Purchasing Managers Index suggests NI recovery gaining momentum
The recovery of Northern Ireland's private sector gained momentum at the start of 2014, a survey of businesses has suggested.
The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) is a monthly survey of a panel of firms that tracks indicators such as new orders, employment and exports.
It showed that in January, firms experienced their fastest rate of growth in almost 10 years.
Northern Ireland's growth rate was also faster than across the UK as a whole.
Services companies posted the strongest rise in new business, while only construction saw the rate of expansion ease from December.
Rising workloads led to a seventh successive monthly increase in employment.
The PMI data is produced by Ulster Bank.
Richard Ramsey, the bank's chief economist in Northern Ireland, said the forward-looking new orders index suggested there was more growth to come.
"Local firms have seen their order books expand at their fastest rate since at least August 2002," he said.
"Encouragingly, the improved business conditions have translated into significant levels of job creation.
"Firms within manufacturing, construction and retail all increased staffing levels at a faster rate in January relative to the previous month."
Last month, official figures known as the Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index (NICEI), suggested the local economy grew by 1.6% between July and September 2013.
Despite the encouraging figures, the Northern Ireland economy is estimated to be still almost 10% smaller than its peak in 2007.
By comparison, the UK economy as a whole has made up almost all the output lost as a result of the recession, and is now less than 2% below its 2008 peak.