Construction sector sees fastest growth for two years, says PMI

Image by Jacob Pretorius on Unsplash

The UK’s construction sector recorded its biggest rise in activity in two years last month, according to the latest PMI report. 

Growth gained momentum during May, with activity and new business increasing at sharper rates than in April.

Rising workloads prompted renewed expansions in purchasing activity and employment, while business confidence also strengthened.

The headline S&P Global UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – a seasonally adjusted index tracking changes in total industry activity – posted above the 50.0 no-change mark for the third month running in May to signal a sustained expansion in activity midway through the second quarter of the year. 

The index rose to 54.7 from 53.0 in April, pointing to a marked increase in activity that was the fastest for two years.

For the first time since May 2022, all three monitored categories saw activity increase during the month as housing activity returned to growth. 

The expansion in activity on residential projects was only marginal, however. 

The sharpest increase in activity was seen in the commercial category where the rate of growth accelerated to a two-year high. Meanwhile, civil engineering activity rose at a solid, but slightly softer pace.

According to respondents, the latest increase in total construction activity reflected sustained growth of new orders. 

New business rose for the fourth consecutive month, and at a solid pace that was the fastest for a year as demand conditions improved. 

Firms linked higher new orders to the winning of new contracts and the commencement of previously delayed projects.

With new order growth sustained midway through the second quarter, construction firms increased employment for the first time in five months. Although only modest, the pace of job creation was the sharpest since last September.

A renewed increase in purchasing activity was also registered in May, again linked to improving workloads.

Further increases in new orders, in some cases linked to planned marketing campaigns, are set to support continued growth of construction activity over the next 12 months.

Companies also hoped for an improvement in economic conditions and reduction in interest rates. 

Business confidence increased to a three-month high in May.

Andrew Harker, economics director at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said: "The UK construction sector looks to be building good momentum as we approach the middle of 2024, highlighted by activity increasing at the fastest pace in two years during May. 

“Particularly pleasing was the broad-based nature of the rise in activity as work on housing projects increased for the first time in more than a year-and-a-half. 

"Firms are gearing up for further growth in the months ahead, posting renewed expansions in both employment and purchasing activity as workloads increase. 

"Moreover, the supply-chain environment continued to improve in May. Companies were able to secure inputs much more quickly than in April and at prices that were only slightly higher than in the previous month on average.

“These factors should help constructors in their efforts to ramp up operations in line with greater new order inflows."

Brian Smith, head of cost management at AECOM, added: “With the UK economy back in the black, a full quarter of growth has put the construction sector on a more stable footing heading into the key summer months.

“There is further room for optimism as well. An early general election reduces the risk of market inertia and will almost certainly embolden decision-making in the second half of the year. 

“With the rate of inflation reducing back to normal levels, the prospect of falling interest rates should also breathe much-needed wind into the sails of housebuilders.

“That said, contractors will be hopeful of more concrete commitments to infrastructure investment within party manifestos before planning too far beyond the end of 2024.”

If you would like to contact Karen McLauchlan about this, or any other story, please email