However, if there are signs of economic stabilisation, the market is expected to pick up in the latter months of this year and continue to slowly improve into 2024.

The latest Forecast Report from the Builders Merchants Federation (Spring 2023) reflects the continuing impact of rising interest rates and the cost of living crisis on building material sales.

The first quarter of the year saw a negative return for builders’ merchants’ sales, at -2.3%.  However, this figure understates the fall in sales volumes, as it includes an element of value growth coming from materials price increases.

While Repair Maintenance and Improvement (RMI) work is performing better than housebuilding, ever-rising interest rates are causing further strain on disposable incomes, demand in the RMI sector is similar to levels seen prior to Covid, with potential to see further declines. The new homes market is further affected by the end of the Help to Buy scheme, with new home registrations down on 2022. 

Given this scenario, the BMF’s baseline forecast now predicts negative growth of -1.4% in 2023 over 2022. While this is slightly ahead of the BMF’s previous 2023 forecast (-1.6%) there is less optimism for market recovery in 2024. The current prediction puts average growth forecast at +1.3%, whereas the previous forecast was more positive at +2.4%.

Thomas Lowe, BMF Industry Analyst/Economist, said: “Much depends on the effectiveness of the Bank of England’s strategy to bring down inflation. If we start to see signs of economic stabilisation, we expect the market to pick up in the latter months of this year and continue to slowly improve into 2024. We are, of course, keeping a watchful eye for any change in conditions that may affect the forecast for 2024.”

The 36 page BMF Spring Forecast Report combines a comprehensive analysis of merchant market performance from July 2014 to March 2023, taken from the Builders Merchants Building Index, coupled with analysis of key factors affecting builders’ merchants’ sales to project future sales in 2023 and 2024.

The Builders Merchants Industry Spring Forecast Report 2023 is supplied free to BMF members and priced at £250 for non-members. Email to request a copy of the latest report or if you have any questions.