Andrew Simpson, National Commercial Director Hanson Cement is BMBI’s Expert for Cement & Aggregates.
Following an improving construction market towards the end of 2017, the latest Mineral Products Association report shows 2018 started slowly, with sales of heavy-side construction products declining compared with the final 3 months of last year.
Asphalt and aggregates sales volumes were off by 4.8% and 4.9% respectively, with ready- mixed concrete down 7.7%. It’s the biggest quarterly fall for five years, with March’s particularly cold weather partly responsible, but continuing political uncertainty and lack of investor confidence at the root of the decline.
Much like the weather, the economy is variable and hard to forecast. One week the news is bad, and forecasters adjust their outlook down, then there’s a more optimistic take from the BoE and forecasts nudge up a bit.
London construction is slowing, but Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol are busier. Infrastructure is slower than predicted, while housing is more active. But properties are shrinking, with more flats and smaller houses, which impacts on building material requirements.
Forecasting is complicated and difficult: is the market slowing or was it the weather? We’ll have to wait for Q2.
The Government’s commitment to cut plastic waste by changing consumer habits is welcome from an environmental and economic view. But, applying the policy to construction without thinking it through is not practical or beneficial. Unintended consequences are far greater than the benefits.
Traditionally, cement was supplied in paper packaging, but the cost, inconvenience and environmental impact of wasted material prompted a search for better packaging with less waste and lower whole-life environment impact. Robust plastic packaging solves many practical cement bag handling and storing problems, and it’s been widely welcomed as a huge improvement throughout the supply chain. However, since the launch of plastic there has been considerable innovation from paper manufacturers which merchants can take advantage of by tailoring their ordering profile seasonally, taking an increased proportion of paper bags in the summer months. This can help with continuity of supply and offer customers the best value product at the right times