The survey results showed activity is expected to weaken this year as inflation continues to rise, economic growth slows, and the UK’s post-Brexit deal still remains unclear. It is likely the first half of 2017 was a peak for the industry, with the survey reporting early signs of slowing activity in the final three months of 2017, and construction product manufacturers envisaging a broader softening in market conditions during 2018.
The survey results showed that six percent of heavy side manufacturers, such as steel, bricks, timber and concrete, reported a decrease in product sales in Q4, compared to 10 percent reporting a rise in Q3. This was the first negative balance since 2013 Q1. In contrast, sales on the light side, which includes non-structural and finishing products such as insulation, boilers, glass and lighting, were still reported higher by half of manufacturing firms.
Whilst a modest pickup in sales is anticipated in the first quarter of 2018, the survey showed a weakness in sales expectations extending across the next 12 months, for both heavy side and light side firms. No heavy side firms and only 10 percent of those on the light side expected an increase in product sales during 2018.
Rebecca Larkin, CPA senior economist said: “The survey echoes other industry data that has shown the prolonged period of growth in construction activity since 2013 started to lose pace in the closing months of 2017. Of note are the signals of a leaner 2018 with heavy side expectations for sales growth at their lowest in five years, reflecting a backdrop of a slower economy, Brexit uncertainty and falling new orders in key sectors such as commercial offices.
“As well as weaker market conditions, it appears as though a further rise in costs will strengthen the headwinds facing industry. In Q4, 87 percent of heavy side firms and 91 percent of light side firms reported a rise in raw materials costs, whilst on the energy-intensive heavy side, fuel and energy costs were reported higher for 93 percent of firms. This illustrates the lagged pass-through of the 2016 sterling depreciation and rising global commodity prices into input cost inflation that is still to filter down the construction supply chain. Three-quarters of product manufacturers expect inflationary pressures to linger into 2018.”