Construction activity increased sharply in November as new orders and employment rose at strong rates.

The Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 56.7 in November, up from 54.5 in October and the fastest rise in activity in five months. 

The seasonally adjusted index - designed to track changes in total construction activity  - has now shown growth for 51 months in a row. 

For the second month in a row, the housing sector was the best performing of those covered by the survey. 

Activity on residential projects increased sharply, and to the greatest extent since June. 

Commercial activity also rose at a faster pace in November. But civil engineering activity continued to fall, although to a lesser extent than in October.

Companies in the sector said that general improvements in economic conditions and stronger client confidence resulted in a further increase in new orders, the 53th in as many months. 

Meanwhile, the rate of job creation also quickened in November, with employment increasing sharply during the month. Companies said that staffing levels had been raised in line with higher activity requirements and as part of efforts to meet deadlines.

Today's index also showed that input costs continued to rise sharply, with higher prices for raw materials reported by panellists. 

Although building firms generally remained strongly confident regarding the 12-month outlook for activity, sentiment dipped again in November and was the lowest since August 2013.

"However, this is best seen as a modest retreat from exceptionally elevated levels as confidence levels remain solidly optimistic, with around half of all firms expecting activity to increase over the coming year," commented Ulster Bank's chief economist Simon Barry.