Northern Ireland news

Retail activity rose for first time in four months during November - Ulster Bank

A new survey from Ulster Bank suggests retail sales rose for the first time in four months during November. Picture by Mal McCann.

RETAIL sales rose for the first time in four months during November, according to a new business survey.

Published this morning, Ulster Bank's purchasing managers index (PMI) appeared to show the £100 Spend Local scheme having an impact.

The monthly survey, which reflects the experience of 200 manufacturing, construction, retail and services firms around the north, showed the pace of business activity broadly accelerating in November.

Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "Northern Ireland saw the pace of business activity accelerate in November, but this uptick was solely down to a rebound in one sector - retail.

"Local retail sales rose in November for the first time in four months with the High Street Voucher Scheme undoubtedly contributing to the pick-up in demand."

It comes as the economy minister announced £121 million has been spent to date.

Gordon Lyons yesterday urged cardholders to spend the remaining £22m ahead of Sunday's extended deadline.

Meanwhile, Ulster Bank's PMI showed that manufacturing remained the strongest performing sector during November.

But the north's economy is facing challenging headwinds in the months ahead.

"Manufacturing aside, the near-term outlook for the private sector remains challenging," said Richard Ramsey.

"Indeed, retail's pick-up in sales in November coincides with a slump in new orders, pointing to a slowdown over the months ahead."

The rate Northern Ireland businesses are putting up their prices also hit a new record high in November.

After months of enduring record costs, businesses now appear to be passing on those costs at a faster rate.

A combination of supply chain problems and inflation is hitting the construction sector particularly hard, with building firms recording a fifth successive month of declining output and orders.

The construction sector posted the sharpest rise in input prices of the four sectors monitored during November, closely followed by retail.

"Rising inflation and lengthening supplier delivery times remain two key headwinds facing businesses worldwide," said Mr Ramsey.

"But once again Northern Ireland firms are experiencing the highest rates of input cost inflation within the UK. As a result, local businesses are raising their prices at a record pace and at a faster rate than elsewhere."

The economist said that manufacturing aside, the near-term outlook for the private sector remains challenging.

He said retail's pick-up in sales in November coincided with a slump in new orders, pointing to a slowdown over the months ahead.

"The most encouraging aspect of the latest survey is the continued robust rates of growth in employment. While this is primarily a manufacturing and services story, all four sectors increased their staffing levels last month."

But the economist said at a regional level, Northern Ireland’s private sector recovery continues to lag behind its peers in the UK.

Mr Ramsey said while some firms are benefitting from an increase in north-south trade, export orders overall continued to fall at a significant rate.

"November's decline extended the run of falling orders to 34 months," he said.

"Manufacturing is the only sector in Northern Ireland that appears to be outperforming the UK."

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