And … cut!

Last Thursday’s interest rate cut, the first in two years, took some pressure off the construction industry and the UK economy as a whole.

Interest rates over the past few years have been at historically low levels – as you’ll remember, they hit 14.88% at the top of the 1980s boom – but it is worth bearing in mind that growth in the second quarter of 2005 was at its lowest level in 12 years.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general at the CBI, is calling for further cuts this year. And his is not a lone voice: the British Retail Consortium, and many other commentators and lobby groups expect a further 0.25% cut in October or November.

Yet cuts are not a swift and easy answer to all problems in the economy, as is shown by the City’s underwhelmed response to the cut last week. Some housebuilders were quick to predict that the cut would gee up the autumn market, and claimed confidently that it would not be the last this year.

The City took a different view: shares in many of the housebuilders continued to descend, although at a shallowed angle.

Shares dropped in Barratt (–1.7%), Bellway (–0.9%), Berkeley (–0.9%), Bovis (–2.6%), Crest Nicholson (–0.4%), Redrow (–3.6%), Taylor Woodrow (–2.2%), Wilson Bowden (–2.6%) and Wimpey (–0.2%).

The two unscathed housebuilders were the mighty Persimmon, which rose by 1.3% to 810.5p, and Westbury Homes, up 2.4% to 461.5p.

Hopes that interest rate cuts would curb the downturn in the housing market were perhaps better reflected in the materials sector. Shares in FTSE-100 company Hanson rose 3.1% to 590p, although this was partly explained by a strong set of interim results.

But the most notable performance last week was T Clarke. Shares in the electrical engineer and contractor jumped 9.1% to 280.5p, continuing the upward shift the shares have enjoyed since the start of the year and especially since the end of May.

Its performance has been boosted by the market’s belief that its widespread experience in the London area will make it one of the main industry winners in London’s 2012 Olympic Games.