Quarterly Economic Survey
Executive Summary - Q4 2020

Domestic sales and orders – Manufacturing sales rose in the last quarter back into growth territory with more companies reporting increase than decreases for the first since 2019. Sales for B2B services also grew to +7% but overall the sector net balance remains negative with consumer services including accommodation, leisure and hospitality all reporting declining sales, not unsurprisingly.

Export sales and orders – Export sales also improved in the last quarter and may in part be down to customers bringing forward orders for products or services ahead of EU transition period ending on December 31st. Overseas markets in the Far East and China are also improving but concerns over increased shipping costs and capacity being raised by businesses.

Employment – Last quarter saw net balance negative across all sectors, however the outlook for next quarter looks a little more promising as companies report expectations of increasing headcounts.

Investment – Manufacturing investment improved during Q4 and although still some way off pre-crisis levels is back into positive territory. In part this maybe also link back to the end of the EU transition period as companies look to get projects completed ahead of any new border controls.

Business confidence – Manufacturers reported a big increase in both turnover and profitability expectations in the last quarter with both measures at levels last seen in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Rising costs for manufactures are anticipated and many companies reported that they expect to pass these on to customers rather than take a hit to already challenging cash reserves. Service sector confidence overall also bounced back to pre-crisis levels although there are degrees of variation as you would expect depending on which part of the economy businesses serve.

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