Growth in the construction activity accelerated markedly in February to a seven month high, according to the latest results of the Ulster Bank Construction PMI survey.  

Ulster Bank's Construction PMI - which covers housing, commercial and civil engineering activity - rose to  60.5 in February, up from 54.6 at the start of 2019.

Construction activity here has now increased on a monthly basis since September 2013.

Ulster Bank said the improved performance in February was driven by particularly rapid activity growth in residential construction which was the strongest-performing category last month.  

It noted that the Housing PMI picked up to its highest level since May of last year pointing to a strong start to 2019 for housing construction. 

Commercial activity also recorded a marked acceleration with its PMI reaching a nine-month high, but civil engineering was the weakest performing construction sub sector, with activity falling for the sixth consecutive month.

In line with the quicker rise in new business, employment growth in the construction industry accelerated to a joint seven-month high in February with the expansion in firms' workforces attributed to an increase in construction activity and work on new projects.

Purchasing activity also increased at a faster pace during February and the PMI showed that the rate of growth was sharp and the fastest since June 2018. 

Ulster Bank said that anecdotal evidence showed that companies had increased input buying in response to greater customer demand. 

However, some firms stated that they had increased purchases to build up stocks to mitigate any supply issues resulting from Brexit. 

Ulster Bank's chief economist Simon Barry said that sentiment among firms about the sector's prospects over the coming 12 months remained solidly positive at levels well above its historic average.

Mr Barry said that construction firms continue to cite the supportive influence of solid trends in new orders and the ongoing improvement in economic conditions. 

"However, confidence levels did slip back last month reflecting some concern about downside risks to customer demand - perhaps an indication that elevated levels of economic uncertainty are weighing on firms' perceptions of the outlook," the economist added.