The latest sales indicators from the Builders' Merchants Federation show that national sales of building materials rose by just 0.6% during the three months from December 2011 to February 2012.

But sales were down by 3.7% when compared with the preceding three-month period, September to November 2011.

The BMF figures reflect the disappointing growth in construction output for the same three-month period which was reported by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) last week. The ONS said there had been construction growth of 6.1% in February, after a 10.3% decline in December 2011, and a 12.9% fall in output during January 2012.

Annual comparisons also show a fall according to the BMF, with builders’ merchants sales between February 2011 and February 2012 down 3.6% on the previous 12-month period.

However, these national figures do mask different regional trends, with several regions reporting significant growth during the past three months. Builders’ merchants in Yorkshire saw sales rise by 12.1%, in Greater London by 11%, in East Anglia by 8.8%, in the South West and Wales by 6.1% and by 1.9% in the Northern region.

Conversely, Scotland saw the greatest fall in sales, down by 13.5%, followed by East Midlands (-9.1%), the South East (-5.5%), the West Midlands (-4.2%) and the North West (-0.6%).

In the year-on-year three-month comparisons, there was an 8.2% downturn in the sales of lightside products (plumbing, heating and ironmongery) but a 5.2% rise in sales of heavyside products (bricks, blocks, aggregates and cement).

Commenting on the figures, BMF secretary, Peter Matthews, said: “It is clear that construction output remains fragile, which leads to pretty volatile trading conditions around the country. It remains to be seen if the recent changes in planning law will open up more housing development, and whether government initiatives such as the Green Deal will bring about an increase in energy efficient RMI work to give a much needed boost to our sector over the coming year.”

The BMF’s Sales Indicators are complied every month from sales turnover information from the majority of merchant member outlets. The figures are adjusted for both price inflation and trading day differences and show the percentage change in the value of sales between given dates taking into account price changes computed from merchant members’ own building materials price inflation data.