Construction workload is expected to continue to collapse at a rapid pace according to the latest industry survey by the surveyors' body RICS.
Surveyors experienced declines in workload across all regions and all sectors illustrating the broad spread of this recession. Across the board, more than half of surveyors saw less work in the first quarter.
The survey, which dates back to 1998, had for most of its history recorded a positive balance of between 10% and 20% or surveyors enjoying a rise in workload against those doing less work.
This rather puts the negative balance of 45% in context.
The RICS commentary on the survey notes that in the first quarter of this year the pace of decline slowed slightly, compared with the previous quarter. The same proportion of surveyors saw workload fall (56%) but there were more firms lucky enough to see more work come through their doors, 11% compared with 9% in the previous quarter.
No doubt there will be those perennial optimists, or indeed the self interested, that will suggest that this points to a corner coming into view.
That would be foolish and misleading to those who have the ugly job of preparing their businesses for the full force of this recession.
Firstly, the numbers are far from significant in that where there were 7% of firms seeing workload increase at the end of last year there were 9% seeing an increase in the first quarter of this year. The same number of firms saw workload fall.
Numerous factors could be at work here that are not necessarily reflective of actual changes in the market - eg there could be a bit of survivor bias, or a major marketing push by some firms concerned about the downturn which boosted their workload at the expense of others. So caution should be applied when interpreting these numbers.
Secondly, the RICS survey does tend to be a lead indicator for mainstream construction, as the bias of surveying work generally is towards the start of projects. In that case this survey is clearly hinting that severe falls in workload are still to come.
Thirdly, as I have mentioned a couple of times before, there will be in the housing sector the positive effects of destocking beginning to emerge. Having slammed the breaks on when sales disappeared, many house builders will now have reduced stocks to a level where they will be considering or indeed beginning to work on new projects.
If we look at the segmental data from the survey it does seem to suggest the most marked change in the rate of decline was within the house building sector.
This is consistent with an easing in the moratorium on new projects and does provide room for some encouragement.
However, it should not be overplayed. Taking your foot of the break is not the same as putting a boot on the accelerator. It will be a long while before we see workloads in housing bounce back to what might be described as normal.
And while there is room for some encouragement in housing, there was a rather disturbing finding in the figure for infrastructure workload, which was at its lowest since the survey began.
This rather caught me by surprise. While I had not expected particularly positive numbers here I have been badgered to consider the idea that things in the infrastructure sector were looking less gloomy. In fairness though, the pace of decline in infrastructure workload isn't as rapid as is being experienced in other sectors.
But for all the figures on workload, the two bits of data that will probably reflect most the long-term effects of the recession are those for employment and for profit margins. Both continue to look grim.
It may sound like a management course clich