The Builders Merchants Federation has recently released figures in its Builders Merchants Building Index which show continued growth, albeit at a slower rate.

Despite the building and construction sector facing a challenging first quarter, sales value growth in Q 1 2018 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. However, January and February’s sales compensated for this, at +8.4% and +4.0% respectively.

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 building work stayed inside due to the poor weather.

External categories did not fare as well, including Landscaping (-4.9%), where garden walling and paving were particularly badly affected. The major category of Heavy Building Materials was 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.

John Newcomb, CEO of BMF, 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, said: “Merchant sales have outperformed the revised construction figures from the ONS, 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.”