These and many other questions about the Northern Ireland and global economies are asked and discussed in our new podcast, which we’ve boldly called the Big Economic Quiz of the Year.

And fittingly, we have some big fish from the local economics community contributing. Angela McGowan, Director of the CBI in Northern Ireland and Richard Johnston, Deputy Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre join our own Richard Ramsey and business journalist Jamie Delargy to review, predict and ruminate.

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