THE manufacturing sector in Ireland expanded at its fastest pace in three years last month, making it the eurozone’s star performer.
And expectations of further improvements over the coming months have led companies to markedly increase staff, according to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for the sector.
Ireland topped the eurozone’s PMI league table, with the rate of growth beating Germany.
A slowdown in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria was largely offset by a rebalancing of the weaker economies, with positive readings recorded not only in Ireland, but in Spain, which hit a 47-month high, and Italy at a two-month high.
France’s manufacturing sector also returned to expansion.
Manufacturing in the UK, while still growing, eased to an eight-month low.
Philip O’Sullivan of specialist bank Investec said the latest PMI for Ireland showed a sharp acceleration in production growth.
“One of the highlights of the release is the improvement in new orders, where a ninth successive monthly increase was registered in March, while, as with the headline reading, the rate of increase in new orders accelerated to the fastest pace since April 2011,” he said.
“The improvement in new orders was helped by a pick-up in new export orders, with respondents citing the US, UK and Asia as areas of strength.”
The PMI for Ireland rose to 55.5 in March from 52.9 the previous month. Anything above 50 signals expansion, while below that means contraction.
PMIs are regarded as reliable forward-looking indicators of the health of an economy and are closely watched by analysts and economists.
Increased new orders and the prospect of further growth in the coming months led manufacturers to take on new staff in March.
The rate of growth was sharp, and broadly in line with what was seen in February, the PMI report showed.
But in a sign of continued low inflation, the prices charged by manufacturers continued to fall.
Eurozone manufacturing output, new orders and new export business all expanded for the ninth consecutive month in March. The Eurozone PMI dipped to a three month low of 53, from 53.2 in February.