Total Q4 sales were up by 6.3% on the same quarter in 2016 and overall merchant sales in 2017 finished 4.8% ahead of 2016 by value.

Total growth in Q4 was supported by the two biggest value categories, timber and joinery (up 7.3%) and heavy building materials (up 6.4%). A number of smaller product categories supported the strong finish, namely plumbing, heating and electrical, and tools (both up 7.7%), ironmongery (up 7.3%) and kitchens and bathrooms (up 6.6%).

Annual sales growth was also driven by the biggest product groups. Timber and joinery was up 5.4% and heavy building materials was up 5.1%. The only category to show a fall in sales was services, which dropped by 2%.

“Our results have appeared out of kilter with headline figures from the ONS for some time, but if you drill down into their reports the results are comparable,” said John Newcomb, BMF chief executive officer.

“The lion’s share of merchant sales is driven by the housing market. While private housebuilding is forging ahead, assisted by Help to Buy, and private domestic RMI work is holding up well, the same cannot be said for commercial and industrial sectors, which have seen a sharp decline post Brexit. We remain optimistic for continued growth in 2018, but I’m sure BMF merchants will be factoring in a number of outside factors – from monetary policy to Carillion’s demise – that could affect trading.”

The BMBI uses GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders merchants’ sales throughout the country.