Domestic and overseas orders continue to be hit by the global economic slowdown, with firms’ perceptions of total order book levels no better than in October, the weakest for five years.

In a rapid turnaround from four months ago, however, manufacturers’ output prices are no longer expected to rise.

The survey reveals that order books are continuing to suffer in the slowdown.

Sixteen per cent say their total order book is above normal, while 53% say it is below normal, giving a rounded balance of -38%. Last month’s figure (a balance of -39%) was the lowest since October 2003.

Export order books also reflect the overall slowdown, with 13% of firms reporting above normal volumes compared with 44% below normal, giving a balance of -31%. The balance in October (-32%) was the weakest for five years.

Due to the weak demand, manufacturers’ inventories have built up to their highest level since December 2001. A balance of +25% of firms says present stock levels are more than adequate to meet demand.

Output expectations are their lowest since 1980 as a result. Fourteen per cent of manufacturers expect their volume of output to rise over the coming three months, but 56% expect it will fall. The resulting balance of -42% is the lowest since September 1980 (-48%).

Manufacturers do not expect to be able to raise prices in the next three months.

While 20% of firms expect average domestic prices will rise, an equal percentage (20%) expects them to come down, producing a flat balance (0%). And 58% of firms said in the survey they expect prices will stay the same.