Construction Product Manufacturing Costs Ease but Sales Growth Remains Mixed

THERE WAS a continued split in construction product manufacturing performance during Q2 2023.

According to the Construction Products Association (CPA)’s latest State of Trade Survey for Q2 2023, heavy side manufacturers’ sales decreased for a fourth consecutive quarter.

In contrast, sales from light side producers registered another quarterly increase, adding to a run of growth that began in Q3 2020. Forward-looking sales expectations suggest these varied fortunes will persist over the next 12 months.

Quarterly Fall and Growth

In Q2 2023, a balance of 47% of heavy side manufacturers reported that sales of construction products decreased, marking the fourth consecutive quarter of decline and the weakest performance since Q2 2020, mid-pandemic.

In contrast, 29% of light side manufacturers reported that product sales rose, on balance. Light side sales have now grown for three years.

Looking to the next 12 months, 14% of heavy side manufacturers anticipated a fall in sales, whilst 46% of light side manufacturers anticipated an increase. Encouragingly, the Q2 survey highlighted that cost inflation now appears to be abating, with both the heavy side and light side recording the lowest net balances in three years. There was a notable easing in energy costs, whilst fuel costs were reported to have fallen for heavy side producers that tend to be more energy-intensive.

Growth Remains Mixed

Rebecca Larkin, Senior Economist at the CPA

Rebecca Larkin, CPA Head of Construction Research said: “The mixed fortunes for heavy side and light side sales growth perfectly illustrates the areas of strength and weakness that are appearing in construction right now.

“Heavy side sales have no doubt been hindered by the sharp slowdown in new house building and hold-ups in starting large new build commercial and factories projects. Weak economic growth, two years of rapid cost inflation since projects were first given the go-ahead and uncertainty in the housing market following the Bank of England’s steep path of interest rate rises combine with the declines in new orders in these sectors at the start of the year to constrain demand for the heavy side products that are used for early and structural works. Conversely, interior refurbishments of offices and retail, as well as public sector energy efficiency retrofit, are in full swing and are driving demand for light side products.

Inflation Slowing

“In this quarter’s survey there were clear signs that input cost inflation is slowing, particularly in terms of fuel and energy costs, which should provide some relief for manufacturers who have experienced two years of elevated cost pressures on all fronts. Tellingly, however, around two-thirds of producers – both heavy side and light side – cited demand as the biggest potential constraint on activity this year, highlighting that economic uncertainty remains a dark cloud on the horizon.”

Key survey findings include:

A balance of 47% of heavy side firms reported that construction products sales fell in 2023 Q2 compared with Q1, marking a fourth straight quarter of falling sales
29% of light side firms reported product sales rose, the twelfth quarter of growth
14% of heavy side manufacturers anticipated a fall in sales over the next 12 months; 46% of light side manufacturers anticipated a rise
67% heavy side manufacturers and 64% of light side manufacturers cited ‘demand’ as the key concern for sales over the next 12 months
Costs rose over the past year for 50% of heavy side manufacturers and 54% of firms on the light side; both were the lowest balances in three years

Overall, in the Q2 survey, varying sales performance across heavy side and light side manufacturers reflected the current areas of strength and weakness in construction activity. Strong activity in commercial refurbishment, energy efficiency improvements and fit-out work has driven a three-year run of growth for light side product manufacturers, which contrasts with reticence for new project starts (particularly for private housing, and commercial and factory new builds) that continues to hold back heavy side sales.

Heavy side products are typically structural materials used early in the construction process and include materials used in transport and other civil engineering projects. Heavy side materials include aggregates, cement, ready-mix concrete, structural and reinforcing steel. Roof products are normally categorised as heavy side manufacturing.

Light side products are typically installed later in the construction process and include internal fittings and services. Light side products include heating and ventilation systems, plumbing, electrical and lighting, doors and windows, kitchen furniture and thermal insulation.

>> Read the State of Trade Survey for Q1 2023 here

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