Economic conditions in the private sector are worsening with output in July the worst for five months, an influential report has indicated.
The Ulster Bank Purchase Managers' Index suggested that the rate of contraction in July was the quickest since December 2009.
The number of jobs in the sector fell for the 29th month in a row.
The level of new business fell for the fourth successive month and at the fastest rate for over a year.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said that this year would be "a game of two halves" in terms of economic growth.
He added: "At a global level, a number of economies have begun to experience a slowdown in growth during the third quarter.
"In a similar vein, the second half of 2010 is expected to be much weaker than the first in Northern Ireland - the only difference being the local economy was already in a state of decline."
Mr Ramsey said that the level of new orders was often seen as the "canary in the coal mine" for the level of business activity ahead.
"From this perspective, the significant jump in the number of firms posting declining levels of new business - 45% of all firms - does not bode well for activity and ultimately employment in the months ahead."
He added that the rise in local manufacturing - the strongest in three years - was a rare positive among the figures.
Last week, both PricewaterhouseCoopers and Northern Bank revised downwards their growth forecasts for Northern Ireland for the coming year.