The manufacturing sector continued to grow in January but the rate of expansion was the slowest seen in nine months, according to the latest monthly purchasing managers' index from NCB.

Exports grew for the fourth month in a row, but overall new orders fell after 11 consecutive months of growth and employment fell after 10 months of growth.

The seasonally adjusted index, which is designed to provide a measure of the health of the manufacturing industry, stood at 50.3 in January, pointing to a marginal improvement in operating conditions in the sector.

The index had stood at 51.4 in December. Any figure over 50 signals growth in an industry, while a reading under 50 signals contraction.

NCB said that companies reported weakening client demand which led to a fall in new orders. However others reported growth in export business and new export orders rose for the fourth month in a row, although at the slowest pace during that four month period.

Input prices rose sharply again last month, due to higher energy and raw materials prices. NCB noted that the rate of inflation eased, while input prices were reduced for the second time in the past three months amid attempts to boost demand.

''Tying it all together, while the headline PMI reading points to an 11th successive month of growth, today's release points to a sluggish start to 2013 for the manufacturing sector,'' commented NCB's chief economist Philip O'Sullivan.