Manufacturing activity suffered its sharpest monthly decline on record in April as output collapsed - as in much of Europe - in the face of the new coronavirus, a survey showed today. 

The AIB IHS Markit manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 36 from 45.1 in March, far below the 50 mark separating growth from contraction.

It was the third-weakest reading on record, following deeper declines in February and March 2009 when Ireland was on its way towards an international bailout. 

The survey authors said the level of the PMI was supported by a record lengthening of suppliers' delivery times, with the severity of the hit better reflected by the very poor readings for the key sub-components of the survey. 

Output, new orders, exports and purchasing all contracted at the fastest rates in the survey's 22-year history, although the outright drop in the new orders reading was smaller than it was the previous month. 

The halving of the output subindex to 21.8 mirrored even lower flash readings for the euro zone and for the UK.

"The data for April paint a bleak picture of the impact on the sector of the lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic," AIB's chief economist Oliver Mangan said in a statement.

"There were some glimmers of hope in the very weak Irish data. There was a smaller decline in the new orders index than in March, while the fall in the future output index was very modest in April, having plunged in March. The data will improve as lockdown restrictions are eased," he added.

The Finance Department said it expects the economy to shrink at least 10% this year after unemployment rocketed to 16.5%, compared with just 4.8% in February, after an economic shutdown and six weeks of continuing stay-at-home instructions.