Omicron slows growth of UK construction in December – PMI

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Workers stand on scaffolding at a residential building in London

LONDON – Growth in Britain’s construction sector cooled in December as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spread, a survey showed on Friday.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to a three-month low of 54.3 in December from 55.5 in November. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a reading of 54.0.

Civil engineering activity declined for the first time since February and growth in the commercial sector slowed. Only housebuilding saw a pickup in December, the survey showed.

Many survey respondents cited disruption arising from COVID-19 cases, which hit new records last month as the Omicron variant spread rapidly.

“UK construction companies ended last year on a slightly weaker footing as renewed pandemic restrictions held back the recovery, especially in commercial and civil engineering work,” said Tim Moore, director at IHS Markit.

Like the PMIs published earlier this week for the manufacturing and services sectors, the construction survey showed an easing in very high cost pressures faced by companies.

The survey’s gauge of supplier delivery times rose to its highest level since November 2020, signalling reduced disruption to supply chains.

“The worst phase of supplier delays seems to have passed as the availability of construction products and materials continued to turn a corner in December,” Moore said.

The all-sector PMI, which combines the construction, manufacturing and services readings over the week, fell to 53.6 in December from 57.4 in November, its lowest since February and a drop largely reflecting the hit to consumer-facing businesses from Omicron’s spread.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Hugh Lawson)