The latest figures from the Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI), published in February, show Q4 2021 recorded the highest quarterly BMBI sales ever, rounding off a record-breaking year for merchants. However, with growth driven exclusively by pricing – not volume – the figures suggest the 2021 trade boom has inevitably slowed.

Total value sales in Q4 2021 were 14.7% higher than Q4 2020, with no difference in trading days. All categories sold more and timber and joinery products (+28.2%) was way ahead of the rest.

Comparing Q4 2021 with Q4 2019, a more normal pre-Covid year, total value sales were 21% higher this year, with the benefit of one more trading day. Nine of the 12 categories sold more, including timber and joinery products (+44.4%) and landscaping (+40.6%). Like-for-like sales were up 18.9%.

Quarter-on-quarter, sales were down 12.7% in Q4 compared to Q3, not helped by four fewer trading days in the most recent period. Ten of the 12 categories sold less, including timber and joinery products (-16.2%). Like-for- like sales were 6.9% lower than in Q3.

“Throughout 2021 demand for timber products ran at unprecedented levels but, as unprecedented demand met unprecedented supply problems and rising costs, it was a challenging year,” said Simon Woods, European sales, marketing and logistics director, West Fraser and BMBI’s expert for wood-based panels. “In Q4 though, we may just have turned the corner.

“TTF statistics show that imports of timber and panel products declined in November, as more regular demand patterns returned, but most product categories are still nearing record volumes, even when heading into the usual winter decline.

“Driver shortages, which were in part responsible for last year’s supply chain issues, were much improved in Q4. Logistics UK announced in December they were starting to see the green shoots of recovery with more drivers being trained and fewer leaving.

“Looking ahead to 2022, sustainability will stay front of mind for architects and specifiers. A return to wood would be beneficial for the planet.

“After a hiatus in high demand over the festive period and the start of 2022, we expect to see sales increase again in the spring when conditions are drier. Only then will we really know whether timber and timber product sales will stay high above pre-Covid levels and to what extent supply chain resilience has returned. While we like to think we operate in isolation and control our own paths, any hiccups or major disruption in the global supply chain affects us all.”