LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s construction sector extended its robust recovery from earlier COVID lockdown restrictions in December, a survey showed on Thursday, helping the broader private-sector economy eke out modest growth.
Housing was the biggest driver of construction growth, reflecting the boost to builders’ confidence from a surge in prices and property purchases since the middle of the year, when lockdown curbs eased and property purchase taxes were cut.
The IHS Markit/CIPS construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipped to 54.6 in December from 54.7 in November, but remained comfortably above the 50-mark that separates growth from contraction, as it has been since June.
“A sustained improvement in construction order books resulted in a rise in employment numbers for the first time in nearly two years and the most optimistic growth expectations since April 2017,” IHS Markit economics director Tim Moore said.
Britain’s wider economy has been doing less well since COVID cases started to rise from late September onwards, leading to a four-week lockdown in England in November and open-ended curbs introduced this week due to a new more infectious variant.
The all-sector PMI, which is dominated by the services industry, barely returned to growth in December, rising to 50.8 from November’s five-month low of 49.5.
Services PMI data on Wednesday painted a picture of firms continuing to struggle as restaurants, pubs and many other consumer-facing businesses remained shut or under heavy restrictions.
Many economists believe Britain has slipped back into recession, with the Bank of England estimating the economy shrank by just over 1% in the fourth quarter and others predicting further contraction in early 2021.
Britain has recorded Europe’s highest death toll from COVID-19 at more than 76,000 and also saw its economy shrink by a fifth during the second quarter of 2020, the sharpest decline among the world’s seven largest advanced economies.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Catherine Evans)