At 49.0, down from 50.9 in July, the seasonally adjusted Markit/CIPS Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was below the 50.0 no-change mark and the second-lowest since February 2010. The marginal decline in overall output reflected lower levels of business activity in all three broad areas of the construction sector.
Residential building activity was the worst performing category of construction output monitored by the survey in August. Latest data also signalled a solid reduction in civil engineering activity, which extended the current period of contraction to three months. Meanwhile, commercial construction activity fell for the first time in two-and-a-half years, although the rate of reduction was only marginal.
Anecdotal evidence from survey respondents attributed the drop in construction output to ongoing weak demand across the sector. This was highlighted by a decrease in new order intakes for the third consecutive month during August. Moreover, the latest fall in new business volumes was the fastest since April 2009. Construction firms cited lower spending patterns among both public and private sector clients in August.
A marked decline in construction workloads meant that construction companies generally had sufficient staffing levels to meet existing demand. As a result, employment levels stagnated in August, thereby continuing the trend seen on average throughout the summer.
UK construction companies indicated that their business confidence weakened for the fourth time in the past five months during August. The latest reading indicated that the degree of positive sentiment regarding the year-ahead outlook is the lowest since October 2011 and weak in the context of the survey history. In line with recent trends, subdued business sentiment reflected lower new order intakes and concern about a lack of work to replace completed projects.
Reduced workloads resulted in a further solid decline in purchasing activity across the construction sector, extending the current period of contraction to three months. However, supplier lead-times lengthened again in August, thereby continuing the trend seen throughout the past two years. Survey respondents widely reported that low stocks at suppliers had contributed to delays in the receipt of construction materials.
Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit, said: “August data reaffirms that UK construction firms are suffering a prolonged downturn in new work and there is little evidence to suggest an imminent rebound in output levels. This has been the pertinent message from the UK Construction PMI surveys throughout the summer, and most worryingly the latest drop in new orders was the fastest since the sector was in full scale retreat in early 2009.
“A construction decline for 2012 overall is statistically baked in the cake. To bring output for the year as a whole up to the total level seen in 2011 would require a rather implausible double-digit growth surge in each of the final two quarters. Therefore, an important issue is simply whether a floor has yet been established, and the survey evidence at this stage seems to suggest it hasn’t.
“Indeed, output dropped in August at the second fastest rate since the snow-affected month of February 2010, with commercial activity even joining the housing and civil engineering sectors in contraction for the first time in two-and-a-half years.”