Negative growth in builders’ merchants sales in Q3

Figures for Q3 2019 just released in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) report negative growth in sales through UK builders’ merchants for the second successive quarter.

In value terms, total merchants’ sales for Q3 2019 were down -0.8% over the same period in 2018, despite one more trading day this year. A comparison of average sales per day (which removes the impact of trading day differences) shows a year-on-year decline of -2.3% for the period.

The trend is mostly driven by a -4.7% decline in timber and joinery (the second largest category), with the core sub-categories of timber and sheet materials key contributors. The largest category, heavy building materials, was down by -0.4% in value, with a decline in bricks balanced against growth in cement/aggregate, plasters and plasterboards and insulation.

Some categories did show value growth during the period, notably plumbing, heating and electrical, which was up by +2.4% from Q3 2018, while kitchens and bathrooms grew by +3.2% and landscaping by +1.3%.

Comparing year to date performance figures for the first nine months of 2019 against 2018 continues to show value growth, but this has slowed for the second quarter, down from +2.1% in June to +1.1% in September. Nonetheless the core categories of heavy building materials and timber and joinery show year to date growth of 1.3% and 0.3% respectively, while landscaping increased by +4.6% from 2018.

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.

John Newcomb, chief executive officer of the BMF, said: “The results highlight marked differences between heavy side and light side product sales in Q3, suggesting buildings in progress are being finished, but with fewer new starts. Our industry is directly affected by political, economic and actual climate, and we have seen adverse conditions in all three for some time. With the final quarter of this year dominated by a general election, I suspect we will have to wait until 2020 to see any evidence of an upturn.”

Emile van der Ryst, senior client insight manager – Trade at GfK, added: “With year to date growth still in positive territory, we can take some comfort from this quarter’s figures. Despite difficult trading conditions in 2019 to date, the builders’ merchants industry appears to be weathering the storm. With the upcoming election we will hopefully have some finality to the dreaded ‘B-word’ and this will allow the industry to start looking forward again.”