LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s construction sector returned to growth last month thanks to a pick-up in housebuilding, though the outlook is less certain due to a sharp fall in new orders, an industry survey showed on Thursday.
The IHS Markit/CIPS construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to a three-month high of 50.5 in April from March’s 49.7, a shade higher than the reading of 50.3 forecast on average in a Reuters poll of economists.
“A return to growth would normally be considered a positive month for the UK construction sector, but the weakness outside of house building gives more than a little pause for thought,” IHS Markit economist Tim Moore said.
“Commercial activity and civil engineering both remained on a downward path in April as political uncertainty led to delays with spending decisions,” he added.
New orders fell at their fastest rate since March last year.
Earlier on Thursday, quarterly figures from the National House-Building Council showed a 3 percent annual rise in housing starts for the first quarter of 2019, but the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said confidence was at a six-year low.
Business expectations in the PMI survey sank to their lowest in six months, despite the prospect of a disruptive, no-deal Brexit no longer being on the immediate horizon.
“A number of firms linked lower commercial construction to Brexit-related uncertainty and delays with client spending decisions,” IHS Markit said.
Construction accounts for 6 percent of Britain’s economy. Wednesday’s manufacturing PMI showed a somewhat stronger picture for manufacturers, who continue to get a temporary boost from customers building up stocks before Brexit.
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Hugh Lawson