Today sees the release of November data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI. The latest report – produced for Ulster Bank by IHS Markit – pointed to sharper declines in output and new orders at Northern Ireland companies, as Brexit uncertainty continued to weigh on activity. Employment also decreased, albeit at a relatively modest pace. Meanwhile, the rate of input cost inflation remained marked, but efforts to stimulate sales led companies to raise their selling prices at only a marginal pace.
The UK Government and the European negotiating team have reached a new deal. Despite this the Prime Minister had to send a three-month extension request to the EU. However, there is still a chance that the deal will be passed into law before the 31st of October. With 11 days to go all options (deal, no deal, extension) are still on the table.
Last week started with the prorogation of the UK Parliament, the legality of which will be decided by the Supreme Court this week. Despite the political storm, it looks like the UK economy managed to stave off a recession. A series of significant new monetary easing measures were announced by the outgoing ECB President Draghi.
US/China trade tensions are intensifying. The Chinese authorities announced $75bn 5-10% tariffs on US imports, targeting cars, oil and soya. US President Trump retaliated, unveiling further tariff rises though his stance at the latest G7 meeting was conciliatory. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell hinted at another rate cut soon.
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.
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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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.
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.
There has been a steady stream of negative news of late about consumer spending and consumer confidence. The latest car sales figures for Northern Ireland reveal that last month was the quietest for car showrooms in eight years. Meanwhile retail sales fell at their fastest pace in almost four years in February, according to the Ulster Bank PMI. And talk of food shortages and potential tariff-induced price rises if a no-Deal Brexit comes to pass will have done little to boost consumer sentiment. However, despite all of this, when we look at figures in relation to housing – the biggest discretionary consumer spending item of all – they appear to be at odds with everything else that is going on.
The latest NIJobs.com Jobs Report with Ulster Bank indicates a robust local jobs market at the end of 2018, despite ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and the lack of a functioning local Executive and Assembly.
Third sector organisations are facing increased financial pressures heightened as demand for services maintains its sharp incline and reductions in government funding continue, according to new research.