Shoots spotted? (possibly of a vaguely green hue)

The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned;

Wandering round the NMBS Exhibition the other week, I was struck by a rather curious idea. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as bad as we had been thinking them.

Obviously different areas of the market will have their own views on this and the reaction would probably depend on whether you are a heavyside manufacturer, builders merchant, housebuilder or jobbing merchant.

But make no mistake about it, lots of people, across the board, were saying, well, more like whispering, things like “I don’t want to jinx things, but, we have seen things improving a bit lately”.

No-one will make the mistake of talking about ‘green shoots’ of course, however, the general consensus seems to be that January was dead in the water and February ground to a halt because of the snow, but March perked up a little and April even more so. In fact some people even went so far as to say that they had had a good March, a good April and that May was turning out to be not so bad as well.

The news from the NHBC that they saw applications to build new homes rise seems to bear this out a little, although the numbers are still half what they were last year. A number of major housebuilders have decided to ‘un-mothball’ a few development sites and, hopefully, we should see some of the Budget money coming through to help.

Even one heavyside manufacturer told me that they had started selling blocks to housebuilders again, on the grounds, presumably that if they build something, at least they stand a chance of selling it and getting some money in the coffers.

Asking prices for houses are, in many areas, on the up, although actual selling prices are still down and most estate agents I know say that there has been a huge influx of interest in those properties which are coming on the market.

Maybe it’s just a Spring thing and we are all feeling a bit brighter because we’re no longer going to work and coming home in the pitch black, maybe people are fed up of hearing about the doom and gloom or maybe, the light at the end of the tunnel just got a bit brighter.

Of course there’s a long, long way to go yet and, depending where you are in the supply chain, that could be some distance to travel. As Marshalls’ Chris Harrop told me when I saw him at the Chelsea Flower Show last week, a few domestic patios and a couple of extensions, no matter how upmarket, won’t get all those factories open again on their own.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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