THE services sector in Ireland kicked off the year on a high, with rising new business across all areas buoyed by strong exports, the latest data shows.
The rate of growth in new export orders was the fastest in more than a decade, according to the latest Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for the sector.
And the private sector across the eurozone enjoyed its busiest month in more than two-and-a-half years, providing hopes that the bloc's recovery may be gaining traction.
But in the UK, new business growth eased to its lowest in eight months, with record rainfall during the month blamed for the slowdown.
At home, companies continued to increase staffing levels in January, with improving demand allowing prices to be increased.
This was the first time that output prices have increased since July 2008.
Investec Ireland economist Philip O'Sullivan said the future is looking bright.
"Last month we said that the sector had exited 2013 with a strong tailwind behind it," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"With order books and payrolls on the rise and the expectations component standing at its joint-highest level since October 2006, it is clear that the outlook for the business sector in Ireland remains very encouraging."
The business activity index in January rose fractionally to 61.8, slightly above December's reading of 61.5. Activity has now increased each month throughout the past year and a half.
PMIs are regarded as forward-looking indicators of the health of an economy and are therefore closely watched.
An expectation that economic conditions in Ireland will continue to improve over the coming year led business sentiment to strengthen last month.
New export orders also rose sharply, the data shows. The rate of growth was the fastest since the series began in June 2002, having accelerated for the fourth month running.
Extra staff were taken on by companies, with employment increasing in each of the past 17 months.
In the eurozone the composite PMI climbed to 52.9 in January from 52.1 the previous month.
Financial information firm Markit said the PMI showed the now 18-member bloc's recovery was broad-based, with Germany leading an upswing in periphery members amid signs of a stabilisation in France, the euro area's second-biggest economy.
"The eurozone PMI was down slightly on the earlier flash reading but nevertheless signals a very encouraging start to the year," said Markit economist Chris Williamson.
"The main concern is that the recovery is still all too dependent on the manufacturing sector."