HOUSING ACTIVITY RETURNS TO GROWTH AS RESTRICTIONS EASE IN APRIL
The Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index® (PMI®) – a seasonally adjusted index designed to track changes in total construction activity – rose to 49.3 in April, up sharply from the reading of 30.9 in March and only just below the 50.0 no-change mark. Where activity increased, panellists linked this to the relaxation of restrictions on residential work and pick-up in new orders. On the other hand, COVID-19 measures continued to cause declines in activity at other firms, with commercial work still restricted in April. Index readings above 50 signal an increase in activity on the previous month and readings below 50 signal a decrease.
“The April results of the Ulster Bank PMI survey have provided a number of encouraging signals on the performance of Irish construction firms at the start of the second quarter. The overall PMI rose to a 4-month high, and though it remains below the breakeven 50 mark, at 49.3, it is now back to levels consistent with near-stable activity following the severe weakness experienced during the lockdown-restricted first quarter. Offering particular encouragement was a very welcome return to expansion in residential activity, with the Housing PMI rising to its highest level so far this year. The easing of restrictions on housing construction which took effect last month has clearly unleashed a return to more positive activity trends in a key area.
“Housing was the only sub-sector to experience a return to growth last month, albeit that the pace of decline eased notably in both commercial and civil engineering. Looking ahead, this month’s keenly-awaited reopening of the wider sector, underpinned by a sizeable expansion in overall new business flows in April, should promote a broader strengthening of the overall sector’s activity trends beyond housing.
Indeed, firms remain highly confident about prospects for the coming year, with almost 60% of respondents continuing to expect that activity will rise in the coming 12 months, helped by the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the release of more pent-up demand. While the improving outlook is certainly very welcome, one note of caution came in the form of a further acceleration in the rate of input cost inflation. This now stands at a near 17-year high, in part reflecting adverse supply chain impacts from Brexit, the pandemic and the recent blockage of the Suez Canal.”
Renewed rise in residential activity
Reflecting the loosening of restrictions in April, housing activity expanded for the first time in four months, and at a marked pace. Elsewhere, however, activity continued to fall, particularly on commercial projects.
Denise Maguire Editor of Irish Construction Industry Magazine