The UK’s construction industry slowed notably in the final three months of the year, with output falling by 2.1 per cent compared with the previous quarter.
This is a bigger drop than the 1.8 per cent fall pencilled in by statisticians in the preliminary fourth-quarter gross domestic product estimates, but will not change the overall GDP estimate.
Construction accounts for roughly 6 per cent of the UK economy.
Following monthly falls in October and November, the Office for National Statistics estimated that output increased by 0.4 per cent in December compared to the previous month. However, this was much weaker than the 2.8 per cent expected by City analysts.
The weakness in the final quarter was driven by a drop in repair and maintenance work, which saw its largest quarter-on-quarter fall since 2009.
Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Berenberg bank said caution was needed as there was “nothing in the survey data or anecdote to suggest that a fall of that magnitude is at all plausible” suggesting it could just reflect the “volatility of construction”.
The ONS has also recently flagged concerns about the quality of the output data.
The ONS stressed that the year-on-year picture “was one of continued growth”, with output in the sector up by 5.5 per cent in December compared to 2013, the 19th consecutive period of year on year growth.
Mr Wood added that despite the disappointing quarterly data, the sector has been “recovering rapidly” but that the “momentum may not be sustained in full through 2015 because housebuilding is unlikely to grow as rapidly as it did last year.”
Concerns about the sector were also tempered by the rebound in Markit/CIPS purchasing managers’ index in January, which rose to 59.1 up from 57.6 the previous month, easing concerns about the outlook for the year ahead.
Stefan Friedhoff, managing director for construction at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said that with the survey data suggesting a “buoyant start” to the year there was tangible optimism in the sector despite concerns there would be a “standstill in decision making” in the period leading up to the general election.
“Current sentiment can best be described as cautiously optimistic and construction firms are longing for some stability to keep the recovery on track throughout 2015,” he said.
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