The construction output figures continue to provide more than a feast of food for thought, not least because they suggest a rise of 8.6% in output between the first and second quarter of this year.
This is a quarterly rise on a scale not seen in construction since 1963, when the industry had to pull itself out of a standstill caused by the worst blizzards for more than 200 years.
Frankly for many the figure of 8.6% is in the realms of fantasy. And while I have made the case for a reasonably large bounce in construction output in the second quarter of this year, I find it hard to swallow the idea that it was as large as 8.6%.
I wrote earlier that it was possible to make a case for the 6.6% rise in construction output suggested by the first estimate of GDP. What I didn’t say, perhaps because I felt for the statisticians putting these awkward numbers together, was that to accept this you would need to stretch every sinew of your imagination.
If you accounted for the unknown impact of the snow in the first quarter and accepted that there was an unusually coordinated upturn in most sectors due to the fiscal and monetary stimuli, you could create a reasonable case for an unusually large upswing. And I guess 6.6% comes within that envelope – just.
But now I am concerned with these latest figures.
Most trade surveys and other industry dipstick measurements suggest that while April and May were reasonable months, June was lacklustre.
So it is therefore baffling to be told that the amount of work undertaken in June is supposed to be 10% up on the average level of work done in April and May.
This is causing consternation among the dedicated industry analysts and commentators and is in danger of sending out the wrong signal that in some way things are fine within construction.
Where this becomes even more worrying, on a political scale, is that the latest set of construction output figures suggests that, all other things being equal, the ONS will have to revise upward its estimate for GDP from 1.1% to more like 1.3%.
Now this may be jolly for those who think that revising data revises reality – and in a way it does. But for those who like their statistics to relate to reality as it was and is, there are a huge number of hurdles to believing this latest set of numbers.
I imagine that there will be much head scratching in Newport as the national number crunchers at the ONS reappraise the construction output figures and assure themselves that there is no cock up in the way the new style data is being put together.
My concern is that there may be.