Strength of Q3 merchant sales bucks ONS trend

Published:  24 November, 2016

Sales of building materials through UK builders merchants remained strong in Q3 2016, the first three months following the Brexit vote. The latest figures from the Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) appear to buck the downward construction trend reported by the ONS earlier this month.

Total merchant sales in Q3 2016 were up by 3.8% on the same period last year, with total ex-VAT sales of £1.43bn compared to £1.39bn in 2015.

Total sales for the first nine months of the year also increased, rising by 5.1% year-on-year.

Year-on-year sales growth in Q3 was particularly strong in Landscaping (+9.6%), helped by good weather throughout the period, as well as in Ironmongery (+5.9%) and in the sector's largest product category, Heavy Building Materials (+4.4%).

Categories recording a quarter-on-quarter increase included Ironmongery (+3%), Decorating (+2.8%), Kitchens & Bathrooms and Timber & Joinery Products (both +1.9%).

However, total merchant sales in Q3 were 0.6% lower than Q2 2016 – and 3.7% less when adjusted for two fewer trading days. This is a turnaround from 2015, when Q3 sales were 1.7% higher than in Q2 2015. It remains to be seen if this is an early warning sign that the market may be slowing.

John Newcomb, managing director of the BMF, said: "Positive trading results in the first three months following Brexit are an important indicator of the industry's health. Year-on-year sales have continued to grow throughout 2016, bucking the construction trends identified by the ONS.

"We are not overly concerned about the slight drop in sales from Q2 as annual sales can peak in either quarter, but we will be monitoring this going forward."

GfK's Builders' Merchant Point of Sale Tracking Data represents over 80% of the value of the builders' merchant market and is used to create the Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) of actual sales to builders.

The ONS figures are estimates based on around 40% of the data and subject to regular revision as the data comes in. Revised ONS figures for July and August showed construction down by -0.8% and +0.8% respectively on the previous year, with a provisional September figure of +0.2%.

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