Business activity in Northern Ireland has dropped for the first time in almost three years, with Brexit uncertainty blamed for the decline.
The Purchasing Managers’ Index, a well-established benchmarked index for measuring private sector growth, has recorded a decrease in activity for the first time since July 2016.
Rates of employment and new orders in the sector are also on a downward trajectory, the data from the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI.
Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank Northern Ireland, said the region’s firms were becoming increasingly pessimistic about what lies ahead in 2019.
“The term Brexit Uncertainty has been overused in the last couple of years, however it is again a major feature of the latest PMI, with the impact of this becoming more and more tangible,” he said.
“Business conditions deteriorated further according to respondents, with March seeing the first fall in business activity in 32-months.
“Perhaps more significantly though, export orders and employment levels both dropped at their fastest rate in almost six years, and Northern Ireland firms are increasingly pessimistic about the year ahead.
“Clearly the potential for a no-deal scenario was exercising the minds of business owners last month.
“Positives were in short supply in the latest survey with manufacturing continuing to be the only sector recording output growth; albeit that stockpiling was no doubt a factor.
“This is seen in the UK Manufacturing PMI, where stockpiling was reported to be rising at its fastest rate in 27 years.
“At the other end of the spectrum locally is retail, with sales activity declining at its sharpest rate in four years.
“Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s largest sector, the service industry, took a turn for the worse in March, with output, orders and employment all going lower.
“Service sector activity hit a 32-month low and staffing levels in the sector are falling at the fastest rate in almost six and a half years.