Merchants' first-quarter takings down 7.2%


Year-on-year, first quarter sales were down 7.2% by value and 8.7% by volume, with prices edging up 1.6%.

There was one less trading day in Q1 2024, so like-for-like sales (taking the number of trading days into account) were down 5.7%.

Just three of the 12 product categories sold more in Q1 2024 than in Q1 2023, with Workwear & Safetywear (+11.5%) out in front. The two largest categories – Timber & Joinery Products (-10.6%) and Heavy Building Materials (-9.4%) – both sold less. Renewables & Water Saving (-26.5%) saw the biggest fall.

Quarter-on-quarter, takings in Q1 2024 were up by 3.5% compared to Q4 2023. Volume sales were 3.9% higher and prices fell by 0.4%. However, with three additional trading days in the most recent period, like-for-like sales were down 1.4%.

First quarter sales were hit by slow sales in March, when takings were  down 13.6% compared to March 2023. Volume sales dropped 14.0% while prices edged up 0.5%. With three less trading days in March 2024 than 2023, like-for-like sales were only 0.6% lower.

Sales of Heavy Building Materials were down 15.2% year-on-year in March; Timber & Joinery Products were down 17.7%.

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Month-on-month, merchants’ takings were 3.7% higher in March 2024 than in February 2024. Volume sales were up 4.7% and prices were down by 1.0%, on average.

John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchant Federation, said: “The first quarter’s results reflect the lowest number of housing starts in over a decade, a lack of consumer confidence and what feels like several months of continuous rain. The announcement of a general election on 4th July brings fresh hope of better times around the corner. The combination of a new government, a continued fall in the rate of  inflation and a reduction in interest rates should greenlight public projects, boost confidence in the housing market and encourage commercial and industrial projects to proceed.”

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MRA Research chief Mike Rigby, who puts together the BMBI report each month using GfK point-of-sale data, said: “Exceptionally wet weather in Q1 and a hold on interest rates did little to revive the faltering newbuild market. The National House Building Council (NHBC) recently confirmed that new home registrations in Q1 were down 20% on last year, and this drop in demand has been felt throughout the supply chain.

“Despite the clouds hanging over the sector – figuratively and literally – there may be a break ahead. The latest ONS data for Q1 shows a marked increase in new construction orders (+15.9% quarter-on-quarter), buoyed by private commercial orders for offices, health and entertainment premises, while GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index shows another 2-point increase in consumer confidence in April, following a positive March. The consumer confidence Overall Index Score is still negative (-19), but it’s a vast improvement on the picture a year before, with five of the underlying measures significantly better than April last year. Could lowering inflation and the promise of tax and interest rate relief and the prospect of a new government be boosting consumer confidence? If so, it could be a welcome shot in the arm for the housing market – and merchants and their suppliers – as we head into summer.”



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