Neil Hargreaves, Managing Director Knauf Insulation is BMBI’s Expert for Mineral Wool Insulation.
Since mid-2018, the UK’s major glass mineral wool manufacturers have had to operate allocation programmes to manage supplies. At Knauf Insulation, we were able to relax our allocation throughout Q3, before removing it entirely from 1st November (our rock mineral wool products remained fully available throughout).
Speaking with our customers, it’s clear that stock levels have returned to normal. This is of course good news for merchants, as it means they can supply products to meet customer demand for high-performance insulation. It’s also good news because it means it will be much easier to get a better sense of the reality of that demand. During the period of allocation, sales figures were driven by availability – now we can assess the true underlying demand for glass mineral wool insulation.
Speaking of which, housing sector completions remained stable throughout Q3. Most indicators suggest housing starts haven’t quite kept pace though, which may result in fewer completions through 2020. It appears larger housebuilders are continuing to build, but smaller housebuilders – more reliant on borrowing – are reducing activity pending Brexit and the imminent election. At the time of writing, we’re no nearer to knowing how Brexit will be resolved, or even whether we’ll have a stable majority government.
Once we do eventually have more certainty, it’s likely that we’ll see a boost in some construction activity. Many of the fundamentals are in place – unemployment remains low, real wages are rising, and consumer spending is strong. Business confidence is the main area of concern, with the UK Construction Purchasing Managers Index having dropped four points since May, though it saw a small rise in October, possibly as a result of parliament passing the Benn Act to avert a No Deal Brexit.
Anticipating eventual stability, we’re looking ahead at the other factors that will affect merchants in 2020. The energy efficiency of homes is high on all parties’ agendas which bodes well. The Part L 2020 consultation and Future Homes Standard will also be critical – the industry must deliver resilient buildings that perform as designed in the real world. For merchants, that will mean an increasing focus on supplying the right product for every application.