NI business activity shows signs of improvement

The Northern Ireland economy is showing signs of improvement and growth according to Ulster Bank's Construction Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI).

The index, designed to track changes in construction activity, rose sharply to 47.5 in July from 43.4 in the previous month.

Weaker reductions were also recorded in the industry's purchasing activity and employment numbers.

Ulster Bank's monthly survey of its panel of companies shows new business orders in the construction industry rose for the first time in 19 months in July. This equates to 35 per cent of firms reporting a higher number of orders, compared with 24 per cent reporting declines.

Optimism in the industry, although slightly down on the previous month, remains buoyant; 43 per cent of business panellists are forecasting growth activity over the next 12 months.

Simon Barry, chief economist Republic of Ireland at Ulster Bank, said the index showed signs that the Northern Ireland's construction sector was 'stabilising'.

"Some caution is still warranted on the sector's performance, however," he said.

"The overall Construction PMI continues to signal ongoing declines in activity, with the PMI remaining sub 50, at 47.5 last month. However, this was the highest reading since December 2011 consistent with an easing in the pace of decline. Moreover, the return to expansion in New Orders, if sustained, should promote greater stability in overall activity trends in the period ahead."

Meanwhile, the housing sector showed the best performance of construction sub-sectors last month.