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Tue June 18 2024

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Merchants' first-quarter takings down 7.2%

11 Jun The latest Builders Merchant Building Index report reveals builders’ merchants’ takings were down 7.2% in the first quarter of the year, compared to Q1 2023.

Year-on-year, first quarter sales were down 7.2% by value and 8.7% by volume, with prices edging up 1.6%.

There was one less trading day in Q1 2024, so like-for-like sales (taking the number of trading days into account) were down 5.7%.

Just three of the 12 product categories sold more in Q1 2024 than in Q1 2023, with Workwear & Safetywear (+11.5%) out in front. The two largest categories – Timber & Joinery Products (-10.6%) and Heavy Building Materials (-9.4%) – both sold less. Renewables & Water Saving (-26.5%) saw the biggest fall.

Quarter-on-quarter, takings in Q1 2024 were up by 3.5% compared to Q4 2023. Volume sales were 3.9% higher and prices fell by 0.4%. However, with three additional trading days in the most recent period, like-for-like sales were down 1.4%.

First quarter sales were hit by slow sales in March, when takings were  down 13.6% compared to March 2023. Volume sales dropped 14.0% while prices edged up 0.5%. With three less trading days in March 2024 than 2023, like-for-like sales were only 0.6% lower.

Sales of Heavy Building Materials were down 15.2% year-on-year in March; Timber & Joinery Products were down 17.7%.

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Month-on-month, merchants’ takings were 3.7% higher in March 2024 than in February 2024. Volume sales were up 4.7% and prices were down by 1.0%, on average.

John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchant Federation, said: “The first quarter’s results reflect the lowest number of housing starts in over a decade, a lack of consumer confidence and what feels like several months of continuous rain. The announcement of a general election on 4th July brings fresh hope of better times around the corner. The combination of a new government, a continued fall in the rate of  inflation and a reduction in interest rates should greenlight public projects, boost confidence in the housing market and encourage commercial and industrial projects to proceed.”

MRA Research chief Mike Rigby, who puts together the BMBI report each month using GfK point-of-sale data, said: “Exceptionally wet weather in Q1 and a hold on interest rates did little to revive the faltering newbuild market. The National House Building Council (NHBC) recently confirmed that new home registrations in Q1 were down 20% on last year, and this drop in demand has been felt throughout the supply chain.

“Despite the clouds hanging over the sector – figuratively and literally – there may be a break ahead. The latest ONS data for Q1 shows a marked increase in new construction orders (+15.9% quarter-on-quarter), buoyed by private commercial orders for offices, health and entertainment premises, while GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index shows another 2-point increase in consumer confidence in April, following a positive March. The consumer confidence Overall Index Score is still negative (-19), but it’s a vast improvement on the picture a year before, with five of the underlying measures significantly better than April last year. Could lowering inflation and the promise of tax and interest rate relief and the prospect of a new government be boosting consumer confidence? If so, it could be a welcome shot in the arm for the housing market – and merchants and their suppliers – as we head into summer.”

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