Slow start to merchant sales revealed in Q1 BMBI

Figures for the Q1 2023 published today (22 May 2023) in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) reveal a slow start to sales through UK builders’ merchants during the first quarter of the year.

BMBI0006 this one

Quarter 1 2023 v Quarter 1 2022

Comparing the first three months of 2023 with the same quarter in 2022 shows total sales value down by -2.3% this year.  Drilling down to price and volume a contrasting picture emerges, with prices up by +16.9%, while volume sales were down by -16.4.%.

There was one more trading day in the period in Q1 2023.  Adjusting the figures for this, shows like-for-like sales values were -3.8% lower than in Q1 2022.

Nine of the twelve categories saw sales values increase year on year, for the most part this was due to price inflation.  The largest category, Heavy Building Materials was up +3.3%, and all Lightside categories had their best performing quarter on record.  Renewables & Water Saving was up by +42.3%, Plumbing, Heating & Electrical increased by +12.8%, while Decorating (+13.9%), and Workwear & Safetywear (+14.9%) both saw double digit growth.

Price growth was the key driver for most increases, with only Kitchens & Bathrooms (+8.6%) seeing the largest volume turnover on record.

Conversely, Landscaping (-18.3%) and Timber & Joinery Products (-15.3%) were the major contributors to the overall sales decline.  Landscaping suffered from the wettest March in England since 1981, while the Timber & Joinery result was influenced by continuing price declines for Timber and Sheet Materials.

Quarter 1 2023 v Quarter 4 2022

Comparing sales in Q1 2023 with the final quarter of 2024, total sales in Q1 were +5.8% higher, with volume sales increasing by +0.6% and price up by +5.2%.

However, the overall sales increase was largely due to the most recent period having five additional trading days.  Taking the trading day difference into account, like-for-like sales in Q1 2023 were -2.5% lower than the final quarter of 2022.

John Newcomb, CEO of the Builders Merchants Federation said: “BMBI data highlights the impact of weather during the first quarter.  In particular, the wettest March for 40 years slowed external works, with landscaping projects taking a major hit, whereas sales for internal works, notably kitchens and bathrooms, increased in volume.

“This is a challenging market, but ONS output figures for Q1 were better than many predicted, largely due to an increase in repair and maintenance work, which is a mainstay for many merchant customers.  With prices beginning to stabilise, there is some room for optimism as we move into the summer months.”

Emile van der Ryst, Senior Client Insight Manager – Trade at GfK added: “There have been numerous indicators that the activity pipeline in some construction sectors is starting to dry up, and the BMBI’s Q1 data seems to back this up.  For Q2, the outlook will likely remain negative.  How long this difficult season will continue is anyone’s guess, with the drop in inflation and the return to reasonable growth across the overall UK economy as the first checkpoint ahead.”

About Anjali Sooknanan

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