November saw the weakest rise in housing activity since June 2013 and led to the slowest rise in UK construction output since April according to the latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey. As a result commercial building has replaced housing as the best performing area of activity and jobs growth eases to its slowest since September 2013.
Growth momentum softened across the UK construction sector in November, with output, new business and employment all rising at slower rates than in the previous month. At 55.3, the headline seasonally adjusted PMI was down from 58.8 in October and signalled the slowest expansion of business activity for seven months.
Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit and author of PMI survey, said: “The UK construction recovery is down but not out, according to November’s survey data. Aside from a pre-election growth slowdown in April, the latest expansion of construction activity was the weakest for almost two-and-a-half years amid a sharp loss of housebuilding momentum.
“Residential activity lost its position as the best performing sub-category, but a supportive policy backdrop should help prevent longer-term malaise.Strong growth of commercial construction was maintained in November as positive UK economic conditions acted as a boost to new projects, while civil engineering remained the weakest performer.
“Overall the latest results suggest that construction companies have become a little more cautious towards year-end, especially in terms of job hiring. However, a healthy flow of new tenders from public and private sector clients is expected to provide a tailwind to growth heading into 2016. Reflecting this, UK construction firms were again overwhelmingly positive about the outlook for their business activity, while only a small proportion anticipates falling output levels during the next 12 months.”
Aside from the pre-election slowdown seen in April, overall output growth was the weakest since mid-2013. All three broad areas of construction activity experienced a slowdown in output growth during November. Residential building activity increased at the weakest pace since June 2013, while civil engineering activity rose at the slowest rate for six months and was the worst performing subcategory.
Commercial construction activity topped the growth table, but the latest expansion was less marked than October’s eight-month high. Construction companies mainly commented on supportive economic conditions and rising workloads. However, there were some reports from survey respondents that cited a lack of new work to replace completed projects in November, which in turn acted as a drag on business activity growth. Reflecting this, latest data indicated a weaker rise in overall new business volumes. In some cases, construction firms suggested that more cautious spending patterns among clients had weighed on new order inflows.
Slower growth patterns across the construction sector contributed to a moderation in job creation from the 11-month high recorded during October. Although still strong in a historical context, the latest rise in staffing levels was the weakest September 2013. Sub-contractor usage continued to rise at a solid pace in November, but their average charges increased at the least marked pace for almost two years.
David Noble, group chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, said:“Suppliers continued to struggle this month, citing shortages in key materials, supply chain capacity and skilled capability as the causes. But there is a question mark over the coming months as the housing sector, normally the star performer, may drag back on recovery along with the lack of availability of skilled staff. Many firms were forced to use more expensive contractors and, further combined with the hoped-for continued job growth failing to materialise, this may leave commentators wondering what’s next.”