Builder Merchants sales growth continues to grow in Q1

Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) has released figures which show sales value growth was up 0.4% in absolute terms in the first quarter of the year

While no one would deny that the building and construction sector faced a challenging first quarter, figures just released in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) show continued growth, albeit at a slower rate. Sales value growth in Q1 was up +0.4% in absolute terms and up +2.0% per trading day on the same period last year.

Growth would have been stronger had it not been for the “Beast from the East” hammering the external product categories and Good Friday falling into March removing a trading day from Q1 2018. March, with two fewer trading days than 2017, was down -8.6% year on year, but January and February’s sales compensated at +8.4% and +4.0% respectively delivering growth for the quarter.

Quarterly growth was driven by Timber, up +2.3%, alongside multiple internal product categories, notably Plumbing and Heating (+8.0%), Kitchens and Bathrooms (+3.6%), Ironmongery (+2.1%), and Decorating (+1.2%), all suggesting that work stayed inside due to the poor weather.

External categories fared less well including Landscaping (-4.9%) — where garden walling and paving were particularly badly affected — and the major category of Heavy Building Materials down -0.8% with Cement and Blocks feeling the freeze.

The BMBI uses GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders merchants’ sales throughout the country, making it the most reliable source of data for the sector.

Commenting on the results, John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation, said: “Sitting in the spring sunshine we have all but forgotten the artic blasts that swept the country in the first three months of the year, but they certainly impacted construction performance. Under these conditions it must be seen as a positive that merchant sales growth is continuing. While we may not see the market grow at the same levels as 2017, we remain confident that the trend will continue throughout 2018.”

Richard Frankcom, client insight director at GfK compared the quarter’s figures to a diamond in the rough, saying: “Merchant sales have outperformed the revised construction figures from the Office for National Statistics, which fell -2.7% on the previous quarter. They also appear to be bucking the UK consumer’s negative outlook as seen in GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index, which was still in the doldrums. However, before we polish these diamonds, we need to see the delayed external work shift into April and then continued growth year on year in May and June. Value growth is great, but price inflation is a factor we cannot ignore and only this continued growth will really give us clarity.”