Ulster Bank PMI report for February 2023

Business activity returns to growth in February

Key findings

  • Output rises for the first time in ten months
  • Renewed increases in total new orders and exports
  • Softer cost inflation and supply-chain disruption


As such, business confidence strengthened and employment growth quickened. Meanwhile, price and supply pressures continued to ease.

The headline seasonally adjusted Business Activity Index posted 52.2 in February, moving back above the 50.0 no-change mark for the first time in ten months following a reading of 45.3 in January. Output increased modestly amid an increase in new orders and signs of demand improving. The manufacturing and retail sectors posted rises in activity, while services and construction remained in decline.

New orders, meanwhile, increased for the first time in ten months. New export orders also returned to growth, a marked turnaround following a sharp decline in January.


Richard Ramsey, Chief Economist Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank, commented:

“The latest PMI survey could be summed up in one word - improvement. All ten indicators of local business conditions improved in February relative to the previous month. Private sector firms reported their first rise in output and new orders in 10 months. A notable improvement in the economic conditions within Northern Ireland’s export markets helped lift export orders in February following four years of continuous decline. 

"The recovery in international demand aided a return to growth in output and orders for manufacturers. Meanwhile, retail’s recent resurgence continued. The completed rollout of the £600 energy grant, coupled with cross-border shoppers from the Republic of Ireland, continues to provide a boost for the retail sector. Conversely, construction and services posted a further fall in output last month. 

"Firms continue to recruit with all four sectors increasing their staffing levels in February. Overall, employment rose at its fastest pace in 15 months with Northern Ireland outperforming the other 11 regions in the UK. Inflationary pressures continued to ease with both input cost and output price inflation falling to 25-month lows. 

"Finally, it was encouraging to see a surge in optimism last month across all four surveyed sectors. Expectations for output in 12 months’ time hit a 12-month high which represents the highest level of confidence since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This latest improvement occurred ahead of the unveiling of The Windsor Framework, so we may see further rises in sentiment in the coming months if it is accepted more universally than the NI Protocol was. Time will tell.”


Please see the report in full:
Download the Northern Ireland PMI Report February 2023 (PDF, 430kB)

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