Derrick McFarland, Managing Director Keystone Lintels is BMBI’s Expert for Steel Lintels.
I am delighted to report that steel lintel demand in the fourth quarter of 2018 continued in the strong vein of the previous two quarters. While not showing the same intense demand of the previous six months, Q4 delivered like for like growth 6%, higher than the same period in 2017. Previous years might have seen the whole year set back by the disappointing first quarter, caused by the ‘Beast from the East’. But 2018 sales recovered quickly from this weather-affected period and, better still, the sector delivered reasonably strong performance for the full year. So strong, it was like the pre-2008 times were back!
Demand for both social and private housing are positive. The NHBC continues to report growth in new home registrations, increasing by 7% for the rolling quarter of September to November, with a mix of 6% in the private sector and 10% in the affordable sector. Interest rates are still historically low, wages are increasing moderately, so what could affect a promising construction sector in 2019 and beyond?
Oh yes, Brexit! Predictions for the next three months, or longer, may as well be written in invisible ink for all the light we can throw on it, so what should we be doing as an industry?
One of the key questions we’re being asked is what our plans are. As an independent manufacturer, Keystone decided to minimise disruption to our valued customers by holding a minimum of six months’ stock of steel in raw material and finished goods in the UK. This may turn out to be a crazy action, or a well thought out plan, but the message is: we are prepared. I should clarify, this material is earmarked for loyal stockists, based on the peak period of 2018. We hope all other product suppliers have plans in place which will similarly keep house building on track.
The housebuilders’ immediate and ongoing challenge continues to be sourcing skilled labour. This invites further scrutiny of off-site options, which both merchants and manufacturers need to be aware of. At Keystone, we are seeing builders develop a growing number of off-site houses and other components, including garages. This is both a risk and an opportunity and may affect the traditional supply chain route.