May PMI data has signalled a slowdown in the construction growth amid a considerable loss of momentum for the residential category. The latest rise in housing activity was the weakest since the recovery began two years ago. Survey respondents suggested the subdued consumer confidence and worries about the economic outlook had constrained demand.
The headline S&P Global / CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®) – which measures month-on-month changes in total industry activity – registered 56.4 in May, down from 58.2 in April and the lowest reading for four months.
Rapid cost inflation persisted in May, with the vast majority of survey respondents (73%) reporting a rise in purchasing prices. This was linked to rising fuel, energy and raw material costs. That said, the overall rate of inflation eased to a three- month low.
Tim Moore, Economics Director at S&P Global Market Intelligence, which compiles the survey said: “May data signalled a solid overall rise in UK construction output as resilience across the commercial and civil engineering segments helped to offset weakness in house building. Residential construction activity was close to stagnation in May, which represented its worst performance for two years amid signs of softer demand and a headwind from low consumer confidence.
“New order volumes expanded at the slowest pace since the end of 2021, which added to signs that heightened economic uncertainty has started to impact client spending. Concerns about the business outlook were signalled by a fall in construction sector growth projections to the lowest for more than one-and-a-half years in May. Around 19% of construction firms predict an outright decline in business activity during the year ahead, up from just 5% at the start of 2022.
“On a more positive note, supplier delays subsided in May, with the latest downturn in performance the least marked since February 2020. Meanwhile, rapid price pressures persisted due to rising energy, fuel and staff costs, but the overall rate of inflation eased to a three- month low in May.”
Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said: “Though still offering a comfortable margin above the no change mark, the construction sector saw growth ease to a four-month low with the usual suspects taking the heat out of the recovery – elevated inflation, future uncertainty and supply-chain disruption.
“Supply chain managers scaled up purchasing levels to beat expected price increases in the months ahead as inflation rates remained powerfully strong even with the slight easing in prices. There was also robust job hiring in May so businesses could secure the best talent from a dwindling pool of skilled candidates to build capacity for the remainder of the year.
Job creation accelerated slightly in May and was the strongest for four months, although there were widespread reports citing recruitment difficulties due to shortages of suitably skilled candidates.
There were positive signals for supplier performance in May, as delays were the least widespread since February 2020. Some firms noted an improvement in the availability of construction items, despite ongoing challenges including logistics bottlenecks, Brexit trade frictions and supplier staff shortages.
The number of construction firms predicting an increase in business activity during the year ahead (46%) continued to exceed those expecting a decline (19%) by some margin. However, the resulting index measuring overall growth expectations across the construction sector signalled the weakest degree of optimism since August 2020.