UK builders hit with toughest dip since 2009

Ben Southwood
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ACTIVITY in the construction industry plunged at the fastest rate for over three years in February, figures revealed yesterday.

Markit’s construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slid to 46.8 last month, down from 48.7 in January, and further below the 50 level that indicates no change in industry conditions.

It was the lowest construction PMI recorded since October 2009, when the sector was bottoming out after the housing crash.

And February’s decline in building activity is only the sharpest in a string of four consecutive declines, according to the figures, released jointly by Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS), cutting away at the recovery from the cataclysmic 2009 drop-off in the sector.

“This is undoubtedly a dismal set of data for the UK construction sector,” said Markit’s Tim Moore, “especially the sharp falls in commercial building work and civil engineering activity.

“With total output falling at the steepest pace for over three years, the latest PMI survey is confirmation that January’s construction decline was not entirely snow-related,” the economist warned.

The only mildly positive element of the data was a slight improvement in housing construction, the first such rise since May last year.

But this marginal progress was outweighed by deep slumps in civil engineering activity, and a fall back into declining commercial building activity.

“There is barely a crumb of comfort in this month’s figures for the construction industry,” said CIPS chief David Noble.

“The dramatic fall in civil engineering activity is particularly worrying, having been the one bright spot in the second half of 2012.”

Chancellor George Osborne has come under fire for front-loading austerity with cuts to infrastructure spending, clobbering builders, before later wielding the axe on runaway current expenditures.