February Merchant Sales Down on Year as Prices Increase

BUILDERS’ MERCHANTS’ value sales were down 4.7% in February compared to the same month a year ago, according to the latest Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report.

Volume sales also dropped -7.5%, while prices increased +3.1%. With an extra trading day this year, like-for-like sales were down -9.2%.

Year-on-year, eight of the twelve categories sold more than February 2023 with Workwear & Safetywear (+18.3%) the leading category. Miscellaneous (+10.2%) and Decorating (+6.2%) also did better than merchants overall. But two of the largest categories – Timber & Joinery Products (-6.4%) and Heavy Building Materials (-7.9%) – were down. Renewables & Water Saving (-20.9%) was the weakest category.

However, February total value sales increased +4.8% compared to January 2024. Volume sales increased +8.1% and prices were down -3.1%. With one less trading day in February, like-for-like sales were up +9.7%.

Eight of the categories sold more month-on-month with Landscaping (+17.0%) well ahead of the rest. Heavy Building Materials (+5.8%) and two small categories, Renewables & Water Saving (+7.1%) and Services (+6.6%) did better than total merchants. Plumbing Heating & Electrical (-2.1%) and Workwear & Safetywear (-4.2%) were the worst performers.

Merchant Sales Down

Total merchant sales in the 12 months from March 2023 to February 2024 were -5.5% lower than the same period the year before (March 2022 to February 2023).

Volume sales were -12.5% lower and prices were up +8.0%. With an additional three trading days in the most recent 12-month period, like-for-like sales were down -6.7%.

The three largest categories – Heavy Building Materials (-4.8%), Landscaping (-10.4%) and Timber & Joinery Products (-13.3%) – all sold less.

Total value sales in January to February were -3.4% down on the first two months of 2023.

Mike Rigby, Managing Director of MRA Research which produces the BMBI report, said: “With housebuilding still in the doldrums, repair and maintenance is quietly holding the fort for the construction industry. According to the latest ONS data, in the three months to February 2024, there was a 1.6% increase in repair and maintenance work, while month-on-month, private RMI was the only sector out of nine to increase output (0.2%), although very modestly.

“GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index shows that after steady improvement throughout 2023 confidence has stalled, with the overall index score unchanged at -21 for a second month.

“Despite another round of rises in household bills from April (everything from council and road tax, water bills, broadband costs and even stamps increased at the start of the month), consumers are surprisingly upbeat about their own situation – the Personal Finance Index pushed up to +2 in March 2024 – the highest score since December 2021. But the Major Purchase Index dropped two points and the Savings Index dived four.

“However, with inflation back under 4%, potential interest rate cuts coming in the summer, house prices on the rise again, and a general election and new Government in prospect there are reasons for optimism.”

February’s BMBI report is available to download here.

>> Read more BMBI reports in the news

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