Sep 14, 2022 | Press Release

Arcadis warns market conditions are about to take a “much darker turn”

  • Arcadis forecasts inflationary pressures to remain throughout 2022 and 2023 as soaring energy costs counteract falling commodity prices
  • Arcadis’ tender price forecast for 2022 confirmed at 10% for buildings and 12% for infrastructure, the upper end of the previous forecast’s range
  • So far demand has remained robust in the face of dramatic economic downgrades from the Bank of England but worrying signs suggest the market is entering a slowdown
  • However, the UK construction market has continued to prove resilient and the slowdown is expected to be prolonged but shallow

 

(12 September 2022) – Despite a string of positive results from contractors, Arcadis has warned that the current market cycle has now reached its peak and the first signs of a slowdown are appearing as wider economic gloom and unprecedented energy price rises make their impact felt.

The analysis is taken from Arcadis’ Autumn 2022 Market View, entitled ‘Energy Sapping’. The quarterly analysis of the UK construction market looks across sectors and regions to deliver a tender price forecast to inform clients about what is going on in UK construction, helping financial decision making for projects and programmes.

So far this year, amid a background of inflationary pressures and dire economic forecasts from the Bank of England, the construction industry has maintained positive results as the strong rebound from the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has continued. Output statistics showed construction volumes hit an historic high in May 2022 and Q2 was the busiest quarter ever recorded.

However, Arcadis warn that signs of strain are starting to show. The overall picture of inflationary pressure shows no signs of easing, with material price increases continuing to be the main driver. Whilst there is evidence of price stability emerging, this is threatened by spiralling energy costs which, even with government support to keep prices at current levels, are likely to impact the costs of basic material production and their availability. According to Arcadis, this means the high inflation of the first half of 2022 is likely to remain baked-in. The cost-of living crisis is also set to sustain upward pressure on labour costs which are likely to see catch-up pay demands in 2023 and beyond. These strains are starting to show their face in reporting, with total construction orders falling by 10.45% in Q2 on the previous three months, the largest quarterly fall since Q4 2020.

As always, it can take the construction sector a while to feel the impact of a wider economic downturn, but there’s hope that, with the slowdown starting from a highpoint, competitive pressure will take the edge off future price rises and this will be a shallow but prolonged dip rather than a blow-out. But with a high degree of uncertainty around energy costs and availability, there is still a risk the crisis could escalate further and the slowdown could develop into a hard landing.

As a result:

  • The 2022 tender price forecast is confirmed at 10% for buildings and 12% for infrastructure, the upper end of the previous forecast’s range
  • Arcadis has downgraded its overall outlook for buildings and infrastructure inflation from 2024 onwards, noting that although deflationary pressures have increased, risk associated with energy market disruption is likely to counteract this
  • For the building sector, the forecast for 2023 is unchanged at 2-3%, however infrastructure has been increased from 4% to 5%, in recognition of high background demand and potentially greater exposure to material cost inflation
  • For 2024-2025, inflation forecasts have been reduced to account for the expected greater levels of competition across all sectors, however prices will remain high despite the weaker outlook for workload

 

Simon Rawlinson, Head of Strategic Research & Insight at Arcadis, said:

“Whilst confidence in the construction market has remained more robust that the consumer market, it’s clear that the current cycle has peaked and we’re entering a period of slowdown. However, just how severe the slowdown will be, and whether it will bring down costs, remains uncertain. There are certainly signs that commodity prices are falling, but rising energy costs are baked-in, and their full impact yet to be felt. Therefore, we expect inflation to continue to be felt throughout the next 12-months and the effects of increased competition to eventually see inflation slow in 2024-25.

Arcadis have also considered what can learned about the direction of the market by examining previous cycles and downturns. The 2008 to 2012 crash did huge damage to the industry with the deep cuts to public investment that austerity brought about causing both a huge loss in demand and capacity, but it also brought about a collapse in construction prices.

Arcadis note conditions are markedly different this time, with so sign of collapse on the demand side. It’s hoped that this will help contractors to learn the lessons of the previous downturn. Perhaps this time, instead of relying on market forces to correct prices and ushering in a ‘race to the bottom’ in bidding and standards, clients can consider whether greater integration and collaboration can deliver more viable projects and deliver a better outcome.

 

Ross Baylis, Head of Cost and Commercial Management, said:

“When the global financial crash of 2008-2012 ushered in the last protracted downturn, significant damage was done to collaboration in the industry as investment dried up and clients turned to single-stage tenders to increase competition. This came at the cost of team focus and integrated working practices which left a lasting impact of sub-optimal outcomes. It’s hoped these lessons can be learned this time and demand can hold up well enough to maintain good working practices across all sectors.”

The full UK Autumn Market View is available to download here.

Chris Wiggan

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Chris Wiggan, Head of Corporate Communications

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