Growth in services slowed to a three-month low in February, falling just below the 12-month average, as new export orders and backlogs of work expanded at a slower pace. 

The Investec Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipped to 57.2 in February from 59.8 in January, a survey showed today. 

The index average for the last 12 months was 58.6.

It has remained above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction since August 2012 - 67 months - when Ireland was halfway through a three-year financial bailout. 

Growth in new export business registered its second-lowest pace in 15 months, but almost twice as many of the managers polled still expected higher new export orders than expected a contraction. 

The backlogs of work subindex rose but saw its lowest growth rate in three months. 

Overall growth in services reflected new domestic orders, better economic conditions, improved sentiment and a favourable exchange rate, the survey's authors said. 

Business confidence strengthened to a five-month high, with 51% of the panel, comprising around 450 Irish service companies, predicting a rise in activity over the coming year. 

"This optimism is broad-based, with all four of the segments of the services sector that are captured by this survey - business services, financial services, TMT and travel and leisure - simultaneously above 50 for a 69th successive month in February," commented Investec Ireland's chief economist Philip O'Sullivan.

"Given the improving global economic backdrop, we think that this optimism is well-placed", he added.