The manufacturing sector began 2018 on a strong footing, with near record growth as firms position themselves for rising customer demand, a survey showed today. 

The Investec Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) eased to 57.6 in January from December's 59.1.

The December reading had marked the highest level of the index since it began measuring the performance of the sector almost 20 years ago.

January's reading was still the third-highest in 18 years and activity has remained above the 50 mark separating growth from contraction since June 2013 when the country was approaching the end of a three-year international bailout programme. 

Respondents reported strong demand at home and abroad with the new export order sub-index recovering from a dip at the end of 2017 to tick up to 57.2 from 56.9. 

Companies also noted success in entering new markets and securing new clients abroad, Investec said.

"While the headline PMI eased slightly from the all-time high that was recorded in December, January's 57.6 reading is consistent with a sharp improvement in activity," Investec Ireland's chief economist Philip O'Sullivan said. 

"There is evidence that manufacturers are positioning themselves for ongoing strong customer demand in the months ahead, with stocks of purchases increasing, while stocks of finished goods rose for a third successive month, notwithstanding the uptick in client orders," he added.