As the results season draws to a close, the performance of the construction and building materials firms shows a steady decline in the period. And yet the falls have been marginal. This reflects the performance of the industry as a whole, which last week, fell less than 1% to 3472 – a minimal decline.

This marginal shift in the construction industry’s overall performance belies the extreme highs and lows in contractors’ and housebuilders’ results – March has been a month in which there were definite winners and losers.

To the surprise of some analysts, giant housebuilders including Persimmon, George Wimpey and Barratt reported a strong uplift in profits. But others struck a more cautious note, such as Wilson Bowden, and some smaller housebuilders including AIM-listed Raven Mount made losses. This left the more cynical commentators dubious about prospects in the housebuilding sector.

Among the contractors, the news that margins remained thin in 2004 came as no surprise. However, there were nasty shocks awaiting investors in Mowlem, Alfred McAlpine and Gleeson, which were all hit by losses on problem contracts.

The market remained unpredictable last week, with shares in City favourite Balfour Beatty taking one of the biggest hits. Shares dropped 4.5% despite winning a £33m roads contract in Hong Kong.

Shares in Gleeson, on the other hand, recovered nearly 8% to 290p, following a troubled March in which it moved away from its construction roots.

Many of the housebuilders fell this week, including Persimmon, which was down 2.2% to 746.5p.

Construction group Kier, which has been a strong performer since the beginning of the year, was a highlight again last week, with shares up 7% to 904.5p.

Among the support services companies, Amec –which, like Gleeson, has abandoned its firm ties with the construction sector in search of a higher rating – had a good week. Its shares rose 3.5% to 328.5p on the back of recent contract wins, acquisitions, and a solid set of annual results.

The All-Share rose 1.3% to 2502.

Angela Monaghan is business editor