Strong construction demand but supply hit by perfect storm

Nobel Francis of the CPA

The Construction Products Association (CPA) has revised construction output growth up for 2021 from 13.7% to 14.3% since its previous forecasts, but also revised down growth for 2022 from 6.3% to 4.8% in 2022. With more buoyant demand so far in 2021, supply chain constraints are expected to hinder growth over the remainder of the year and into 2022. There is real doubt as to whether there is sufficient capacity in the whole construction supply chain to enable demand. Skills shortages, product availability and cost inflation, HGV driver shortages, the impacts of energy cost rises, and delays at ports are all expected to make up an unprecedented number of constraints on growth for the months ahead.

The CPA’s Autumn Forecasts show the infrastructure sector to be the key driver of construction growth for the year ahead. Less affected by supply-side issues than other areas of construction, the main activity in the sector is due to work on five-year spending plans within the regulated sectors of rail, water, roads and energy.

Output in private housing, the largest construction sector, is forecast to rise by 17.0% in 2021 and by 6.0% in 2022 with house builders confident regarding demand at the end of this year and in the first half of 2022. However, the private housing forecast for next year is a downward revision from 8.0% forecast in the Summer to reflect concerns about affordability and the sustainability of double-digit house price growth, particularly in the light of rising inflation concerns and the impact on consumer confidence and spending in the second half of 2022.

In the commercial sector, activity on the fit-out and finishing of new and existing offices, retail and leisure buildings, plus changes in use of existing commercial developments into residential and warehouses, remains strong. Again, however, firms in these areas report that skills shortages remain key constraints. While demand for new high-profile, grade A office space appears to be robust as corporate clients move into new, quality office space aimed at fewer employees and increased space per worker, new investment is lacking in mid-range office space and in retail.

Commenting on the supply chain issues, CPA economics director, Noble Francis, said despite demand being strong supply issues are hindering growth and will continue to do so in the medium-term. "The biggest impacts of the supply constraints are on the small construction firms. Large contractors and major house builders have a greater certainty of demand over the 12-18 month horizon and are better able to plan and purchase in advance as well as adjust to changing economic situations. Small firms, however, are more focused on flexibility and have less visibility over demand going forward. Plus, they have less ability and resource to plan and purchase in advance. They often turn up at builders merchants on the day to purchase what they need for that day or the next few days. As a result, it leaves their business more exposed to availability issues and their cash flow exposed to sharp rises in costs.”

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