2013 closed with more positive signs from the manufacturing sector, with new orders increasing for the sixth month in a row.
The latest Purchasing Managers Index, which is used to gauge the health of an economy, shows that the rate of expansion was quicker last month than in November.
PMIs are watched closely by market analysts as reliable forward looking indicators of economic activity.
A further rise in employment was also recorded for the seventh month in a row.
Some businesses pointed to a rise in the number of orders for export, amid new business from the UK, US and China.
But despite this, growth of new orders eased to their slowest in six months.
Philip O’Sullivan, economist with specialist bank Investec, said the latest report shows a “solid finish” to the year.
“Within the data we note a pick-up in the rate of growth in new orders, in spite of the pace of expansion in new export orders slowing for a third successive month,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“Those respondents who reported growth from overseas attributed this to improved demand from the US, UK and China.
“Employment has been a highlight of the Manufacturing PMI report in recent months and today’s release shows that firms continued to add to headcounts into year end.
“Respondents attributed this latest rise in staffing levels to a need to support rising production.”
The seasonally adjusted PMI rate for December was 53.5, up from 52.4 in November. Anything above 50 indicates expansion, while below that signals contraction.
PMIs are watched closely by market analysts and economists as reliable forward looking indicators of activity in an economy.
Eurozone manufacturing also recorded its strongest growth in over two-and-a-half years, according to a separate PMI survey.
Rising output and fuller order books encouraged manufacturers to hold off from further job cuts.