By John Campbell
BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor
Northern Ireland's private sector output declined for a fourth consecutive month in August as inflation hit consumer demand, an Ulster Bank survey suggests.
The monthly survey of about 200 firms is considered a reliable indicator of the private sector economy.
In August, the retail sector showed the steepest decline in business activity.
However, the manufacturing sector showed an improved performance with output increasing slightly.
The bank's chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said "positives were thin on the ground" in the latest survey.
He added that although employment growth continued, it was at the weakest pace in 18 months and many firms continued to struggle to find suitable candidates to fill vacancies.
Mr Ramsey said the "one silver lining" with the downturn in demand is that it appears to be easing the pressures on overstretched supply chains.
The UK as a whole is being hit by an energy price shock which is threatening to tip the economy into recession.
Last week the government announced a multi-billion pound package of measures intended to temporarily protect households and businesses from further price rises.
It is not yet clear how those measures will be implemented in Northern Ireland which has a different energy system from the rest of the UK.
Later this week, a range of official statistics will give some insight into how the Northern Ireland economy performed during the second quarter of this year.
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By John Campbell