Activity in the construction sector saw a return to growth in November after another sharp pick up in new orders and as building firms added more jobs. 

The Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers' Index - which tracks changes in total construction activity - rose to 53.5 in November, up from 48.6 in October. 

The November increase was the first expansion of construction activity in the last four months.  

Ulster Bank also said the rate of expansion quickened to the sharpest since August 2019. Index readings above 50 signal an increase in activity on the previous month and readings below 50 signal a decrease. 

Today's data suggested that the increase in overall activity was centred on housing work. 

Residential activity expanded for the second month in a row, and at a solid pace. Meanwhile, commercial activity was unchanged and civil engineering work decreased.

Simon Barry, chief economist at Ulster Bank, said the latest PMI figures provided encouraging signals in a number of respects. 

"There was a welcome return to expansion in Irish construction activity in November as a sharp increase last month left the headline PMI index back at above the 50 breakeven level for the first time since July," Simon Barry said. 

"This improvement reflected better performance across the three main sub-sectors, with a Housing PMI reading of 53 signalling a solid increase in residential activity last month, keeping its place as the strongest-performing sub-sector," he said.  

Meanwhile, Commercial activity was unchanged in November, thereby ending a three-month sequence of contraction," he added.

The economist also noted another sharp pick up in New Orders left the November reading at a 19-month high, with a number of respondents linking this rise to improved demand.  

Gains in actual and prospective activity have also underpinned rising demand for construction workers, with the rate of job creation picking up to a 10-month high.

But Simon Barry also noted that Brexit impacts were evident in the survey results as efforts to secure inputs ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period, coupled with rising demand, saw a ramping up of input buying, with growth of purchasing accelerating to the sharpest since April 2019.  

"Indeed, near-term downside risks to construction and the wider economy from Brexit and coronavirus trends will continue to bear close watching in the days, weeks and months ahead," he added. 

"But encouragingly, the November results also showed a further sharp strengthening of optimism about the year ahead where sentiment rose to its highest level since February 2020 as confidence is being underpinned by expectations that 2021 will see activity pick-up following a year marked by significant pandemic-related disruption," Simon Barry stated.